By Hunter Corneliusen, Louisiana Tech Associate Director of Strategic Communications
The inaugural season of the Sonny Cumbie era officially began Wednesday morning as the Louisiana Tech football team opened fall practice.
The session started around 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning when the Bulldogs began walk-throughs on the practice fields east of Joe Aillet Stadium. LA Tech then broke for practice, where all three phases of the game were worked on and each positional group participated in a variety of specialized drills.
There was a lot of excitement and emotion,” head coach Sonny Cumbie said. “Everybody was looking forward to this first day and we just really wanted to come out and focus on improving our execution. I am really proud of how our guys practiced from an energy standpoint. There was a lot of enthusiasm from everyone, especially on the defensive side of the football.”
The 2022 roster returns 49 letterwinners, (23 on defense, 24 on offense, and two specialists) and 17 starters, (eight defensive starters, six offensive and three specialists) from the 2021 campaign.
One of those defensive returners is redshirt senior defensive back, Jaiden Cole. Cole is a seasoned veteran, having appeared in 44 games and making 15 starts throughout his Bulldog career. Last season, the Monroe, La., native finished tied for fourth on the team with 48 total tackles, while his 29 solo tackles ranked fifth among all Bulldogs.
Other key defensive returnees include sophomore linebacker Tyler Grubbs, who has eclipsed the 90-tackle mark in back-to-back seasons, as well as Keivie Rose and Rasheed Lyles who anchor the defensive line.
“It was nice to get out on the field and show our coaching staff what we can do,” Cole said. “On defense, Coach (Scott) Power has preached pursuing the ball, so that is one of the things we really have been focusing on. We are all happy to be back on the field playing ball. We have been talking about daily progressions and each day, and we will focus on a specific thing to improve.”
The quarterback position is one of the many changes in 2022 for LA Tech. Transfers Matthew Downing (RS Jr., TCU/Georgia) and Parker McNeil (RS Sr., Texas Tech, Troy, Navarro CC) headline the quarterback position.
Quarterback is where it really starts on offense,” Cumbie stated. “Both Matthew (Downing) and Parker (McNeil) are the two that have the most experience, but that does not mean others can’t get into it. It is not a job that is decided by one play or one day. It is decided by consistency throughout fall camp and how they prepare and execute in live situations.”
The Bulldogs return 59.6 percent of their receiving yards, 65.3 percent of their receptions and 59 percent of their receiving touchdowns from last season. Redshirt junior Smoke Harris is the Bulldogs’ most electric playmaker as he led the team in receptions (71), receiving yards (756) and receiving touchdowns (6), while recording at least three receptions in every game last season.
On special teams, sophomore kicker Jacob Barnes is one of the most accurate kickers in the country, ranking 10th among the nation’s active career leaders in field goal percentage (0.829). Barnes went 12-17 (.810) in field goal attempts in 2021, which was the second-most accurate mark in C-USA. Barnes has been perfect in PATs in his two seasons with the Bulldogs, going 72-72.
Louisiana Tech opens the 2022 season at Missouri on Thursday, Sept. 1, at 7 p.m. Tech will then face Stephen F. Austin in the home opener on Saturday, Sept. 10, at 6 p.m. inside Joe Aillet Stadium.
Season tickets for the 2022 Louisiana Tech football season are on sale now. Fans can purchase season tickets online at LATechSports.com/tickets or by calling the LA Tech Ticket Office at (318) 257-3631.