MAGNOLIA, Ark. (SAU) - On the heels of a turnaround season in which the Southern Arkansas football team posted an 8-3 record and appeared in the Heart of Texas Bowl, expectations surrounding the program are steadily growing as the 2013 season nears.
With the fall slate of games still six months away, however, Mulerider fans can get their first chance to see what lies ahead as the Muleriders' annual Blue and Gold Spring Scrimmage is set to be played on Thursday, March 14th at 6:00 p.m. at Wilkins Stadium. The inter-squad scrimmage is open to the public and admission will be free.
Fans in attendance will be able to see a Mulerider team that returns 49 letterman and 19 starters from last year's team.
On offense, 20 lettermen and eight starters return from an offensive unit that helped spark the tremendous turnaround season that saw SAU win the most games (8) since the 2003 season when they won nine games and made an appearance in the NCAA playoffs.
Senior quarterback Tyler Sykora returns to lead an offensive unit that was ranked fifth nationally in total of¬fense (497.64 ypg), and ranked 12th nationally in pass¬ing offense (310.73 ypg). A two-year starter entering 2013, Sykora holds a total of 15 school records which include single-game, single-season, and career records. Seven times last season, Sykora, who had a TD pass in all 11 games, threw for more than 300 yards and twice threw for over 400 yards.
The Muleriders rushing attack will once more be spearheaded by Mark Johnson. The senior running back rushed for over 1,000 yards and 12 TDs in nine games played last season. An Honorable Mention Don Hansen DII All-American, Johnson had four games with 100 or more yards rushing with two of those games go¬ing for more than 200 yards.
In terms of receiving, the Muleriders return five of their top-seven pass catchers from last year. Headlining the corp. is Jack Brown. Brown, a Second-Team All-GAC selection led the team in catches (62) and yards (801).
On defense, the Muleriders return 23 letterman and seven starters from a defensive unit that led the GAC and ranked sixth nationally in rushing defense (91.36 ypg).
Headlining the returners are outstanding senior line¬backers Tate Mustin and Mark Spaight. The duo, who played and started in all 11 games for the Muleriders, were the top-two tacklers on the team. Spaight led the team in total tackles with 85 while Mustin was second with 60.
Between the two, 14 of their tackles resulted in loss yardage. Spaight was responsible for eight of those tackles for loss with three coming via the sack. Mustin tied for the team lead in fumble recoveries with three.
The secondary will have a couple of familiar faces as well as Quan Warren and Bobby Williams return. Wil¬liams, a senior Free Safety, had the most tackles from the secondary (55), picked off three passes, and totaled seven pass breakups. Warren, a redshirt sophomore, had two interceptions for 136 yards while also breaking up six passes on the year.
Along the defensive front, Nolan Duncan, Phillip Gahr, and Brandon Morton return for the Muleriders. The trio combined to register 13.0 of the team's 22.0 sacks on the year.