Tidbits: College football players and coaches to watch in 2023

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Jayden Daniels
LSU’s Jayden Daniels prepares for his fifth full college season (Photo: Jonathan Mailhes)

The official kickoff of the 2023 college football training camps awaits just around two months away. Like any other season, there are a million storylines. Here are just a few including a handful with some with a local flavor.

– Here are a couple of local names to watch to perhaps appear in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft. LSU defensive tackle Maason Smith from Terrebonne High and Georgia center Sedrick Van Pran, a Warren Easton alum, are big men with big futures. Van Pran has made 30 consecutive starts for the two-time reigning National Champions and has only allowed one sack in 1,758 offensive snaps.

– LSU’s Jayden Daniels is widely viewed as the best overall quarterback in the SEC heading into the upcoming season. He is slotted among the top six to seven Heisman Trophy favorites among preseason oddsmakers.

– Former Mandeville wide receiver Will Sheppard has flourished in the obscurity of Vanderbilt. The 6-3, 195 pounder has developed into a star with the Commodores with NFL potential.

After grabbing 60 balls for 776 yards with nine scores last season, Sheppard was tabbed second-team All-SEC. He is 11 touchdown catches shy of being the school’s all-time leader, chasing Jordan Matthews’ 24.

Also on that Vandy list is former Jesuit star Kalija Lipscomb, who finished his time with the ‘Dores with 198 career catches, 2,256 yards and 22 touchdowns.

– LSU’s linebacking corps could be among the top 2-3 in college football with Harold Perkins, Omar Speights and Greg Penn III as the reasons why. The Tigers also boast wide receiver and offensive line rooms among the very best in the nation for the upcoming season.

– Tulane center senior Sincere Haynesworth apears on top five lists at his position in the country. Michael Pratt has been praised as a top 10 quarterback, ahead of notables like K.J. Jefferson (Arkansas), Spencer Rattler (South Carolina), Frank Harris (UTSA), Quinn Ewers (Texas), Grayson McCall ( Coastal Carolina) and Devin Leary (Kentucky).

– Thanksgiving weekend will feature a pair of the better quarterbacks in the country in a shootout, and Yulman Stadium will serve as the stage. Tulane’s Pratt will host UTSA’s Harris. The Roadrunners’ lefty passer is in his seventh college campaign. He redshirted in 2017, missed the next year with an injury and played in eight contests in 2019. The 2020 COVID season offered all college players a mulligan.

Harris (6-0, 210) threw for 4,059 yards, 32 scores and nine INTs, completing 69.6% last season. The Roadrunners paced C-USA in scoring last year averaging 36.8 points per game.

– Seven of the SEC’s projected starting quarterbacks arrived at their current location via the transfer portal. Kentucky’s Devin Leary (NC State), Alabama’s Tyler Buchner (Notre Dame) and Florida’s Graham Mertz (Wisconsin) along with potential Ole Miss backup Spencer Sanders (Oklahoma State) are newcomers. Jayden Daniels (Arizona State), South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma), Ole Miss’s Jaxson Dart (USC) and Auburn’s Robby Ashford (Oregon) are entering their second SEC seasons.

– The title for the overall top ranked group of signal callers in any conference with the most projected No. 1 draft choices for ’24 lies out west. The stellar PAC-12 QBs are, no surprise, transfer portal arrivals.

USC’s Caleb Williams (Oklahoma), Washington’s Michael Pennix (Indiana) and Oregon’s Bo Nix (Auburn) dazzled last season. You might throw in Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders (6-2,215), son of his father and head coach Deion Sanders. He was 23-2 as a starter at Jackson State and was named the Jerry Rice Award winner (top FCS freshman) in 2021.

– Best QB who stillruns under the radat? How about Kansas junior Jalon Daniels, who had 2,014 yards passing and 18 TDs on a 66% completion rate? Despite being knocked out for a month last season with a separated shoulder, he’s been cited as the Big 12’s best in preseason rankings over other Ewers, Dillon Gabriel (Oklahoma) and UCF’s John Rhys Plumlee.

– Super sophomore running back Quinshon Judkins (5-11,210) set an Ole Miss single season rushing mark as a freshman in 2022 with 1,567 yards while adding 16 touchdowns. If he remains anywhere close to that pace, he will overtake the school’s all time leading rusher, Deuce McAllister, who accumulated 3,181 yards and 38 TDs in four seasons.

– Arkansas junior Raheim “Rocket” Sanders (6-2, 237) totaled 1,443 yards rushing on 6.5 yards per attempt in 2022. His style is reminiscent of Derrick Henry.

– Inevitably, head coaching positions will become available at some point this upcoming season. Here are some of the up and coming names to expect in the mix:

Tommy Rees, 31, was a QB at Notre Dame (2010-’13) under Brian Kelly. He served as the Irish QB coach (2017-’19) and the OC 2020-’22. This season he will serve as Alabama’s OC.

D’Anton Lynn, 33, is a former Penn State DB who played one season with NY Jets and served nine seasons as an NFL assistant. Lynn is in his first season as DC at UCLA. His father Anthony Lynn was a former NFL head coach

Garrett Riley, 33, did a remarkable job lastseason as OC at TCU and earned the 2022 Broyles Award given to the top assistant coach in college football. The younger brother of USC head coach Lincoln Riley is in his 1st season as OC at Clemson.

– A pair of former high profile head coaches who you may not kept tabs on are still in the saddle.

Rich Rodriguez was OC at Tulane (1997-’98) under Tommy Bowden and was left at the altar when Bowden departed for Clemson. Tulane named Chris Scelfo to take over but Coach Rod soon had his chances to lead programs. He has been head coach at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona. Now, Rodriguez is in his second campaign at Jacksonville State where he led a fast-paced Gamecock offense and managed a 9-2 mark last season while averaging 36.2 points per game. Now 60, he leads a new FBS into Conference USA.

One time LSU head coaching target Tom Herman served as head coach at Houston (2015-’16) and Texas (2017-’20). Sporting a 54-22 mark as a head coach, Herman enters his first season at Florida Atlantic. The Owls host Tulane Nov. 18.

– Former Holy Cross defensive end Barryn Sorrell has developed into a force in the Big 12. The 6-4, 262-pound junior had a breakout 2022 with the Texas Longhorns, recording 9.0 TFL, 5.5 sacks and seven hurries. He was a late bloomer at the Gentilly school as a three-star prospect in 2021.

– Diminutive but electric playmaker, Smoke Harris (5-7, 188), a senior at La. Tech, has totaled 225 catches, 2,112 yards and 19 scores during his time in Ruston. The West Feliciana product was sixth nationally last season with a 12.4-yard average and 27.2-yard rate per return on punts and kickoffs respectively. Harris is 102 catches shy of reaching the makr set by Tech’s all-time leading receiver, Trent Taylor.

With the arrival of former Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier to Tech, Harris might have a chance. Bachmeier, who has an NFL arm, threw for 6,605 yards, 41 TDs and 19 interceptions in 29 starts at Boise.

– In Ragin’ Cajun country, junior QB Chandler Fields is the projected starter, but keep an eye on freshman D’Wanye Winfield. The former Lutcher standout accounted for 4,657 total yards last season with 70 total touchdowns as he carried the Bulldogs on his back to a state title. Athletically, the 6-3, 217-pound Winfield has drawn comparisons to former Tulane star Terrence Jones who led Lutcher to a state title in 1983. The Cajuns boast the best offensive line in the Sun Belt.

-From the category, it doesn’t matter at which level you perform, the NFL will find you come a pair of Division III Mount Vernon prospects that the scouts know well.

Braxton Plunk (6-0, 180) threw for 4,551 yards and 50 touchdowns last season, raising his career total to 11,377 yards passing, 123 touchdowns and only 17 interceptions.

Many of Plunk’s offerings have landed in the mitts of Wayne Ruby (6-1, 190), who had 105 catches for 1,785 yards and 30 touchdowns last season alone. He now has 278 grabs for 4,391 yards and 58 scores for his career. Ruby, who models his style after Justin Jefferson and Calvin Ridley, can be the next Mount Vernon receiver to make it in the pros following in the footsteps of Pierre Garçon and Cecil Shorts.

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Rene Nadeau


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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to play football at LSU, developing a passion for the game in even greater fashion while in…

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