Full Version: ULM's so-so Sunny forecast
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Paul Letlow

July 20, 2004

NEW ORLEANS - Louisiana-Monroe safety Chris Harris saw the All-Sun Belt Conference preseason football team on Monday and took it as a sign that things are looking up for the Indians.

Harris was one of four ULM players named to the preseason team, which was announced in conjunction with Sun Belt Football Media Days. ULM senior offensive tackle Bruce Hampton, junior punter Joel Stelly and junior return specialist Charles Estes were also voted to the team by the league's head coaches, sports information directors and media.

"That speaks a lot about the talent we have on this team," Harris said. "I understand that we went 1-11 last year but that doesn't speak of the talent that we have. We could have easily been 8-4 if we turned a couple of plays around. We lost seven games by seven points or less."

Coming off a 1-5 Sun Belt finish in 2003, the Indians were picked eighth in the nine-team conference. However, ULM was one of four teams to collect a first-place vote. Second-year coach Charlie Weatherbie said with a revamped coaching staff and 23 seniors returning this season, the Indians could surprise.

"We think we've got some real fine football players," Weatherbie said. "It's going to come down to doing the little things right - making sure we win the turnover battle, which we did not do last year."

Only North Texas, the runaway choice to win the Sun Belt title for a fourth consecutive year, had more All-Sun Belt picks than ULM with eight. League newcomer Troy State, picked second behind North Texas, also had four players on the preseason team.

"I feel like the gap is closing," Harris said. "This past year we played (North Texas) tough and it came down to one or two plays and we should have won that ballgame. We ended up losing 28-26."

North Texas collected 15 first-place votes of confidence to win the league again. The Mean Green will bring the nation's longest conference winning streak into the 2004 season at 18. ULM, which knocked off North Texas in 2001 at Malone Stadium, is the only team to have beaten the Mean Green in Sun Belt play.

North Texas running back Patrick Cobbs, who led the nation in rushing last year at 152.7 yards per game, is the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Teammate Adrian Awasom, a senior defensive end who had 44 tackles and four sacks last year, is the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

Harris, Stelly and Estes made the All-Sun Belt first team at the end of the 2003 season while Hampton was a second-team pick. Harris was a second-team All-Sun Belt selection after the 2002 season.

A four-year starter, Harris goes into his senior season ranked ninth in ULM history with 287 tackles. Last season he ranked fourth in the Sun Belt with four interceptions and seventh in the conference with 86 tackles.

Hampton is set to start for his third straight year at left tackle for the Indians. He won or shared three "Warrior" awards on the team last year for outstanding play.

Stelly finished third nationally among punters with an average of 46.3 yards per kick while setting a school record for the season.

Estes led the Sun Belt in kickoff and punt returns in his junior season. His 27.4 average ranked ninth nationally while his punt average was 7.4 yards per return.

"We have as much talent as anybody in the Sun Belt Conference," Harris said. "I feel real confident going into this season."

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