The Cougars return more than just stud QB Case Keenum to this year's squad. Also returning are Tyron Carrier, Patrick Edwards, and James Cleveland, the first wide receiving trio in school history to each surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
And while it might have been Cleveland who led the team in receiving TDs last season, and while it might have been Edwards who was making the big comeback from a devastating injury, perhaps there is no more electric of a player on the team than Carrier.
Carrier's the speed guy, the guy who competes in track and seems to have that special gear he can kick into when it appears that a defender is closing on him. And it's Carrier who, more often than not, serves as the spark plug that gets the team going.
Last season, Carrier set the school record by returning four kickoffs for a touchdown, and he owns the school's career record with five return TDs. It's easy to credit Carrier for the scores, and for averaging 29.0 yards per return. It's easy, but it's not accurate. Especially if you ask Carrier.
Carrier credits his special team's coach, Tony Levine, and their practice work, for his success on kick returns.
"Everyday after practice, and sometimes before, I get some special teams stuff done, fielding punts and working on my tracks with my returns," Carrier says. "I have a great special teams coach. Most of the things we do are mental, and he helps me out a lot with what I should do. I watch some of the David Hester films. This past year I was watching the Jets films. They do a real good job with that. He helped me out a lot with it."
But Carrier's speed and Levine's work notwithstanding, Carrier's kick returns would not be possible were it not for the other 10 guys out on the field with him. And they take their duties as seriously as Carrier.
"I couldn't take one of those back without those guys," Carrier says. "I wasn't touched on any one of those. Those guys work hard. They want the [kick-off return] record a lot more than what I do, and that means a lot to me. The way they work at it. Every kickoff, they tell me every time, you ain't got nothing worry to about. You just do what you've got to do we're going to get you in the end zone."
In many ways, Carrier's season was as successful as the team's last year. He was twice C-USA's Special Teams Player of the Week. He was first team All-Conference C-USA as a kick returner, he was honorable mention All-Conference C-USA as a receiver, and he was also an honorable mention All-America for SI.com. And he had over 1,000 receiving yards for a second straight season. But he wasn't happy about last year. And while Kevin Sumlin says last season was last season, Carrier seems to be using last season's finish as his fuel for this season.
"Keep that oh-and-two in your mind [losses in the C-USA Title Game and the Armed Forces Bowl]," Carrier says. "We started strong, but we didn't finish strong. You can't win games, you can't have a successful season by falling off at the end. We're going to keep that in our mind, and we're going to roll with it."
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Heading into his junior year, Carrier's not concerned with the team's ranking, or with the national attention the team is (or isn't) getting, or what bowl the team might play in. His focus is on winning Conference USA this season, something they haven't been able to do in his time with the team.
"We've got to tackle the conference championship first," he says. "Playing for that bigger prize will come along with the territory. We're sitting back, and we're going to take one game at a time, and we're going to try to get there."
Carrier's, and the team's, first chance to wipe away that 0-2 finish comes on Saturday, September 4 when they host Texas State at Robertson Stadium. Carrier, Edwards, and Cleveland will be looking to repeat their 1,000 yard receiving seasons, and Carrier will be looking forward to returning more kicks for touchdowns.
But more than anything, Carrier will be happy to call himself, and his teammates, C-USA champions.