2023 DCTF Magazine Team Preview: SFA Lumberjacks

Photo by Brandon McAullife

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Heading into last season, nearly every “expert,” including this writer, thought SFA was set up to make a run to Frisco for the FCS national title game. 

We were wrong. The Lumberjacks finished 6-5.

They did win a WAC title, though, which was the program’s first conference championship since 2010. That title deserves celebration. It took far more work than many realize. 

Due to SFA’s success under head coach Colby Carthel, his assistants began to leave for FBS positions. Eight full-time assistant coaches went elsewhere last year. 

“You’re happy for people to promote in the business. I was promoted in the business to be in the situation I’m in now,” Carthel said. “Every coach on staff has goals and dreams and aspirations, and I want to play a small part in helping them reach those goals. The damage is when it comes in bunches, which it has the last two years.”

Carthel knows the damage is a testament to the state of the program, but it’s tough to replace one coach during the offseason, let alone eight.

“You lose the experience of the long hours worked together as a staff, knowing what jobs they have and having that synergy. It has to be rebuilt and retooled,” Carthel said. “You have to reteach and retool some things, especially when you lose coordinators. You lose some experience in terms of players knowing the system and making endgame adjustments, but you know what? I’d rather replace a coach than a player.”

Players are more challenging to replace, especially when you lose seven from an FCS playoff defense to the transfer portal.

“We had a complete rebuild on the defensive side of the ball, yet were picked to win the conference,” Carthel said. “We let a couple of games get away from us late against Sam Houston and Utah Tech. We went for the win against Utah Tech, and we’d like to get a couple of those decisions back.”

Don’t forget the Lumberjacks enter the 2023 season as the reigning WAC champions.

“At the end of the day, we put rings on our fingers and sent that great senior class out with a championship,” Carthel said. “Those seniors helped us take another step as a program, and we’ll be able to reach a little higher from that platform.”

The Lumberjacks won’t enter 2023 with a shiny ranking, but they have a group of players ready to showcase their skills after spending time as backups the last few years.

“We aren’t going to be as flashy this year,” Carthel said. “We aren’t returning multiple All-Americans or NFL high-to-mid-round draft picks. We may not be as sexy when you look at the roster. We have players that have been earning their spurs, and it’s time to turn the keys over to some other Lumberjacks. I’m really excited to see what they do this year.”

That includes at quarterback where Carthel isn’t ready to reveal who his starter will be when the Lumberjacks take the field against Troy in Week 1. Will it be Preston Weeks or Brian Mauer?

“That’ll be the million dollar question around Nacogdoches during Fall camp,” Carthel said.

The offensive line, which was considered to be the weakest position group in the program when Carthel arrived, is now a strength with all five starters expected to return.

The ‘Jacks added depth around them through the portal and have a steady group of young guys developing.

Defensively, Carthel said that issues in the linebacker room were addressed, and he thinks that is the most improved position group this year. Carl Williams will anchor the defensive line for a fifth year alongside Edward Bobino, and Carthel is far more comfortable with his defensive backfield this spring.

“This time last year, I was as nervous as a bird dog crapping a peach seed,” Carthel said.


The experts, including myself, were wrong about SFA in 2022. We may be wrong again this year because the Lumberjack football program is at a point where they are reloading instead of rebuilding. 

At this point, SFA expects to have a spot in the FCS playoffs annually. That is incredible, considering where this program was a mere five years ago. Some with power forget what Colby Carthel and staff took over in 2018. The program was in shambles. 

But times have changed in Nacogdoches. Carthel has led the Lumberjacks to three straight winning seasons and an appearance in the FCS playoffs. Considering how he replaced most of the defensive staff last year, it’s almost a miracle they won the WAC. 

Don’t sleep on the Lumberjacks this year. No one is better at motivating his players than Carthel. I suspect he has heard some whispers and is using that to encourage his guys throughout the offseason. SFA will be ready to play.

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