Southern begins fall baseball practice Monday, and the introductions might take longer than anything else.
Of the 40 players on the roster, 23 are newcomers: 17 freshmen and six transfers. In addition to the nine seniors who completed their eligibility last season, nine more players who had eligibility remaining did not return.
Coach Roger Cador said Sunday that it’s the biggest roster turnover he has had in his 30 years of coaching.
“We decided to go in a different direction,” he said. “We’re making some changes, and it’s more difficult to make changes with older kids. (The players who left) are good kids, but we felt some changes were necessary. We wanted to give them an opportunity to play elsewhere and continue their education.”
Cador said he and assistant coach Dan Canevari evaluated the program and decided to bring in more in-state players and design more specific roles. All but four of the 17 freshman recruits are from Louisiana high schools.
“We brought in a lot of role players,” Cador said. “The roles are team-related and not individual-related. We didn’t necessarily recruit the kids with the greatest ability, but we brought in kids who came from winning programs and who understand their roles and psychologically and mentally can handle failure when it happens.”
Cador said Canevari’s experience during his four-year stint as coach at Episcopal High School before joining the Jaguars before last season was instrumental in identifying recruits.
He seems determined to return the Jaguars to the status of perennial Southwestern Athletic Conference championship contenders. Southern struggled the past two seasons, though it couldn’t have gone to the NCAA tournament even if it had won the SWAC tournament because of NCAA probation.
That probation has ended, and the Jaguars hope to use the fall practice period to build on the momentum of a late-season push that landed them in the SWAC tournament title game, where they lost to Texas Southern 10-0.
Southern was 20-23 overall and 13-8 in the SWAC, a year after finishing 10-26 and 6-16.
The players who did not return are pitchers Jamaun Banks and Jacob Polk, infielders Nkosi Djehuti-Mes, Quincy Jones, Darnell Lee, Tyler Lee and Sergio Torres and outfielders Theo Smith and Troy White.
“We’re looking long-term,” Cador said. “Coming out of the NCAA situation, we felt this was the right time. It’s all about making the program better.”
Cador said it’s important to see the Jaguars in game competition because there are so many new and young players and because SWAC teams don’t play the full 56-game schedule allowed by the NCAA in the spring.
So Southern will play six intrasquad scrimmages and face Baton Rouge Community College in five games, the first of which is Friday. Fall practice concludes with the annual Blue-Gold World Series on Oct. 13-16.
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.