HAMMOND — For all of his past achievements, there was still one thing missing from the collegiate football résumé of Southeastern Louisiana junior safety Micah Eugene.
While it was commonplace for the former Class 5A All-Stater at Acadiana High to score touchdowns as a running back, Eugene had never reached the end zone in his two previous seasons while at LSU.
Nine minutes into his career at Southeastern last Saturday, Eugene accomplished just that with a 3-yard fumble return for a touchdown — courtesy of teammate Jordan Batiste — during a 27-point, first quarter explosion en route to a season-opening 44-3 victory over Jacksonville University.
“It felt good,” Eugene said. “I was just doing whatever I could to help our team out. We were just having fun out there.”
With No. 3 SLU (1-0) returning to Strawberry Stadium for a second straight Saturday — hosting Southern Utah (0-1) at 7 p.m. — early indications from their four Football Bowl Subdivision transfers in the secondary were extremely positive.
Eugene was one of three players that migrated from LSU, joined by cornerback Deshawn Raymond and safety JQ Sandolph, along with Batiste from Tulane, helping to replenish an area of SLU’s defense that lost three key contributors from last season’s Southland Conference championship team.
“They’re all great players,” SLU coach Ron Roberts said. “That’s what you want. You don’t take junior college or four-year transfers if they’re not going to make an impact on your ball club.”
Eugene registered four tackles and Batiste added two tackles and was the player that forced wide receiver D’Andre Randall to fumble after a screen pass. Raymond was also active with three tackles.
“I noticed the receiver had the ball in his inside hand and made it easier for me to get to it,” Batiste said. “I made a punch at it and hit it right on the head of the ball, and it came out. When I felt it come out, I looked around to get it and saw Micah scooping and scoring.”
That play typified SLU’s domination of an offense that returned eight starters from a unit that ranked fifth nationally in total offense (552.7) and eighth in scoring (41.8).
The Lions yielded only a field goal and 222 total yards with 154 of those coming through the air on just 20-of-52 passing.
“If you can win the turnover battle, you should win the game,” Batiste said. “At practice every day, our coach (defensive coordinator Karl Scott) tells us, ‘rip, strip, bats and picks.’ We emphasize that and take pride in that.”
SLU returned the building blocks of last year’s top-rated secondary in the Southland with the Sports Network’s preseason first team All-American Harlan Miller, preseason All-SLC second team Tyler Stoddard and national watch list candidate Marice Sutton.
With the arrival of all four transfers in January, they not only had the opportunity to learn Scott’s system in the spring but began developing chemistry on and off the field.
Batiste was a two-time all-state selection at Lutcher High before going on to earn honorable mention All-Conference USA honors while at Tulane, where he played cornerback, registering 76 tackles and two interceptions during his career.
“It was close to home, and the program was really on the up and up,” Batiste said of SLU. “Coach Rob said he wanted to win now, and I wanted to be a part of that.”
During his two seasons at LSU where he was regarded for his physical style of play, Eugene had 62 tackles in 25 career games with 7½ tackles for loss, four sacks with an interception and fumble recovery.
“I was thinking we could be a great defense,” Eugene said. “They already had great players coming back, and adding us, we’re just going to fit in and do our parts.”