Five Southern Miss players have been named to the 2009 Conference USA preseason team in voting by the 12 coaches in the league, the conference announced today.
Southern Miss tied with East Carolina for the most overall preseason selections with five. Three of the Golden Eagles selections came on offense, including senior RB Damion Fletcher, the top returning career rusher in the FBS. Houston and Tulsa each had four selections to the squad, while Marshall produced three.
The other Golden Eagles on the first team include senior offensive lineman Ryan Hebert, sophomore wide receiver DeAndre Brown, junior defensive lineman Anthony Gray and senior defensive back Eddie Hicks.
Houston junior quarterback Case Keenum, the 2008 Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year, was chosen to repeat that honor this fall. East Carolina senior DL C.J. Wilson was named the preseason Defensive Player of the Year, while Tulsa sophomore return specialist Damaris Johnson earned Special Teams Player of the Year honors.
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Keenum led Houston to 10 wins and a victory in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl last season, the school's fourth straight bowl game and its first postseason win since 1981. He passed for more than 300 yards in all but one game of the season, leading the nation in total offense (5,241 yards), while ranking second in passing yards (5,020) and third in passing touchdowns (44). The 2007 C-USA Freshman of the Year completed better than 67 percent of his passes (397-of-589) and averaged 403.2 yards per game. With Keenum at the controls, the Cougars ranked second in the FBS in total offense at 569.9 yards per game, while averaging 40.6 points per game.
Wilson helped East Carolina to back-to-back wins over nationally-ranked opponents to start the season and the school's first Conference USA championship at the end of the season. He led all Pirate linemen with 70 tackles, tied for the Conference USA lead in tackles for loss with 18.5 and was second in the conference in sacks with 10.5. Wilson added five quarterback hurries, one pass breakup and one forced fumble. A first team All-C-USA selection, he recorded at least one sack in nine games and had five or more tackles on eight occasions.
Johnson, a freshman All-American last season, set a school record with 1,319 return yards. He was also Tulsa and Conference USA's leader for all-purpose yardage with 2,201 yards. Johnson, who was the Golden Hurricane's leading pass catcher with 53 receptions and was second for receiving yards with 743, produced 51 plays of longer than 20 yards in his debut season. He set a new school single-game record for kickoff return yards with 211 yards against UTEP, while returning one kick 94 yards for a touchdown in that game.
The 2009 C-USA Football season kicks off Sept. 4 when Tulsa travels to Tulane in a game that will air on ESPN. Nine other teams open the following day, with UTEP hosting non-conference foe Buffalo in the first CBS College Sports telecast of the season. Opening weekend concludes on Sept. 6 when Memphis hosts nationally-ranked Ole Miss on ESPN.