As Southeastern Louisiana began its quest for a third consecutive Southland Conference championship on Thursday with a 34-20 victory against Northwestern State, replacing No. 3 was storyline No. 1 in the minds of many.
Quarterback Bryan Bennett helped transform the Lions’ program the past two seasons after transferring from Oregon in 2013. Twenty wins, two FCS Tournament bids, 70 touchdowns and a Southland Conference Player of the Year nod later, Bennett is now vying for a spot in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts.
Southeastern turns to junior D’Shaie Landor to run its spread attack. Landor played seven games as a backup last season, and saw time in the Lions’ playoff loss to Sam Houston State. Southeastern head coach Ron Roberts is not looking for Landor to be Bennett, but is confident the dual-threat quarterback can pilot the offense to similar success.
“I think everybody’s got a tremendous amount of faith in D’Shaie,” said Roberts, who enters his fourth year at the helm. “He was voted a team captain, and that was voted on last spring so that says a lot. I think he’s got the respect of his team on both sides of the football. He does that by taking care of his business the way he works out there every day in practice. He can run, he can throw, but he’s really a guy who does a tremendous job of executing the offense and not just relying on his athletic ability.”
Landor’s ability landed him at Louisiana-Lafayette out of high school. He redshirted in 2012 and played sparingly in 2013 before transferring to Southeastern. As one might expect, Landor is looking forward to standing behind center.
“I’ve obviously been waiting for this since I’ve been to college,” Landor said. “I’m really excited. First game, a conference game, Thursday night on TV — I expect it to be a big-time atmosphere. It’s going to be an intense game and those are the kind of games you play for.”
Landor said he does not feel pressure to replace Bennett, and one reason for that are the players with whom he will take the field. Southeastern returns eight starters on offense, headlined by two-time honorable mention all-conference wideout Jeff Smiley. The Lions feature seven of their top eight receivers from a year ago overall, including Dylan Bossier, a childhood friend and teammate of Landor’s since age 7.
“All the weight’s not gonna be on his shoulders,” Roberts said. “We’re not going to ask him to win it for us. He’s just gotta go out and execute, get the ball to who’s supposed to get the ball, and run the offense. Do what he’s supposed to do and let the other guys do the work around him.”
Landor considers himself a passer, but believes the ability to freelance is his greatest asset.
“Improvisation — when things break down, I can run around and look for the open guy,” Landor said. “As soon as the quarterback starts running, a lot of defenses leave who they had and start running toward the quarterback and that’s when you can get a lot of big shots behind the defense.”
Landor watched Bennett make plenty of those kinds of plays the last two years, and kept a close eye on him in all aspects of the game. Being himself, though, is Landor’s main concern. The Lafayette, La., native embraces Roberts’ mantra of “it’s about us.”
“I just try to show the guys, ‘Hey, I’m here to work,’” Landor said. “I try to be the first one in, last one out every day. Just put in the work and get the respect of the guys, and really get them to rally around me and play for me because I think that’s the biggest key to playing quarterback. You have to get the players to respond to you.”