We’ll start with the obvious as we dive into our ULM spring football sneak peaks.
The Warhawks will have a new starting quarterback this season after Portal’s departure Chandler Rogers.
Jiya Wright was battling for a spot against Rogers last preseason but wasn’t a factor after sustaining a rib injury in the opener in Texas. Now he’s lining up to finally earn a starting role after taking a tortuous path through college ball.
“I’m looking forward to the space,” said ULM offensive coordinator Matt Kubik. “Obviously a guy like Jiya who has experience in the system has a good grasp of what we’re doing. Also, his skills really match what we want to do at the quarterback position. I’m happy for him to have the opportunity.”
As a senior dual-threat quarterback at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Wright threw for 2,307 yards on 28 touchdown passes and added 11 scores and 750 rushing yards.
Wright enrolled in Northern Illinois in 2018 but was rescued after a coaching change and entered the transfer portal. He ended up at Division II Florida Tech, which offered an aviation degree. When Florida Tech shut down football operations due to COVID-19 in spring 2020, he transferred to Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College.
He joined ULM in July 2021 after impressing the coaches at a late summer rehearsal camp. Wright played in four games and accounted for 291 total yards of offense and three TDs that first season.
“You sit there as a backup all year and he has one year left,” said Kubik. “He knows this is his last shot and that’s why he’s going to rip his butt off. I’m without a doubt one of his biggest fans.”
Chasing Wright is Hunter Herring, a local product of the Ouachita Christian School in Monroe, relocated home from Louisiana Lafayette. Herring stands at 6ft 4 tall in the pocket but also has the mobility to thrive in the ULM system.
“Now add Hunters with similar abilities,” Kubik said. “I haven’t had a quarterback that great in a long time.”
Herring rushed for 4,950 total yards and 82 touchdowns, leading Ouachita Christian to a 22-3 combined record in 2019-20. The former Class 1A offensive MVP had an LHSAA-record 7 TDs in the 2019 State Championship Game.
“As big as it is, it’s really pocketable,” said Kubik. “But he also has the ability to run the ball.”
Despite being new to the squad, Herring is no stranger to his new coordinator. In his early days at ULM, Kubik recruited Herring from OCS and then ran at him again while training at Southern Miss.
“I’ve had a relationship with him for a long, long time,” said Kubik. “It was an easy step for him to move back home.”
ULM only has three quarterbacks participating in bouncy ball Brian Garcia round off the room.
“With Chandler gone, he now has an opportunity to get some replays,” Kubik said. “I’ve never had just three people in the spring before, but it’s a good rotation. These guys all have a really good grasp of what we do.”
New signing Blake Murphy, who is yet to join the team, threw for 3,564 yards and 39 TDs and rushed for 928 yards and 13 TDs for American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla.
Bring on the knockers: Warhawk fans and coaches alike were frustrated last season seeing the offense struggle in close-range situations, particularly near the goal-line.
If Malik Jackson And Andrew Heinrich left via the transfer portal, it opened the door for ULM to replenish the position.
“Last year the guys we had were ‘home run hitters,'” Kubik said. “They had this top-end pace and were a little bit more choppy. But as a play-caller, it wasn’t easy last year. I kind of joke I’d rather be in third and fourth than third -1 sometimes because you have some more options.
“Third-and-1, you want to hammer it in there, which is what I’m used to. But being lighter in traffic last year was tough.”
To address the issue, staff recruited a pair of sturdier backs to replace the smaller runners that ULM had relied on for the past few years.
“I’m a fan of a bigger back and I’m used to that,” said Kubik, “especially in this zone scheme.”
Isaiah Woullard (5-9, 216) is a transfer from Ole Miss who gained 428 yards and had four rushing touchdowns in 2018. With 8,294 career yards, he is considered the all-time leading rusher in Mississippi high school history.
Thaddius Franklin Jr. is a transfer from Miami, Fla., where he rushed for five touchdowns and 208 yards in 2022. At 6-0 and 240 pounds, Franklin should give the Warhawks a bruising option when hard yards are required.
“Getting some bigger backs is a big deal,” Kubik said. “Adding Thad Franklin as a downhill back and Isaiah Woullard is the same thing. He’s built like a lot of the backs I’m used to.”
Revised Offensive Line: ULM brings back a core of linemen with experience playing together in the same system, including tackles Stacey Wilkins And Keydrell Lewisguards Peyton Dunn And Tellek Lockette and center Zarian McGill .
“I feel like we have a good core group of guys back,” said Kubik. “A guy like Stacey is similar to Jiya. He was a backup last year who knows what he’s doing. He just needs to polish a few things and fight for that spot. A lot of guys react differently when they know they’re being counted on to be the guy. There’s a little bit more pressure on them, and sometimes these guys up their game.
The Warhawks complemented their spring depth by adding junior collegiate transfers Matt Williams, Jay Mickle and Markell Smith.
“Three guys from Mississippi Junior College who are hungry,” Kubik said. “They were in the ranks of JUCO and now they get the chance to play in the sunbelt.”
Kubik believes ULM has the bodies to create a reliable rotation for offensive line coach Kyle Segler replacing Maverick Morris next season.
“We hated losing Coach Morris (to Clemson) but Kyle Segler is a guy I’ve worked with over the years and he’s a super energetic guy,” Kubik said. “I’m blown away by how he’s driving these guys right now.”
Please and you will receive: No matter who wins the QB derby, ULM has a receiving corps that can dish out damage inside and out.
“There’s definitely some speed and talent in this room,” said Kubik.
Tyrone Howell scored a breakout season after joining ULM from Kansas State, finishing with 50 catches for 852 yards and six touchdowns.
“It’s no secret,” said Kubik. “We’re going to build stuff around what he can do.”
The Warhawks are bringing back dynamic slot receivers Bugs Mortimer And Alred Luketogether with external receiver Dariyan Wiley. Notable additions include Bud Tolbert, an outside threat from Middle Tennessee, Air Force prep transfer and OCS product Tristan Wiley, and Mark Britt II, an East Mississippi Community College transfer who originally signed with Ole Miss.
“I’ve always been a fan of having a pair of 6-2 plus guys on the outside and a 5-10 inside guy who can take the top off or you take them the ball in space,” said cubic. “It always seems like a winning formula for what we want to do.”
Information about the spring game: ULM will conclude its 15 spring training sessions with the annual intrasquad game on Saturday, April 1 at 6 p.m. at Malone Stadium. Admission to the spring game is free.