Sam Houston Bearkats Top 10 Returning Players in 2024 Include Jevon Leon, Noah Smith

    The Sam Houston Bearkats had a tough first season in the FBS, but fortunately have a stable of solid returning players for the 2024 campaign.

    The Sam Houston Bearkats’ introductory FBS campaign didn’t go so well, with K.C. Keeler’s team starting the season 0-8. However, the 2020 FCS Champions did cap the year on a strong note, mustering three wins in the final four games and giving the fanbase hope of success in their sophomore season.

    If the Bearkats want a spot in the winner’s circle, they must lean on a group of seasoned returners. Who are the Bearkats’ top returning players for the 2024 season?

    Sam Houston State Bearkats Top 10 Returners in 2024

    10) Da’Veawn Armstead, DB

    With Da’Marcus Crosby in the transfer portal, there’s room on the backend of the Bearkats’ defense for Da’Veawn Armstead to assert himself.

    Armstead utilized a redshirt last season after making just four appearances. Still, he’s crept up the Bearkats depth chart this spring and is expected to have a bigger role in 2024 while competing against fellow returner David Fisher.

    9) Malik Phillips, WR

    The Bearkats’ second-leading receiver last season, Malik Phillips hauled in 35 passes for 430 yards and a touchdown.

    Now a fifth-year senior, Phillips proved to be a valuable No. 2 WR for the Bearkats beside Noah Smith, although he will compete for targets against two strong returners in Simeon Evans and Ife Adeyi.

    8) Kavian Gaither, LB

    Sam Houston State’s second-leading tackler in 2023, Kavian Gaither will likely have an extended role in 2024 after the program’s FBS leading tackler Trevor Williams exhausted his eligibility.

    Gather registered 72 tackles, five for a loss, with two forced fumbles, a sack, and a pick. The senior from Waco has 170 tackles in 33 games with the Bearkats.

    7) Zach Hrbacek, RB

    Zach Hrbacek’s production took a huge hit last season as the Bearkats leading rusher in 2022 battled injuries, playing in five games with 93 yards rushing on 37 carries (2.5 per carry) in 2023. The year prior, Hrbacek averaged 5.8 yards per carry, rushing for 495 yards and three scores in nine games in 2022.

    After an offseason to heal, Hrbacek is back and in line to make a nice one-two punch with John Gentry.

    6) John Gentry, RB

    2023 wasn’t a standout year in any aspect for the Bearkats, but John Gentry proved to be a dangerous two-way weapon out of the backfield his first year at Sam Houston. A Houston native who started his career at Utah State, Gentry led the Bearkats in rushing last season with 391 yards and three scores while grabbing another 36 catches for 271 yards and two scores.

    MORE: A Molder of Men: Inside the Success of Sam Houston Head Coach K.C. Keeler

    While his 3.3 yards per carry leaves some to be desired, Gentry is in tow to benefit from a healthy return for Hrbacek as a change-of-pace back.

    5) Ethan Hagler, OL

    A versatile OL who has started games at center and guard, Ethan Hagler brings much-needed experience, having played 37 games for the Bearkats.

    He earned 2020 All-Southland Conference Second Team and 2021 All-WAC Second Team before playing in just four games in 2022. He returned last season to make 11 starts and he’s back in 2024 with two seasons left.

    4) Caleb Weaver, DB

    Da’Marcus Crosby’s likeliest successor as the leader in the Bearkats’ defensive backfield, Caleb Weaver has 70 career tackles in 21 games in Huntsville. He tied for second on the team with two interceptions last year, along with 49 tackles, six pass defenses, a fumble recovery, and a sack.

    A redshirt junior out of Houston, Weaver heads into 2024 as one of the leaders for the Bearkats’ defense.

    3) Grant Gunnell, QB

    On his fourth school after stops at Arizona (2019-2020), Memphis (2021), and North Texas (2022), Grant Gunnell arrived in Huntsville last season and mainly watched from the sideline as he acclimated to new surroundings.

    Gunnell made one start last season in week 3 against Houston (14-20, 100 yards, one INT), his first start since he started seven games at Arizona. With starting QB Keegan Shoemaker exhausting his eligibility, the 6’6″ gunslinger from The Woodlands will get his shot to prove his wait was worth it.

    2) Noah Smith, WR

    A 2023 All-Conference USA Honorable Mention, Noah Smith led the Bearkats in receiving last year with 79 catches for 783 yards and six touchdowns. He also rushed for 102 yards on 27 attempts (3.8 per carry) and two more scores while completing three of four pass attempts for 41 yards.

    KEEP READING: Sam Houston Bearkats 2024 Football Schedule

    A do-it-all threat in Keeler’s offense, Smith returns as a senior in 2024 with a new QB behind center.

    1) Jevon Leon, DL

    A key part of the Bearkats 2020 FCS National Championship, Jevon Leon heads into his final season as the top returner for the Bearkats in 2024. He was a 2019 All-Southland Third Team selection as a freshman, a 2020 All-Southland Conference First Team and AP All-American Second Team selection, and a 2021 All-WAC Second Team selection before taking a redshirt in 2022.

    That redshirt allowed Leon to be a crucial part of Sam Houston’s transition to FBS, playing in 10 games last year and finishing with 20 tackles, 3.5 for a loss, and a sack. While his stats didn’t jump off the page, he’s amassed 123 tackles, 35.5 for a loss, and 17 sacks in his career. With one final go for Leon in Huntsville, he will make the most of it.

    College Football Network has you covered with the latest news and analysis, rankings, transfer portal information, top 10 returning players, the 2024 college football season schedule, and much more!

    College Football Transfer Portal Tracker

    Never miss a beat with the CFN-exclusive College Football Transfer Portal Tracker, listing the student-athletes entering and exiting the transfer portal.

    Related Articles