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Louisiana Tech garners 10 All-Conference USA selections

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Smoke Harris
(Photo: Josh McDaniel)

RUSTON, La. – Louisiana Tech wide receiver and punt returner Smoke Harris, punter Blake Ochsendorf, and defensive back Willie Roberts earned first-team All-Conference USA honors, while kicker Jacob Barnes and kick returner Demarcus Griffin-Taylor landed on the league’s second team the conference office announced on Tuesday.

Wide receiver Cyrus Allen, linebacker Jeslord Boateng, and offensive lineman Carson Bruno earned honorable mention distinction. Additionally, defensive back Michael Richard earned a spot on the CUSA All-Freshman team.

Harris was one of the most reliable receivers in the country, hauling in 83 receptions for 796 yards and four touchdowns. He led all CUSA players with four games of 10+ receptions this season while tying for third among all CUSA receivers in scrimmage plays over 10 yards with 31. The St. Francisville native ended the season having caught a pass in 44 consecutive games, the fourth-longest streak nationally and the longest in CUSA.

Harris was just as electrifying in the return game with a conference-leading 283 punt return yards and one touchdown. He had the two highest single-game punt return yards in Conference USA this season, with 72 at UTEP and 70 against WKU. At UTEP, he became the first Bulldog since 2017 to return a punt for a touchdown with a conference-long 67-yard punt return during the victory.

Ochsendorf made an immediate impact during his first season at Tech, leading CUSA and ranking 15th nationally with a 45.72 punting average while recording a 48.09 punting average during league contests, which ranked third nationally. The Minnesota native had 17 punts of 50+ yards, while 18 were downed inside the 20-yard line. Ochsendorf ended the season as the all-time leader in career punting average at Louisiana Tech at 45.72 (minimum of 50 punts).

Roberts was one of the top defensive backs in the country in 2023. The 2023 Paycom Jim Thorpe Award Semifinalist led the conference and ranked fifth nationally with 12 pass breakups during the regular season, nine of which came during league play. Opponents completed 34.8 percent of passes against him (16-48) during the season. The Fort Worth product also totaled 38 tackles and an interception, forced fumble, and fumble recovery.

Barnes led LA Tech in scoring with 65 points during 2023. The Baton Rouge product connected on 12 of his 15 field goal attempts to lead CUSA in field goal percentage (80%). He tied for the conference single-game high in field goals made with three, which he accomplished twice this season against FIU and Northwestern State. Barnes is the LA Tech all-time career leader in field goal percentage (79.4%) and ranks fourth in program history with 54 field goals made and fifth in extra points made (139).

Griffin-Taylor amassed a 24.7 kick return average after transitioning into the role in the latter third of the season. He led CUSA in kick return average and ranked 10th nationally. Griffin-Taylor was the first Bulldog to register 100+ kickoff return yards in back-to-back games since 2012, courtesy of a 109-yard performance at Liberty and a 113-yard performance at Sam Houston, both of which were the two top single-game kick return performances in CUSA this season.

Allen hauled in 46 receptions for 778 yards and four touchdowns while ranking fifth among all CUSA players with 70.7 receiving yards per game. The Sophomore topped 100 receiving yards in three games this season, highlighted by a career-high 170-yard performance against Sam Houston, the most by a LA Tech player since 2019. Allen had 29 receptions for 10+ yards during the season and ranked fourth in CUSA in plays from scrimmage over 30 yards with four.

Boateng led LA Tech with 93 total tackles this season, including a team-high nine tackles for loss. He ranked fifth among all CUSA players in total tackles (93), and is tied for sixth in tackles for loss (9). Boateng led the Bulldogs in tackles in consecutive weeks with 13 against Liberty and 11 against Sam Houston while posting nine or more tackles in four games in 2023.

Bruno started all 12 games on the Bulldogs offensive line at right tackle in 2023 and paved the way for seven 100+ yard rushing games. He was part of a LA Tech offense that ranked third in the conference with 243 first downs and played a vital role in protecting the quarterback in the Bulldogs’ passing offense, which ranked third in CUSA at 260.9 yards per game.

Richard was one of the top freshmen nationally in 2023. He led all CUSA freshmen with seven pass breakups, which ranked seventh nationally among all FBS freshmen. Opponents completed just 40 percent of passes (14-35) against him this season, according to Pro Football Focus, while allowing just one touchdown in 249 defensive snaps. His 83.5 coverage grade was the fourth-best mark among all CUSA defensive backs. The New Orleans native also tallied 32 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and two quarterback hurries.

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