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Updated: August 8, 2003, 4:19 PM ET

THIBODAUX, La. -- Nicholls State accomplished a lot last season -- finishing with a 7-4 record and a national ranking in the final Division I-AA Top 25 poll.

This year they would like to do even more.

"That's going to be a big challenge -- for us to maintain that enthusiasm, intensity and tempo of work," coach Daryl Day said. "Each day weve got to continue doing that."

With 14 starters returning (seven each on offense and defense), the Colonels have veteran leadership they hope will help them to a Southland Conference Championship.

Nicholls State gained an SLC-best 2,784 yards last season, averaging 253.0 per game. It was not through the air, however.

In 2002, passing was not a strength for Nicholls. The Colonels' quarterbacks completed 45.6 percent of their passes for 680 yards, three touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Although the running game remains the team's forte, Daye said the Colonels need to improve on passing to be successful.

"Throwing the football is part of our package, and as we do it, well do it better," he said. "You have to be able to throw the football because when you get behind in a game and in certain situations, well have to throw it. We obviously need to work on that every day in practice."

Veteran quarterback Josh Son, running back Travis Felder and fullback Colt Colletti, will be the keys to the Nicholls ground attack.

"We're a running team and a ball-control team," Daye said. "It's our belief that it teaches toughness and it teaches the players to be physical, so that's what we're going to do. That's what we're going to rely heavy on this season."

The biggest question mark for the Colonels on offense will be on the offensive line, with only three starters returning.

Last season, Nicholls finished at the top in the SLC in scoring defense and was ranked No. 2 in the league in both rushing and passing defense.

With veteran players like Chris Thompson, Phillip Robin, David Willis and Torrian Thomas, the Colonels should continue their attacking style of play.

Thompson will anchor a secondary that returns all four starters from last season and is brimming with depth. One of the strong suits for the Colonels will be at the linebacker position where two starters return from last year's squad, Penn Morris and Thomas.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index