Lions take to the gridiron today
SAGU eyes winning football season
13 starters return to power Team Purple
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- The sounds are unmistakable. The shrill of constant whistles may give it away, but it’s the crack of helmets and shoulder pads that drives fans into the craze of training camp. “Are you ready for some football!?”
The quest to break over the .500 hill is in sight for the Southwestern Assemblies of God University football team, a goal they’re due to soon surpass.
Head Coach and Athletic Director Jesse Godding will welcome anywhere between 85 and 100 young men for the start of camp today. The Lions have three weeks to prepare for their September 1 home debut against nationally-ranked Bethany College.
The Lions met the Swedes, 8-3 in 2011, in Lindsborg, Kansas in the season opener for both teams. Bethany came away with a 29-21 triumph.
SAGU led 21-16 in the third quarter of a game in which they had a 22-15 advantage in first downs. Reid Golson (Grandview, TX / Howard Payne Univ, Grandview HS) came off the bench to rush for 90 yards and a touchdown. He also threw a 30-yard scoring pass to David Howard (Dayton, TX / Dayton HS).
The optimism that springs eternal at the beginning of every summer camp is practically a tangible force. And it’s in full bloom for the Purple and Gold inside their facilities at the Claxton complex.
After going 4-6 in 2011, the Lions head into camp with seven returning starters on offense for new Offensive Coordinator Frank Tristan.
He is expected to continue the squad’s version of the spread offense, which averaged 353 yards; 160 on the ground, 193 through the air. The Lions were 27th in the nation in scoring at 30 points per game.
About the only thing that hindered the attack in 2011 was 29 turnovers, 16 of them on fumbles. A reduction in miscues, where the team was -6 in give-away/take-away margin, could be the difference-maker.
Those returning starters include junior QB Reid Golson (Grandview, TX / Howard Payne Univ, Grandview HS), running backs; senior Sean Haynes (Katy, TX / Katy HS) and sophomore Cade Leuschner (LESH-nuhr) (Waco, TX / Robinson HS), senior wide receiver Nick Morphew (Grandview, TX / Howard Payne Univ, Grandview HS) and three sophomore linemen; Mitchell Grimes (McKinney, TX / McKinney North HS), R.J. Adame (Keller, TX / Keller Central HS) and Peter Akorikin (Dallas, TX / Conrad HS).
Add Trevor McKinley (Arlington, TX / Seguin HS), a senior wide receiver, and the unit has an impressive core. The loss of colorful Malcolm “Max” Whitfield (Waxahachie, TX / Waxahachie HS) to injury opens the door of opportunity for others.
Two newcomers that may step in from the start are Caleb Shelly at tight end and Jesse Bond at guard.
Veteran John Allen is the Defensive Coordinator. His troops will be thin in experience in some areas, primarily at linebacker where they graduated three starters. A line from an old pop song by John Mellencamp speaks of this Lions defense. They’re “not as green as they are young.”
Overall, Allen has six first stringers leading the way. They look to better last season’s 32 ppg yield while surrendering 367 yards (162 rushing, 205 passing) per contest.
Defensive backs; senior Nick Ekanem (EE-kon-um) (San Antonio, TX / B.F. Terry HS) and junior Frank Agbemaple (AGE-maple) (Euless, TX / Trinity HS) have a knack for big plays and making sudden changes in possession.
Ekanem has 10 career interceptions. He led the NAIA as a freshman when he picked off six passes.
Rockie Davis (Santa Fe, TX / Santa Fe HS), a sophomore linebacker, will lead that unit as a Patriot, heat-seaking missile.
Junior Kendall Evers (Danbury, TX / Danbury HS) could step in at ‘backer and junior safety Brad Heathcock (Frisco, TX / Wakeland HS) is hard to overlook, especially if you are a receiver crossing over the middle.
Three sophomore linemen who are back with plenty of playing time as starters are Richard Adewola (Richmond, TX / B.F. Terry HS), Zachary Jackson (Wray, CO / Wray HS) and Brishard Richardson (Waxahachie, TX / Waxahachie HS).
After sitting out a year to rehab an injury, defensive tackle Rodney “D.J.” Johnson (Springfield, MO / Parkview HS) will reappear. Watch for him in opposing backfields.
Adewola (AH-da-WAH-la) and Johnson figure to anchor that group.
Two incoming freshman who might be difference-makers are linebacker Dalton Snyder (Ennis, TX / Ennis HS) and cornerback Austin Martinez (Grandview, TX / Grandview HS).
The defense will sorely miss senior Nathan Kallal (Brighton, IL / Southwestern HS). A leader and hard-worker at linebacker, Kallal (COW-lowl) suffered a physical setback in the spring and will miss the season.
SAGU’s kicking game was steady and dependable last fall. Junior James Gish (Waxahachie, TX / Waxahachie HS) and sophomore Stephen Stewart (Magnolia, TX / Magnolia West HS) are the incumbents at place-kicker and punter, respectively.
Two-a-days in the Texas heat and an out-of-state scrimmage will lead up to a 10-game schedule. The itinerary is against six NAIA teams and four who are either NCAA Division II or III.
The team schedule is currently posted on-line at www.sagu.edu/athletics.
Players will vie to earn starting berths and playing time through the next three weeks. That competition makes the pressures of auditioning the appeal to off-season training for so many athletes.
The Lions will pause for Media Day on August 22, which consists largely of photo and video shoots.
Southwestern is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA). The Lions compete in the Central States Football League.
SAGU remains the only NAIA team to broadcast all of their home games on-line in high definition. SAGU TV also airs select volleyball, soccer and basketball games throughout the year.