Hungry Lions begin new season today
2012 Team and Season Preview
SAGU welcomes #24 ranked Bethany College
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- With the appetite of a farmhand at haytime, the football team at Southwestern Assemblies of God University enters a new season on today.
Driven by the hunger pangs of a decade of seeking their first winning season, SAGU’s preparation for the 2012 campaign has the look of a resilient overcomer.
A 4-6 ledger a year ago had plenty of ifs and buts of what could have been. However, the off-season was one of determined, individual workouts that were bent on 'being the change' the team needs.
Focused on personal discipline and training, many players worked out wearing heavy chains around their necks while lifting weights. It was symbollic, yes, but heightened the challenge.
Head Coach Jesse Godding’s gridders wanted more and were willing to toil in the weight room and on outdoor surfaces broiling in the Texas heat.
The 2011 season saw the Lions score thirty points and yield thirty-two, often the result of self-inflicted miscues and turnovers. SAGU had the second best offense in the Central States Football League, though short-circuited by 29 turnovers.
Defensively they were much better than they appeared. Solid stands on first and second downs were too often undone by big plays on third down.
A 3-1 start saw the Lions ranked for the first time by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Losing leads left the Lions craving whatever it takes to finish a 10-course season.
Team Preview: Taking Offense
Godding brought in Frank Tristan and gave him the reigns to the offensive attack.
Not needing to scrap the spread-option, the new Offensive Coordinator has infused the team. They will look employ their playmakers more, to run the ball better and to take better care of the pigskin.
Not necessarily in that order.
The offense will be spearheaded by electric junior QB Reid Golson (Grandview, Tx / Howard Payne Univ, Grandview HS).
Already as hard to catch as nailing jello to a tree, the elusive Golson has sharpened his throwing accuracy. He ran for 491 yards and five scores and passed for 905 and seven TD’s.
The graduation of QB Jason Rice (Katy, Tx / Texas State Univ, Faith West HS) and all-time leading receiver David Howard (Dayton, Tx / Dayton HS), combined with a season-ending injury to 6’3 WR Max Whitfield (Waxahachie, Tx / Waxahachie HS) added to its challenges.
However, a solid recruiting class and the rise in performance by those who have stepped up, has berthed a hope with substance.
Speed Thrills: Wing-footed Wideouts
Nick Morphew (Grandview, Tx / Grandview HS) has the gift of grab and a knack for finding seams in the secondary.
Fleet-footed Trevor McKinley (Arlington, Tx / Seguin HS), now that his time has come, could be the X-factor. In fact, velocity aptly describes the Lions skill position players.
A talented and deep group of receivers has a pair of newbies to the starting line-up in Jeremy McDonald (San Antonio, Tx / Cornerstone Christian) and Austin Martinez (Grandview, Tx / Grandview HS). They offer a blend of gliding route-running and acceleration.
The offensive line returns three starters; Peter Akorikan (ah-KOR-ick-in) (Dallas, Tx / Conrad HS), R.J. Adame (Keller, Tx / Central HS) and Mitchell Grimes (McKinney, Tx / North HS), all over 300-pounds, and two freshman rocks in Jesse Bond (Springdale, Ark / Har-Ber HS) and Derius Griffin (McKinney, Tx / North HS).
Averaging 160-yards on the ground in 2011, the backfield has the makings of an encore.
Senior Sean “Gone” Haynes (Katy, Tx / Univ of Houston, Katy Taylor HS) (350 yds rushing) is as quick as ever and is packing more punch at 207-lbs. His abilities out of the backfield as a receiver make him a dual-threat.
Sophomore Cade Lueschner (Waco, Tx / Robinson HS) runs with heart and churned his legs to 5.8 per carry last year. Few will forget his three scoring bursts that propelled SAGU to a 38-3 lead against Bacone College a year ago.
Haynes will sit out the season opener with a tender leg while Lueschner (LESH-nuhr) is sore from a vigorous camp. And he likes it that way. It improves his focus. He could get the start over freshman Emmanuel Castillo (Lake Jackson, Tx / Brazoswood HS).
Transfer halfback Landry Martinez (Godley, Tx / East Texas Bapt, Godley HS), a 5’10, 190-lb jet, was a huge surprise in camp. A recent injury will shelve him in September.
The Defense never rests
When it comes to stopping opponents, Defensive Coordinator John Allen is an endless schemer.
The 3-4 alignment in 2011 took advantage of three outstanding linebackers and monolithic tackle Jonathan Hulett (Corrigan, Tx / Corrigan HS) as its anchor. They were all seniors.
Like singer John Mellencamp’s line, “You aren’t as green as you are young,” Allen has plenty of emerging stalwarts.
It looks as though he has found a bookend ‘Backer for sophomore Rockie Davis (Santa Fe, Tx / Santa Fe HS) in redshirt-freshman Dalton Snyder (Ennis, Tx / Ennis HS).
Both are 6’1 with Davis a solid 210-lbs and Snyder at 220. Their lateral pursuit to the corner is exciting to watch.
In the middle is converted fullback Kendal Evers (Danbury, Tx / Danbury HS), a hard-nosed hitter. Jason Bethel (Red Oak, Tx / Red Oak HS) is another in the line of hybrid safety-outside linebackers that comprises much of Coach Allen’s tactics.
The deep safeties are Brad Heathcock (Frisco, Tx / Wakeland HS) and Mo Mansaray (Dallas, Tx / Conrad HS). Like the Predator, they snarl like heat-seeking missiles; strong, fearless and swift afoot.
Cornerback should be very solid this year with a healthy Nick Ekanem (Richmond, Tx / Arkansas State, B.F. Terry HS), a senior with 10 career picks, back and determined.
Across from Ekanem (EE-kon-um) is Shakeem Taylor (Mesquite, Tx / Poteet HS), a speedy ballhawk. Both are 5-foot-10.
Frank Agbemaple (Euless, Tx / Trinity HS) will probably mesh into cover packages. Agbemaple (AGE-may-pul) is drawn to the ball like a moth to a flame.
The defensive line could receive Al Gore’s praise. They are green.
Richard Adewola (Richmond, Tx / B.F. Terry HS), Zack Jackson (Wray, Col / Wray HS) and freshman rush-specialist Harry Ford (Thibodaux, La / Thibodaux HS) mix size, toughness and haste as part of a rotation.
Adroit at handling offensive linemen is 6’4, 300-lb junior Rodney “DJ” Johnson (Springfield, Mo / Parkview HS). Johnson can wreak havoc with speed or bull rushes, each allowing him, like osmosis, to consume its prey from proximity.
He could be the cog in the D's wheel.
The Kicking Game
The Lions special teams have a duo of kickers who are more than capable.
James Gish (Waxahachie, Tx / Waxahachie HS) scored 52 points as a kicker last season, making 34-of-35 PAT’s and six field goals. The junior's longest split the uprights from 50-yards.
Sophomore Steven Stewart (Magnolia, Tx / Magnolia West HS) won a spirited battle for the punting job in 2011 and performed like he intends to keep it. He averaged 35.4 yards per punt with three over 60, including one of 68. None were blocked.
Coverage and the return game were efficient though not spectacular.
About the Bethany Swedes
SAGU will play two nationally ranked teams this season, beginning with Bethany College (Kansas) at home on Saturday. The Swedes, 8-3 last autumn, have hung their hat on a running game that featured All-America halfback Junior Allen.
His recent departure, transferring last week to Faulkner University (Alabama) has been the talk of the town, perhaps even more than his back-to-back 1,400-yard seasons.
Bethany will be led by the pitch-and-catch combination of seniors, Darby House (QB) and Brandon Martino (WR).
Last years they averaged 391 yards of total offense per game, which ranked #20 in the NAIA. SAGU was #37 at 353. Their ground attack, fueled by Allen, picked up 163 yds and 17 TD's, ranking #30. SAGU ran for 160 ypg and 13 scores, rating #31.
On defense, the Swedes surrendered 331 ypg, good for #39 of the 81 Division I teams. The Lions allowed 368 ypg, ranking #50. BC was #54 in run defense, permitting 178 ypg, compared to SAGU's #42 rated at 162 ypg.
Their defensive line is very good. It could hold the team together while they search to fill the void in the wake of Allen’s exodus. Tevis Linnebur, a sophomore, could be the answer.
SAGU Sports Live crew brings the action
The 6:00pm kickoff will be broadcast over the internet by SAGU TV. Still the NAIA’s only broadcast in HD, it all starts with a 5:45pm (CST) pre-game show.
Fans can access the high definition livestream at www.sagu.tv.
Rob Price will serve as the host and play-by-play man, with Tim Roberts providing the color analyst role.
Bianca Alarcon is the new sideline reporter. She will update the audience from near the SAGU bench with news on injuries as well as pre, mid and post-game interviews.
At halftime, SAGU Sports Live will spotlight the Lions’ senior cornerback, Nick Ekanem. He led the nation in passes broken up during his freshman season. That year he also had six interceptions and was named to its All-America team by The Sporting News.
Hoisting the Colors: Deep Purple, Royal Blue
Southwestern will don their all-purple uniform while BC will sport a new, all-white combo. The Lions' gold domes are adorned with a collegiate block ‘S.’
The Swedes uniform returns to their traditional royal blue and gold (yellow) colors for trim. Look for an introduction of a more progressive lettered logo on their helmets.
Covering the game; radio, weather, website
KVOB 95.5 Jack Radio, from Lindsborg, Ks, along with media from the area have journeyed 430 miles with the Swedes to Waxahachie.
Weather could play a factor in the game. The National Weather Service is calling for a 20% chance of scattered thunderstorms, starting at 11:00am through nightfall, with a temp of 96 occurring at kickoff.
Eleven mph winds, blowing south, southeasterly may also have a say in the passing game.
A review of the game, complete with statistics, highlights and action photos will be posted here.