Commerce’s Lions are back on top in the realm of College Football, but how much farther can they climb after reaching the top, or more importantly, can they stay there?
45 Years and 7 Days.
That was how long it had been since Texas A&M-Commerce had experienced Football supremacy. The Lions are somewhere they have not been in quite some time. They are defending national champions with a lot of talent that has been retained, transferred in, and a load of high school talent that has seen what has been going on in that Northeast Texas town on the old cotton belt railroad route. While not uncharted territory for TAMUC, it has been a long time since they have found themselves in this position. What got them there has been Colby Carthel’s almost unreal success story. Carthel has put together a resume of nothing but success in a very short amount of time. The Football program has also been bouyed by the TAMUC athletic department’s bold and innovative strategies to get to Lion football to the top and keep it there.
The loneliest place to be.
Like the old coach told his young successor after winning a state championship. “You are alone and at the top. That is far place to fall from and a lonely place to be.”
The Lions have not had the continued run of success they have experienced since the 1970’s and to a lesser extent the late 1980’s and early to mid 1990’s. The “Golden 50’s” are the gold standard for Lion football, and at this rate, there could be the birth of a dynasty not seen since the Milburn Smith/JV Sikes days.
Texas A&M-Commerce Lions
Head Coach: Colby Carthel, 6th Season, (48-15 Overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Storm (6th Season)
Offensive Formation: Spread
Defensive Coordinator: Scott Power (1st Season)
Defensive Formation: Multiple
National Titles: 1972 (NAIA DI) & 2017 (NCAA DII)
Last Conference Title: 2016
Total Conference Titles: 25
Last 10 Win Season: 2017 (14-1)
Last Postseason Appearance: 2017 NCAA Division II National Champions
Last All-American: 201&: Luis Perez, Jared Machorro, Yusef Sterling-Lowe
Last Harlon Hill Winner: Luis Perez (2017)
Last year’s Lion offense was about as good as any offense in the history of the program. The Lions do lose quite a bit of firepower, including the man pulling that trigger, Quarterback Luis Perez, now with the Los Angeles Rams. The Lions also lost to graduation playmakers Buck Wilson, D’Arthur Cowan, and Shawn Hooks, in addition to 3 starters on the offensive line, including All-American Jared Marchorro. However, it appears that the Lions will have a trigger man ready in the wings in JUCO transfer Kane Wilson. Wilson led Fullerton College in Southern California to a perfect record and a National JUCO Championship while nabbing JUCO All-American honors. Wilson is almost 27, but he had a strong spring game to show that he is without a doubt the man that is leading the charge to lead the Lion’s offense next season. The staff has been high for years though on his challenger, redshirt Junior Preston Wheeler from Austin. Wheeler has had 3 years in the system and has seen mop up duty in some blowout wins, and could still make it competitive. Though Wilson appears to be the runaway favorite, do not rule Wheeler out quite yet.
The running back position is very healthy. The top two rushers in Carandal Hale and E.J. Thompson were both Freshman last season and both were major parts of the Lion rushing attack. Expect Hale to be the starter and Thompson to get the power yards and his share of carries as was the case last season. Both backs have speed and power, however Thompson seems to not have issues with ball security that Hale does, but Hale has proven himself to be larger big play ability, but both will be toting the ball this season, and if they have good years, expect the Lions to produce on offense.
The strongest returning unit are the receivers without a doubt. The Lions return 3 players that were either starters for the entire year or part of the year. The main target for whoever pulls the trigger on offense will have Vincent Hobbs, who is arguably the best tight end in the entire country. Hobbs blocks, catches, and runs as well as anyone does and he is the offense’s most potent skill player. Darrion Landry, Marquis Wimberly, and Kelan Smith will round out the starters and what a powerful lineup that is. Landry is perhaps the best one on one receiver and has speed that is hard to defend for most one on one corners. When the Lions are running the double tight, Corey Smallwood is truly an X factor and flies under the radar but will contribute to the success of the Lions as he will be groomed to take the TE/A position when Hobbs graduates.
The offensive line is a true riddle at this point, but replacing 3 starters always is. The trick to getting a line to be successful is how they mesh as a unit especially in getting to blocking assignments. Look for Jonah Brown along with Jackson Webb, Kendall Mathis, and Brian Taylor to all be in the running for O-Line spots.
Projected Starters (Based on last year’s returners and spring ball performance. Impact Players in Bold) –
QB-Kane Wilson, 6’4 225 LBS, Junior, Placentia, CA
RB-Carandal Hale, 5’11 190 LBS, R-SOPH, Greenville, TX
WR-Darrion Landry, 6’3 200 LBS, Senior, Baytown, TX
WR-Marquis Wimberly 6’2 205 LBS, Senior, Upland, CA
WR-Kelan Smith, 6’1 170 LBS, SOPH, Dallas, TX
TE-Vincent Hobbs, 6’3, 255 LBS, Senior, Mesquite, TX
OL-Jonah Brown, 6’5, 315 LBS, Junior, Waco, TX
OL-Malik Ellis, 6’6 280 LBS, Senior, Dangerfield, TX
OL- Ken Holmes, 6’4, 275 LBS, Junior, Tyler, TX
OL-Abdul Shamma, 6’5, 310 LBS, RS-Junior, San Antonio, TX
OL-Jordan Smith, 6’4, 315 LBS, SR, Mansfield, TX
Defense does win championships, and the A&M-Commerce Lion defense of 2017 showed that.
On a unit that featured former DI transfers, multi-year starters, and even some freshmen, the Lions showed themselves to be in the competition as the best defense in the country. The front 7 of the Lions will no doubt be their strength, as they return an whopping 9 of 11 starters, including the strength of their unit, the linebacking crew. The super talented linebacking unit features All-American candidate Brucks Saathoff, Garrett Blubaugh, and Neema Behbahani. This trio is the backbone of the entire unit, but the front 3-4 linemen are just as big in their importance. Peyton Searcey is perhaps the most versatile on this line with the ability to pass rush, tackle in space, and crash gaps. The front 7 is very strong.
The secondary loses All-American Yusef Sterling-Lowe to the NFL, but are loaded with young talent. Alex Shillow, Chris Smith, and DJ White all return and also the addition of role guys Danny Huckaby and Dominique Ramsey will all contribute. The secondary is capable of making plays and must do so especially when the second stride of conference play starts.
Projected Starters: (Based on last year’s returning starters as well as performance last year and spring ball analysis, Bolded name indicates major impact player)
DE-Peyton Searcy, 6’0, 275 LBS, SR, Killeen, TX
DE-Michael Onuoha, 6’5, 255 LBS, SR, Edmond, OK
NT-D.D. Fletcher, 6’1, 240 LBS, JR, Arlington, TX
LB-Brucks Saathoff, 6’0 195 LBS, SR, San Antonio, TX
LB-Garrett Bluebaugh, 6’2, 220 LBS, RS-JR, Keller, TX
LB-Neema Behbahani, 6’1, 220 LBS, JR, Plano, TX
LB-Mark Westbrook, 5’11, 195 LBS, JR, Schertz, TX
FS-Alex Shillow, 5’10, 185 LBS, RS-SOPH, Pflugerville, TX
LCB-Danny Huckaby, 6’1, 180 LBS, SR, Mexia, TX
SS-Chris Smith, 6’1, 170 LBS, SR, Mansfield, TX
RCB-D.J. White, 6’1, 160 LBS, SR, Houston, TX
Overview: Special teams have always been special since Colby Carthel arrived in Commerce. Kristov Martinez will cap off a fine career with one more season as he broke Billy Watkins’ 22 year old scoring record. Martinez could make a case for him being the best place kicker in all of college football, and not just Division II. The guy has ice water in his veins and heaven help you if he gets to kick a game winner against you. Expect excellence as normal for him this year.
Tristan Perry came in as a true freshman as the punter, and performed well for someone who did not even have one year as a redshirt to develop. Perry is an expert running rugby style kicker and the former standout high school quarterback is a double danger as I can imagine The Lions will be fake punting quite a few more times than last year. I believe that Perry will be an All-American before he leaves Commerce.
Jake Viquez shared punting duties with Perry at the beginning of the year until Perry took the job, but I believe that Viquez will be groomed as Kritov Martinez’s heir at place kicker. Viquez has a great leg and I believe he is the future as a place kicker. I expect to see him handle some kickoffs and field goal attempts when some games are out of reach. Keep an eye on this kid who was coached by former Lion kicker, the great Billy Watkins.
Dominique Ramsey and Reggie Kincade are probably your two top guys to return punts and kicks now that Shawn Hooks and Buck Wilson have graduated. Kincade’s unreal 99 yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the national title game showed how explosive and fast he can be, and Ramsey got quite a bit of work during the playoffs. I am curious to see what this unit looks like.
PK-Kritov Martinez, SR, Edinburg, TX
P-Tristen Perry, SOPH, Mineral Wells, TX
- Vs. Texas A&M-Kingsville-The Hoggies come back to Commerce and it will be another dogfight, but expect the Lions to come out on top.
- @ William Jewell-Lions win this one easily.
- @ Eastern New Mexico-This one is simple and always has been. Lions must run their offense better than the Greyhounds run theirs.
- VS. Colorado State-Pueblo-A golden gem of an opportunity to start the season 4-0 and do so at home against a perennial playoff team.
- VS. Lockhave Pennsylvania-Lions win in a big time blowout in Commerce.
- @ Midwestern State-This one is the big one, and Lion nation wants a big win on the road. This is the most important game of the year, bar none.
- VS. Tarleton State-Lions will face a tough Texans team for the President’s cup. Will the Lions take 7 in a row, or will the Texans turn the tide? Expect a huge battle.
- @ Western New Mexico-The almost 900 Mile trip will be tough. The toughest part will be the road fatigue, and the athletic ability of the Mustangs.
- VS. West Texas A&M-Lions blow out the Buffs for homecoming. The Buffs running game is simply not strong enough to score and move the ball against the Lions front 7.
- @ Texas-Permian Basin-The Falcons will be tougher than last year, but still not quite top LSC material. Lions win somewhat comfortably.
- VS. Angelo State-Lions and Rams battle to close the regular season, perhaps both teams will have postseason chances on the lines. This will be a tough game as ASU has a stout defense.