Greetings, Lion fans. It is the dawn of a new day and a new era in Lion Football. David Baliff takes the reins as the new head coach, and he has hit the ground running. He’s faced many challenges so far-Assembling a staff. Making himself known to alumni and former players. Signing a class of 52 new recruits in a very short amount of time. Getting that staff on the same page. Convincing the current roster to buy into what he’s selling. And if that wasn’t enough, traveling to Miami, Florida, to look after two players who were the victims of an unfortunate robbery. To say he’s had a full plate is an obvious understatement.
Which brings us to this Saturday, and the annual Blue-Gold Spring Game. It should come as a much-needed relief to Coach Baliff and his staff. Finally, a chance to just coach football. There are a lot of questions, understandably, and many things to look forward to. Let’s take a look.
WHAT WILL THE OFFENSE LOOK LIKE?-The biggest question, and the Lions biggest problem last season, was the unsettled quarterback situation. That’s not the case this time. Senior Kane Wilson has taken control of the Lion offense. Once settling in 2018, Wilson became a very effective passer, and a dangerous runner in a goal line situation.
The main issue is, though….what will the offense be under new coordinator Billy Riebock? From what we’ve seen so far, Lion fans can expect to see more of a run/pass balance than in seasons past. That’s not to say that the Lions will become a “three yards and a cloud of dust” type of attack in the manner of Eastern New Mexico or Harding, but more of a design to give the opponent multiple looks and areas to defend. This suits the Lions well. The three-headed monster that is the Lion running attack returns, with Carandale Hale, a healthy EJ Thompson, and a surprise from last season, Nate Davis. This more balanced attack should take pressure off of the offensive line, and make Kane Wilson and the Lion receiving corps even more of a threat. Ryan Stokes, Tyler Guice, Kelan Smith, Chance Cooper, Matt Childers, et al, could find much more room to roam in opposing secondaries this fall if they are forced to defend against an effective Lion rush game.
WILL THE “BLUE GANG” RETURN TO IT’S USUAL FORM?-The backbone of the 2018 Lion season was the defense. They were playing at what my colleague Billy Minor(#billyforthehall) described, “championship level” defense.
This year, the Lions switch form a 3-4 alignment to a 4-2-5. This plays into the strength of the Lions, and that is the defensive backfield. The change should allow new coordinator Xavier Adibi to get players such as LA Dawson, Jalon Edwards-Cooper, Kader Kohou, Alex Shillow, Dominique Ramsey, and redshirt freshman T’Kai Lloyd on the field much more often. Neema Behbahani, Mark Westbrook, along with redshirt freshman Rafael Carbajal return to man the linebacking corps.
The Lion defensive line appears to be well stocked. Pierre Leonard, DD Fletcher, Brandon Bascue, along with newcomer Ryan McCoy, a redshirt freshman, should fit in very well.
The outlook for the Lion defense appears to be bright, indeed. If Adibi coaches like he played at Virginia Tech for defensive gurus Frank Beamer and Bud Foster, than look for some real fireworks and an aggressive, attacking style from the Lions this year.
CAN THE SPECIAL TEAMS BE SPECIAL?-The obvious question is: Who is going to replace the greatest Lions kicker of all time, Kristov Martinez? Martinez leaves behind a legacy unmatched in Lion football history. Replacing him will not be easy. Jake Visquez appears to be the leading candidate right now, but Emmanuel Adagbon, a redshirt freshman from Mesquite, could make some noise.
Tristan Perry returns to handle the punting chores, and has been very good. Perry is most remembered for perfectly executing a fake punt from his own 10 yard line in the 2017 semifinal win against Harding that turned the momentum in the Lions favor.
Reggie Kincade, the most dangerous kick returner in all of Division 2, has graduated, and it was a true pleasure watching him play. This past season, teams just absolutely refused to kick to him at times.
Not to worry, Lion fans. Dominque Ramsey, an electric and exciting punt returner, moves over to handle kick return duties as well. There are several other worthy candidates the Lions possess that just need the time to prove themselves.
WHAT’S OUT THERE?-It is indeed an uncertain future, full of questions. This Saturday, we get a peek inside to see what some of those answers are.
There are some things that are certain. The Lions possess an overload of talent on both sides of the ball. They have size, speed, strength, and a winning culture brought on by years of sustained success.
The future is bright. This Saturday, the road to McKinney and the National Championship that awaits, begins.
See You At The Hawk.