Greetings, Lion fans. Today’s feature is going to be a little different. So far in the 2020 season, we’ve broken down every match up the Lions will face, and tried to familiarize everyone with each week’s opponent. This week, we turn that same camera inward, and take a closer look at our own squad. Let’s get to it….
2019 Record: 11-3 (2nd LSC)
Biggest Win: vs. Tarleton State, 23-16 (NCAA Division II Playoffs, First Round)
Biggest Loss: vs. Minnesota State-Mankato, 42-21 (NCAA Division II Playoffs, Regional Final)
Head Coach: David Bailiff, 11-3 (2nd Year)
Returning Starters: 8 Offense, 6 Defense
THE SKINNY: The first year could not have been better for David Bailiff. It’s never easy to take over for a legend, but Bailiff sure made it look so.He took the reins of a program two seasons removed from a national championship, a fan base spoiled on winning, and kept the engine humming. Bailiff moved with a quiet, low key manner that masks an old school toughness, and demands for excellence on and off the field.
Offensively, the Lions are loaded with all but one offensive lineman returning, and despite losing play maker Ryan Stokes, still have a deep and talented receiving corps to draw from. The most dynamic quarterback in Division II, Miklo Smalls, is now settled into is role as QB 1, brimming with confidence.
Defensively, the Lions only return six starters, but they seem to be in the right places. Texas Tech transfer Mark Brown, Devin Beamon, and Elijah Earls return in the defensive front, while Alex Shillow, Kader Kohou, Dominique Ramsey, and Darius Williams man the back line.
Points: 32.9 ppg
Rushing: 168.6 ypg
Passing: 241.6 ypg
Total: 410.3 ypg
Rushing: Antonio Lealiiee (5’11” 210 lbs., RS-Sr.) 104-712 yds. 7 TD Long 56
Miklo Smalls (6’2″ 185 lbs., RS-Jr.) 124-689 yds. 3 TD Long 64
Jemal Williams (6’0″ 190 lbs., Jr.) 81-476 yds. 5 TD Long 40
Passing: Miklo Smalls 244-376-8 INT 3,010 yds. 23 TD Long 78
Receiving: Chance Cooper (6’3″ 200 lbs, Sr.) 44-696 yds. 3 TD Long 73
Kelan Smith (6’1″ 170 lbs., RS-Jr.) 44-437 yds. 4 TD Long 24
Matt Childers (6’4″ 180 lbs., RS-Jr.) 13-228 yds. 2 TD Long 78
THE SKINNY: Miklo Smalls returns to direct one of the best offenses in all of Division II. Smalls has the ability to make plays with both his arm and his feet, and forces defenses to account for him. Senior Chance Cooper became a go to threat in 2019, and Kelan Smith rebounded from a disappointing sophomore season in 2018. Red shirt junior Matt Childers continued to develop into a big play receiver, and his future is bright, indeed.
Injuries decimated Lion running backs last season Returning rushing leader Antonio Lealiiee began the season fourth on the depth chart. Pressed into service, he stepped into the limelight and never looked back. Junior Jemal Williams was a converted linebacker, and was the surprise of the season, scoring five touchdowns, and shared the load nicely.
Seniors Carandale Hale and E.J. Thompson return from injury in 2020, and the biggest question may be is how the rushing load is shared. It’s a nice problem to have.
Richard West, Christian Hernandez and Amon Simon return to anchor a solid offensive line that allowed Smalls time to work his magic, and the picture is rosy for 2020.
Points: 20.3 ppg
Rushing: 122.5 ypg
Passing: 193.7 ypg
Total: 316.3 ypg
DE Elijah Earls (6’0″ 240 lbs., RS-Sr.) 52 tackles (21 solo) 9 1/2 sacks
DB Alex Shillow (5’10” 185 lbs., RS-Sr.) 43 tackles (25 solo)
DB Darius Williams (5’9″ 185 lbs., RS-Jr.) 40 tackles (24 solo)
DB Dominique Ramsey (5’9″ 180 lbs., RS-Sr.) 39 tackles (27 solo) 3 INT
THE SKINNY: Earls, Shillow, Williams, and Ramsey return to lead the best defensive unit in the Lone Star Conference. At the end of 2019, the Blue Gang was one of the best in the country. In the playoff win against Tarleton State, the Lions held the best offense in Division II to 56 yards rushing and sacked quarterback Ben Holmes five times. They followed that up with a season high 10 sacks and four turnovers against Colorado School of Mines. This group has bought into the coaching of defensive coordinator Xavier Adibi and his staff, and only stand to get better.
Punting: Andrew Gomez (6’2″ 210 lbs., Jr.) 40-40.3 yds. Long 58
Jake Viquez (5’10” 190 lbs., RS-Jr.) 13-38.7 yds. Long 48
Kicking: Jake Viquez 15-21 FG Long 48
Punt Returns: Dominique Ramsey 21-12.5 yds. Long 55 1 TD
Kader Kohou (5’11” 190 lbs., RS-Jr.) 7-17.2 yds. Long 32
Kick Returns: Dominique Ramsey 17-32.3 yds. Long 91 1 TD
Kader Kohou 8-22.8 yds. Long 42
THE SKINNY: It has become a tradition in Commerce to have great special teams play. Often times, special teams make or break a game. Example: 2017 National Championship. After a Lion turnover, West Florida gets a short touchdown drive and ties the game, seizing momentum. On the ensuing kickoff, Lion legend Reggie Kincade seized momentum right back with a 99 yard touchdown return to give the Lions a lead they would not relinquish.
Simply put, the Lions have one of the best units in the country. Jake Viquez had the unenviable task of taking over for one of the best to don the blue and gold in Kristov Martinez. And take over, he did. Viquez was very consistent and displayed a very strong leg, connecting on a long of 48 yards. He also displayed an uncanny knack for the pooch kick that the Lions were able to recover and turn into scores, the most notable being a kick against rival Midwestern State that spurred a rout by the Lions. Andrew Gomez was a very consistent punter, averaging over 40 yards per punt.
On the other side of the special teams spectrum, the Lions have two of the best returners in the land. Red shirt senior Dominique Ramsey is a electrifying player, scoring touchdowns on both kick and punt returns, and is a threat anytime he touches the ball. Red shirt junior Kader Kohou took over for an injured Ramsey in the playoff game againt Tarleton in 2019, and not to be outdone, averaged over 18 yards on 4 punt returns.
THE LOW DOWN
2020 looks to be a very special year for the Lions. With a loaded offense, and good defensive and special teams play, David Bailiff and crew have goals not just for a Lone Star Conference title, but a national championship. All the elements are there. The road map for the Lions drive for a title are marked by these factors:
- EYES ON THE PRIZE: Focus on the task at hand. West Florida begins a tough stretch right out of the gate. Bowie State was a playoff team in 2019. West Texas A&M and Angelo State are tough conference opponents. Midwestern State is still Midwestern State, and strange things always seem to happen when the Lions make the trip to Wichita Falls, as they will this season.
- DOCTOR, DOCTOR: The Lions must stay healthy, Injuries really hurt the Lions in 2019, especially at running back. They simply ran out of gas against Minnesota State-Mankato. If they stay healthy, there’s no reason why the won’t be playing in December.
- UNFINISHED BUSINESS: The general consensus around the Lion football team is that there was more left for them to accomplish. Injuries and many road trips took their toll on a team that felt they had a real shot at getting to McKinney in 2019.
The opportunity is there in 2020 for the Lions to win a national championship. They have the tools and the talent to do so. If they are able to stay healthy, and focus on the task at hand, there no reason why McKinney can’t be turned into Hawkins Field North.
It’s Time To Hunt.