Greetings, Lion fans,, and today, we take a look back at the what was a very promising and exciting look, not only at what might have been, but what lies ahead for Lion football.
It was a picturesque afternoon in Commerce, America, and despite the safety protocols in place, a good time was had by all, and at least for one afternoon, as was well.
Before we take a deeper dive into the game itself, the staff here at The Wire would like to thank AD Tim McMurray, Head Coach David Bailiff and his staff, and Sports Director of Principal Giving Taylor Phelps for a fantastic behind the scenes look at the new Champions Center. If there was a common theme from those of us that have been around a while, it had to have been…..”Sure is an improvement on the old T Lounge.”
Everything about the Champions Center echoes the overall athletic theme, “Best In Class”. There is NOTHING small school about this. State of the art locker rooms with two levels of ventilation. Basically, it doesn’t have an odor. Comfortable couches and chairs. Coolers for drinks. A countdown to game time clock. Streamlined laundry and equipment facilities. The best of sports medicine facilities. All in all, first class.
Probably the most surprising of everything on display were representations of new uniforms. The biggest and best change for both fans and those of us in the media, is the gold numbers on the white away jerseys have been replaced by blue ones with gold trim. If you somehow hear a cheer in the back of your mind, it’s most likely coming from Charlie Chitwood and Brock Callaway. This subtle change makes the radio broadcast so much easier. Along with the National Championship trophy from 2017, and Luis Perez’s Harlon Hill trophy from the same year, it makes for a top flight facility that will go a long way into attracting top flight recruits.
Well done, gentlemen.
Now, let’s take a closer look at what was a very exciting preview of what is to come…..
- OVERALL-In a word, the key here is DEPTH. Very few, if any, starters from the 2019 season, saw action this past Saturday. Despite that, there were flashes of brilliance on both sides of the football. Speed, strength, aggressiveness, and big hits were aplenty, There were some mistakes and areas to be cleaned up, but nothing that can’t be fixed with time and experience, both of which the Lions have in great quantity.
- OFFENSE- Speed, speed, and more speed. The movers and shakers of the Lion offense are in very good hands. Frehsman Eric Rodriguez stood out with a strong arm, and ability to make all the throws, as well as showing mobility in the pocket, and good decision making ability. Freshman Shundarian Ward was not to be outdone, displaying a real knack for extending plays and making things happen with his feet, much like starter Miklo Smalls. Shane Gosson displayed a very strong arm, and Koby Leavitts, along with J.T. Smith, who is returning from injury showed improvement in the running game with both speed and toughness.
On the receiving side, freshman Michael Phoenix had an outstanding day, showing good route running ability, soft hands, and good speed. He had a great one handed catch in the end zone for a touchdown. Freshman tight end/wide receiver Chris Dascher had several tough catches over the middle, and showed an ability to make the run after the catch.
The offensive line, while young, showed great potential, with freshman right tackle Cole Dagen, and transfer Anthonie Thomas having particularly good days. Several good holes were opened in the running game, and the pass protection was not bad, but could use some improvement, which again, will come with time and experience.
3. DEFENSE- Wow. Just wow. At this stage, much like in the spring, the defense is surely ahead of the offense in the evolution of a season. That being said, there was nothing to provide any indication that the Blue Gang that was on display at the end of the 2019 season had weakened one bit. Linebacker Dayne Douglass had several big plays, and rover Mekhi Roberson had some huge hits, as well as an interception. Freshman Whip Sean Krystoff-King had a 65 yard interception return for a touchdown as well. Defensive lineman Clifford Funderburk had several big tackles along the front line.
4. SPECIAL TEAMS-Kicker Jake Viquez did not disappoint. He had a very strong leg, with kickoffs into a stiff south wind landing well inside the 10 yard line. Redshirt freshman punter Mitchell McGarry was a big surprise, with several very good punts both with the wind at his back and in his face.
With the limits in the spring game, Dominique Ramsey and Kader Kohou were not able to return kicks as normal, but did show outstanding judgement and ability to concentrate and catch the ball without incident.
5. CLASS, CLASS, CLASS-This can’t be stressed enough. I had a chance to meet several current Lion players during the day’s proceedings. Young men like Chris Dascher. Antonio Lealiiee. Dominque Ramsey. And although I didn’t get a chance to speak to him in person, but did exchange messages through social media, Alex Shillow. Kind, friendly, and courteous. Outstanding examples of young men, and what they should be. The kind of young men you would want representing your team and your University. A great deal of credit goes to their families, and to their coaches. Brian and I are more convinced than ever that David Bailiff was the right hire at the right time. The assistants and support staff he has assembled is poised to lead this program to unprecendented heights.
The future is bright indeed, Lion fans. We’re gonna have to have shades.