Greetings, Lion fans, and for the first time in 632 days, I am ecstatic to say…..IT’S GAME WEEK! Finally, after losing an entire season to a pandemic, a season in which the Lions were denied a legitimate shot at a national title, the time has finally arrived for actual college football to actually be played. No more delays, no more endless waiting. It is time to play. So let’s dive right in and break down the match ups.
OVERVIEW-The Lions come into the 2021 season opener loaded, and chomping at the bit to test themselves, and see just how good they really are as a team. They are sure to be tested early in the year, with two quality opponents in this week’s contest, and #1 West Florida coming to Commerce in week 3 sandwiched around a LSC rivalry renewal with Midwestern State in Week 2.
Colorado State-Pueblo opens the 2021 season with two consecutive wins over the Lions, the first in the 2018 season at The Hawk, in which the weather conditions can best be described as a torrential downpour. In 2019, the Lions made the trip to Golden, Colorado, only to come out on the short end once again. Costly mistakes, and questionable officiating dashed any hopes of a Lion win.
However, it is a new season, one filled with great hope and expectations. Also, if there is one thing that Head Coach David Bailiff has proven, is that he has a knack of settling past accounts quickly. Division I-FCS Tarleton State serves as a prime example
UP FRONT/TALE OF THE TAPE-
Lion Offensive Line: 6’4″ 270 lbs.
Wolves Front Seven: 6’2″ 248 lbs.
The offensive line of the Lions comes back intact in 2021, led by senior tackle Amon Simon (6’5″ 275 lbs., RS-Sr.), who has garnered several pre season All American honors. Joined on the front by redshirt juniors Richard West (6’6″ 240 lbs.), Travis Dafft (6’1″ 255 lbs.), Anthonie Thomas (6’8″ 320 lbs.), and Christian Hernandez (6’1″ 265 lbs.), this group is big, strong, very quick, and the engine that drives one of the most potent offenses in all of Division II.
Colorado State-Pueblo loses their three top tacklers from 2019, but still have loads of experienced talent. Senior linebacker Trevor Philio (6’4″ 250 lbs.)returns as the leading tackler with 69 total tackles (29 solo), and an eye popping 9 1/2 sacks. Sophomore safety Cory McLellan (6’2″ 190 lbs.) follows with 50 tackles (31 solo), and three interceptions. Junior Max Gonzales (5’11” 227 lbs.) has 46 tackles (20 solo), along with 3 sacks and 2 interceptions. Junior Trey Botts (6’3″ 281 lbs.) is the lone returning starter on the defensive line, but is a quality nose tackle that can really stuff the run.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS- The Thunderwolves secondary is led by the aforementioned McLellan, and senior corner Marcus Lawrence (6’2″ 202 lbs.), While their numbers are not particularly flashy, they are a solid cover group that has the ability to really clamp down on offenses.
There is a question for the Lions at quarterback. Redshirt Junior Miklo Smalls, according to our sources here at The Wire, is recovering from an off season knee injury much faster than anticipated, but may not be ready Thursday. The smart money seems to be on freshman sensation Eric Rodriguez (5’11” 190 lbs.) who has taken advantage of the extra time off to work diligently on learning offensive coordinator Billy Riebock’s system, and from all accounts, has exceeded expectations.
However, there are no questions at the other positions among the backs and receivers. The Lions have a problem that every coach in America would love to have. 4 very talented, fast, and powerful running backs. Seniors Carandale Hale and E.J. Thompson return from injuries to have one final chance at a ring. The real hero of the 2019 season, redshirt junior Antonio Lealieiee, who went from fourth team at the beginning of the 2019 season , to first team All-LSC, also returns. Senior speedster J.T. Smith, a member of the Lions championship 4×100 relay team during track season also returns for one more shot. The only problem for Riebock is finding enough touches to spread around.
Senior Chance Cooper (6’3″, 200 lbs.) returns to lead the receiving corps, along with redshirt junior Matt Childers. Add to the mix TCU transfer Kenedy Snell (5’9″ 190 lbs.,) and Tulane transfer Kevin Ledee (6’5″ 190 lbs.) and whoever QB 1 is for the blue and gold, he’ll have quite the array of targets from which to choose.
Florida Tech transfer Chris Dascher(6’2″ 250 lbs.) showed outstanding promise as a tight end during the fall game last November, and looks to take on a bigger role this season.
VERY SPECIAL, INDEED- Jake Viquez has come into his own, and takes his place in a long line of great Lion kickers. 15 of 21 on field goals in 2019, with a long of 48 yards, Viquez also has used his extra time to improve his strength and accuracy, and now has a range of as long as 60 yards, Now, any time the Lions cross midfield, Viquez presents a real threat. In addition, he has developed a real talent with the pooch kickoff, and a knack of knowing just when to use it. He broke open a tight early game with Midwestern in 2019, in which the Lions recovered two muffed pooch kicks, and turned them into easy touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Mitchell McGarry, a native of Australia, now takes over at punter, and from all accounts is progressing nicely.
The Thunderwolves return game is anchored by sophomore corner Darius Holton (5’10” 181 lbs.) and sophomore wideout Nigel Mitchell (5’11” 180 lbs.), who, although do not have impressive numbers, still provide the CSU-P offense with a good starting point.
BY THE NUMBERS-
Rush- 168.6 ypg
Pass- 241.6 ypg
Total- 410.3 ypg
Turnovers- 18 (+4 total)
Rush- 73.8 ypg
Pass- 222.3 ypg
Total- 296.1 ypg
Turnovers- 39 (+25 total)
WHAT’S GOING DOWN-Early season match ups, especially this year in Division II, are extremely tough to gauge. On one hand the Lions have two consecutive games to CSU-P. On the other, the questions surrounding the Lion offense have, other than the availability of Miklo Smalls, has been answered.
The Thunderwolves, while missing their top three tacklers from 2019, also lived by the turnover that season. The problem is, what happens when the turnovers don’t come.
The Lions return their entire offense from 2019. An offense that is hungry. Anxious to get started and prove just how talented and dangerous they truly are.
FINALLY, Lion fans, FINALLY. After over 600 days……… IT IS TIME TO HUNT.
See You Thursday.