After struggling through a challenging 3-6 campaign and a sub par finish in the Midwest Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 2013, the Lindenwood football Lions are definitely looking to turn those numbers around and get back to the winning ways the program enjoyed just two years ago.
“We came into the league and had so much success our first year with eight wins and our team had so many seniors on it and all those guys contributed, so it was much harder to replace them and we had a lot to learn that season,” Lindenwood coach Patrick Ross.
Lindenwood has nine returning starters on offense and is well-stocked at the skill positions this fall.
“We have a lot of guys who started for us during that eight win season that have started for us since then,” Ross said. “So now we have some veteran guys with experience in critical positions.”
The wide receiver group will be the strength of the Lions offense as a group of five receivers will be led by second-team All-MIAA performer Alex Robinson and team offensive MVP Jaron Alexander. Robinson and Alexander teamed up for 1,238 yards receiving with nine touchdowns last season.
“Our receivers should be a position of strength for us that should help carry our football team,” Ross said.
Dillon Miller is back at the quarterback position for the Lions and Miller will look to build on a season that saw him finish third in the MIAA in passing with 259.3 yard per game average.
Junior Steven Kaiser (De Smet Jesuit), sophomore Scott Kroeger, and freshman Graham Lindman are all competing vigorously for the backup spot behind Miller.
In the backfield, junior running back Marvin Byrd (Fort Zumwalt East) is set to be the main option. Bird ran for seven touchdowns a season ago and should be busy again out of the backfield running and catching the ball.
“Marvin’s been very consistent for us, ” Ross said. “He’s got a lot of versatility in his game, so he will be an instrumental part in our development of the (running back) group.” Byrd will be backed up and pushed for playing time by Lavorrie Johnson and Anthony Cade.
On the offensive line, fifth-year senior left tackle Jacob Heneisen will be joined by Alex Dole, J.T. Young (Zumwalt East), Derek Gurnea, and John Keltner.
Along the defensive line, the Lions should be solid and deep as Chaz Fulton, DeShawn Lawson, Syklar Suggs, and Xavier Warren are poised to provide run containment and an active, explosive pass rush off the edge of the line.
“Xavier Warren and Skyler Suggs are really good pass rushers off the edge,” Ross said. “We have really made building up the defensive line a point of emphasis the last few years.”
The linebacker corps will be led by Connor Harris along with Dillon Hawkins and Klint Koons (Holt). Hawkins and Koons were both honorable mention All-MIAA picks last season.
It will be a tall order for the Lions to replace the super-skilled Pierre Desir, who is now in the NFL, but Lindenwood has some depth in the secondary as D’Andre Green and Brian Hawthorne will lead the group. Also expected to contribute in the secondary are senior Division I transfer Jeremy Morris from Utah State and sophomore Division I transfer Tyrell Burris from North Carolina State.
“Our defense is really going to be the strength of our football team and we are going to have to figure out ways to put the ball in the end zone as an offense to win games,” Ross said.
Lindenwood opens the 2014 season on the road with an MIAA conference game on Sept. 4 at Washburn University in Topeka (Kan.).