Youth, a mass of injuries, and losses made the the 2014 football season one to quickly forget for the Lindenwood University Lions.
As the 2015 season prepares to kick off in just over a week, the Lions have their sights firmly set on making a 2-9 season of a year ago a faint memory in the rear view mirror.
“The last two years we’ve been hit pretty heavily with the injury bug, especially in the early part of the season,” Lindenwood coach Patrick Ross said. “I think one of the things that is going to make us better this year is we were a young football team last and I think we’ll be more experienced going forward while at the same time, we have an infusion of new players that are coming in to help us.”
On the offensive line, sophomores Derek Gurnea, Akil Williams, senior Dixson Diaz, junior Lucas Sandheinrich and senior captain John Keltner will comprise the core of that group. Keltner is coming back from being out last season with an injury and will be in his third season with the Lions. Diaz will work in at guard, while Keltner will be at center.
“All have them have started at one time or another for us at some point in their career here, so we will have good experience with this group,” Ross said.
In the backfield, senior running back and last year’s leading rushing Lavorrie Johnson returns along with junior transfer Calen Campbell from Jacksonville State University, junior transfer Aaron Daniels from Norfolk State University, junior transfer Kendell Sparks (El Camino College) and senior transfer Rob Standard (Chaminade) who transferred from Iowa State.
“That running back position is strong, deep, and very competitive,” Ross said.
The Lions are also loaded at the quarterback spot as well. Senior Jesse Scroggins is expected to lead the offense as he transferred in from the University of Arizona. Backing up Scroggins are sophomore Graham Lindman, who saw significant time last season, redshirt freshman Mason Bendigo (Eureka), and freshman Brendan Bognar (Westminster).
“Our quarterbacks top to bottom are as good as they have ever been here,” Ross said. “They are four really good ones.”
At wide receiver,seniors Jaron Alexander, DeAngelo Strickling, and DeSean Warren along with junior Tre Roby give the Lions experience and depth at the position. Senior DeVonte Majors (Fort Zumwalt West, Northern Illinois) will push for time at tight end.
Defensively, the Lions will look to their linebacking corps led by senior Connor Harris. Harris, one of the team’s four captains is one of the best defenders in the country in Division II and can make plays from virtually any spot on the field with amazing versatility. “He can run, he can throw, he can tackle, and sack and kick,” Ross said. “He’s dynamite and he’s fun to watch. He does everything.”
Clint Koons (Holt) will also be another strong presence among the linebackers. Koons was third in tackles last season for the Lions and was a constant force in the Lions run defense. Steven Pace, a fifth-year (De Smet Jesuit) will round out the group. “Clint has had an excellent spring, summer, and now fall camp,” Ross said. “He’s really doing well.”
In the secondary, senior safety Rodrick Ryles, junior safety Wesley Thomas and Dante Lewis will all see time there. Redshirt freshman Ben Jackson, junior Bakari Triggs, and junior Dennis Rufus are all battling for starting spots at cornerback. “All of them are really good cover guys and they are all aggressive and physical and they are big,” Ross said.
“We’ve got better players and we’ve got young players that are better developed and we’ve built up more depth and I think that will help us and we feel that like every other year we’re going to be able to go out there and compete and have an opportunity to win every game,” Ross said.
Lindenwood opens the season on Thursday Sept. 3 at 7 p.m. at home against Midwest Intercollegiate Conference foe Washburn University.