Football season preview: Lions look to renew winning legacy


stance2Phil Scherer | Reporter
Sept. 1, 2016; 10 a.m.

Prior to becoming members of the NCAA Division II level of competition in 2013, Lindenwood was known as one of the national powerhouses of the smaller NAIA association.

Lindenwood head coach Patrick Ross explains the objective of a team drill to the crowd at hunter Stadium during the 2016 spring football game.
Photo by Carly Fristoe

From 2007 through 2012, the Lions compiled a record of 59-14 and competed in the championship tournament four years in a row. Since moving to the NCAA as a full member, however, the team has gone just 8-23 as the team adjusts to the rugged MIAA conference.

Despite the recent struggles, head coach Patrick Ross said his team is prepared to take steps toward returning the program to its previous winning tradition.

At the MIAA’s annual media day in Kansas City earlier this month, Ross said frustration hit an all-time high following last season’s finale against Northeastern State, when the Lions were unable to hit a game-tying field goal in the final seconds, losing the game 17-14 to end the season with a 3-8 record.

Following the season-ending loss, Ross said he went into a team meeting with his players and asked, “What do you guys think we need to do? What do we need to do to change the direction we are going?”

After a brainstorming session, Ross said his players identified two areas that would have to improve if they had any intention of competing in the tough MIAA conference: mental and physical toughness.

“There are some things that we can’t control,” Ross said. “We can’t get any faster after the first day of camp starts. We can’t get any taller after the first day of camp starts. But what we can do is control how mentally tough and how physically tough we are.”

Connor Harris (16) waits for a snap during a drill at a team practice. He has made more tackles than any other player in Lindenwood Football’s 13-year history.
Photo by Carly Fristoe

As the team prepares to play a more physical brand of football this season, one player that will have a key role will be senior linebacker and team captain Connor Harris, who set a Division II record a season ago with 184 tackles. Harris sits just 22 tackles shy of the Division II record for career tackles with 495.

He took responsibility for getting the younger players ready for the competition of the MIAA saying, “You need to be willing to work. This is an awesome conference. Every team you play is going to beat you if you’re not ready.”

Harris said that it is his responsibility to make sure the incoming players are willing to learn the playbook and be prepared each week to execute the gameplan the coaches put together to give themselves a chance to win.

The team will be relying heavily on incoming players as well as young players this season. Many of the top offensive weapons from a season ago have since graduated, including running back Lavorrie Johnson and wide receivers Jaron Alexander and Greg Coble.

Mason Bendigo (15) winds up for a throw during a quarterback drill at a team practice.
Photo by Carly Fristoe

To fill the holes left by those players, the team will be relying on the continued development of junior wide receivers Tre’ Roby and DeSean Warren, both of whom have been key role players in previous seasons.

Anchoring the offense will be sophomore quarterback Mason Bendigo, who returns after starting the final six games of last season. He said that gaining the experience of in-game action during his freshman season better prepares him for the coming year as he knows what to expect from the tough MIAA defenses.

The team will begin the season on Thursday, Sept. 1, at home against Central Oklahoma at 7 p.m.

Lindenwood will host five home games this season, including a key matchup on Oct. 22 against the defending national champion Northwest Missouri State.