Football tackles new conference, aims for playoffs

The+new+turf+at+Hunter+Stadium+on+July+13%2C+2018.%0A%3Cbr%3E+Photo+by+Kat+Owens.

Kat Owens

The new turf at Hunter Stadium on July 13, 2018.
Photo by Kat Owens.

CALEB RIORDAN | Reporter

The 2019 fall semester at Lindenwood is well underway. The calendars have flipped to September, autumn winds have begun to blow and the Lions’ football season has arrived.

Jed Stugart is entering his third season as head coach of the Lions. Lindenwood has posted a record of 4-7 each of its last two seasons under Stugart. However, this will be the first year Lindenwood competes in the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) instead of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association Conference (MIAA).

“We’re excited about it,” Stugart said. “Our mindset has always been, whatever conference we’re in, our goal is to get to the final 28. Our goal is to get to that playoff situation.”

A new conference means seven new GLVC opponents. Among them are the defending conference champions: University of Indianapolis. They finished 7-0 in conference and 10-2 overall last season and start the year ranked 16 in the nation. The Lions will not see Indianapolis until Nov 2 when they come to Hunter Stadium. William Jewell College will be the first GLVC opponent for the Lions as well as the first to travel to St. Charles to play in Hunter Stadium on Sept 21. 

There are a lot of new outside variables this Lions team will attempt to tackle this season. However, within the team, there is plenty of continuity. 

Offensive Coordinator Dusty Hovorka and Defensive Coordinator Eric Inama are each in their third season with the Lions. They return nine players who received All-MIAA honors last season. Among them are all four captains: sophomore quarterback Cade Brister, senior defensive back Darrius Williams, junior linebacker Drew Seers, senior First-team All-American tight end Erik Henneman and leading rusher junior Nash Sutherlin

Brister is looking to top his freshman campaign in which he threw for 2,433 yards, tossing 21 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. He also rushed for 549 yards and six touchdowns. 

Williams is coming off of a season in which he made 108 tackles which ranked sixth in MIAA and 32nd in the country. He also had four games with 10 or more tackles. 

Seers ranked second in MIAA last season racking up 12.5 tackles for a loss, adding to his total of 96 tackles. He also had 2 interceptions, one he returned for a touchdown. 

Henneman had 9 touchdown receptions, which led the nation for tight ends. He caught 57 passes for 639 yards which led the team. Throw in a four touchdown game against Missouri Southern and you have a First-team All-American. 

Brister showed confidence in the Lions as well as his fellow captains. He went as far as referring to Seers as a “total freak-show” adding, “that’s my boy.”

“I’m glad I’m in that category,” Brister said. “I’m really excited that I got voted a captain by my teammates… We got a lot of other guys on our team that are great leaders and that’s the special part about this team. It just isn’t us four, it’s all of us.” 

This is a group coaches are confident in that is ready to take a step forward as a program.

Stugart mentioned they bolstered their depth in the offensive line, defensive line and linebacking core, positions he felt lacked depth a year ago. They had 75 players commit to their summer program which he feels helped them take the program to a higher level from a strength and speed standpoint. 

“Our first two seasons were about getting the culture changed, getting the recruitment going and setting a culture that we can build a platform and foundation for success,” Stugart said. “Now I think the expectation is that we take that next step, that we start looking at ourselves like conference contenders and playoff contenders.”

The Lions’ first test of the season will not be an easy one. Their first game comes against Eastern Washington University, the NCAA Division 1 Football Championships sub-division runner-ups from a year ago. They travel to Cheney, Washington, to take on the Eagles this Saturday at 3:06 p.m.