By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
A 6-5 season record may not seem significant to many football fans.
But Missouri Southern hopes this year’s 6-5 campaign provides a foundation to build a winning program that develops into a conference championship contender.
“It (6-5) sounds pretty good to a lot of people,” said Daryl Daye, who joins Jon Lantz (6-4 in 1989) as the only MSSU football coaches to post winning records in their first season. “Given the circumstances of what took place this year, the difficult position our coaching staff was in being hired two weeks before the signing date ... I give those guys a lot of credit for hustling and getting out and putting together a team.
“Bringing in a lot of new guys, new coaches, new system, moving a wide receiver to quarterback, wide receiver to running back ... being able to pull out a winning season is a credit to the effort of the players and coaches.”
This was the Lions’ second winning season since 1997 (they also went 6-5 in 2007), and it was just the sixth time in the last 15 seasons that the Lions won as many as four games.
“Coach Daye has told the team we’re laying the foundation,” senior wide receiver Landon Zerkel said. “As returning players, there wasn’t a lot of us. We had so many news faces. This is a building process, and to get to 6-5 is a huge step. The last three or four years here, we had guys building and we couldn’t get over the hump. To do that in one season shows how good of coaches we have and the players they brought in, the type of character they have.”
“People ask my why I came here,” senior quarterback Kellen Cox said. “I wanted to come here to build a program, and I think we took the first step this year in being a winning program. Getting that sixth win was monumental, and it’s going to be seven or eight next year, nine or 10 the year after that. I’m blessed to be a part of this building block.
“When you have a whole year to remember what your record was from the year before, it’s really discouraging. When we were 3-7, 4-6, that’s hard in the offseason. What this does being 6-5, it gives us confidence and motivation to get the work done in the offseason that needs to be done. We have the right guys here, and we have the right coaches here. I’m super excited for the future of this team, this program.”
The Lions’ triple-option attack set school records for rushing attempts (581) and rushing yards (3,043) and tied the school record for rushing touchdowns (32). While Daye says he didn’t know the Lions would break those marks, there was one record he was pretty certain would fall.
“I had an idea we would set the record for least amount of passes thrown (110, beating the former mark of 143 in 1987),” he said. “It’s something this offense does. It gives you a chance to win ball games and win them in the fourth quarter. Every game other than two, we had a chance to win in the fourth quarter.
“We broke 30-plus records when I was at Nicholls State. I’m not concerned about records, other than I want to break the record for wins.”
It’s easy to single out the season highlight — a 31-30 victory at Missouri Western, the only loss by the MIAA champion Griffons.
“It was a heck of a win, heck of a day,” Daye said. “It was one of those special things that come around every now and then.
“It shows what we’re capable of. We played the defending national champion Pittsburg State, and with 8:45 left in the game, it was a six-point game. We play the best team in the conference that beat everybody else, and we beat them at their home on homecoming. It’s a vision of what it could be if we get the right players and get it going just right.”
Daye and his staff will have a full recruiting year this time, and they are looking at every position on the field except one.
“We have three fullbacks, another one we redshirted, and they are all good football players,” Daye said. “We’re solid in that area.
“Other than that, we’re looking at everything from kicker to quarterback. The good thing about this year is our coaches have a better working knowledge about the level of players we need to get to contend. We want to take the local players. We want to take the Missouri players, but if we get the opportunity to get a better player, we’ll take the best player we can take to have a chance to win.”