The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Missouri Southern Sports

August 5, 2013

Lions expecting position battles

Missouri Southern picked ninth in MIAA football coaches poll

With 64 new players on the roster, the Missouri Southern Lions are expecting a lot of battles for starting positions.

“There’s probably not a position where there’s not a competition for a job,” Missouri Southern coach Daryl Daye said. “I’ll go ahead and say there’s not a position. Every position we have, including kicker ... Pretty much every position is not locked down yet.”

With practices starting Aug. 12, the Lions will use the next month to get ready for another competitive MIAA football season. They host Central Oklahoma on Thursday, Sept. 5.

Missouri Southern was picked to finish ninth out of 14 MIAA teams by the coaches and tied for eighth by the media. Both polls were released during the MIAA Football Media Day on Monday at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown. Defending MIAA champion Missouri Western and perennial conference power Northwest Missouri State were tied for first place by the coaches, while Bearcats edged the Griffons in the media poll.

For the Lions, they are looking to build on last season’s 6-5 record as Daye enters his second season as head coach. Missouri Southern will try to do so with several new assistant coaches, including co-offensive coordinator H.T. Kinney and defensive coordinator Wally Ake.

“I looked around the coaching staff room the other day, and I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know a lot of these guys just yet,’” Daye said. “A lot of them were here this spring, though. And, of course, I’ve known a lot of them over the years. But it’s new. There’s a new mentality with a lot of them. There’s a new approach to coaching. And these kids need to learn and adapt to new coaches. We have 64 new kids coming in. It’s all going to make for an interesting next month on evaluations, getting people in the right positions and teaching them schemes.”

Missouri Southern’s position battles will start at quarterback with the graduation of Kellen Cox. Sophomore Jay McDowell took the majority of snaps during spring practices, along with redshirt-freshman Ricky Nichols. Detavius Buggs and Ty’Quan Hayes enter the mix as junior transfers.

“Quarterback will be interesting,” Daye said. “Jay McDowell and Ricky Nichols handled us in the spring, but we signed two junior college transfers and two more high school kids who are going to come in and contend. So we already have a controversy at quarterback. We have six. We’re going to find one. Right now, Jay is the guy who’s got the job and we’ll evaluate as we go on.”

The Lions also will have to replace last year’s top running back in Ne’Ronte Threatt and last year’s leading receiver in Landon Zerkel.

Missouri Southern does return some experience on offense, however. Wide receiver Will Cuffee and offensive linemen Caleb Benner, Austin Wolfe, Will Flores and Beau Bonous all started games last season.

“I’m excited about our offensive line,” Daye said. “We have very good depth on our offensive line with some quality players. It’s going to be very competitive. We’re going to have some guys come in and compete for jobs.”

Defensively, the Lions will try to replace All-American defensive tackle Brandon Williams, who was a third-round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens.

Daye said making up for the absence of Williams will be a task for the entire defense.

“I think it’s going to take a group effort to fill it,” Daye said. “It’s not just one person who will come in and be just like Brandon Williams. But some of those other guys’ game will rise up. The games of (defensive back) Demon Haire and (linebacker) Gatlin Ridgway have to elevate now.”

Defensive linemen Ryon Phillips and Paco Varol, defensive backs Haire, Breon Matlock, Demond Horsley and Donterrius Thomas and Ridgway all bring at least part-time starting experience from last season. Phillips earned all-MIAA honorable mention with 4 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss in 2012.

That nucleus of talent will be key for the Lions early in the season. Missouri Southern’s first four games are against Central Oklahoma, Northeastern State, Lincoln and Southwest Baptist — teams that combined to finish 10-32 last season.

The Lions will certainly look to get off to a fast start.

“I think that’s critical anywhere,” Daye said. “When you get married, you want to have a great honeymoon. It might not turn out to be a good marriage, but it’s important to get going. Then you downplay it if you win, and you downplay it if you lose. But right now, our focus is strictly on game one.”

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