UNA football officially enters DI era


Photo courtesy UNA Athletics

Wide Receiver Cortez Hall is expected to be a key contributer on offense this season.

Noah Catchings, Sports Editor

The University of North Alabama football team begins its first season as an official member of Division I on Sept. 1 on the road against the Indiana State Sycamores. The Lions are looking to put the rough transition to DI behind them, starting with a new athletics re-branding, including a new logo. According to UNA Athletics, the logo was created with the help of five UNA graphic design students working alongside an internship partnered with UNA.

Aside from the re-branding, the Lions have work to do on the field after finishing with a record of 3-8 last season. Before that, the 2020 team finished with an 0-4 record in a COVID -shortened season. 

“It’s tough when you’re competing and trying to win a ball game and at the end of the day, you’re not able to play for a championship,” said UNA head coach Chris Willis. 

Now that the Lions are full DI members, they can compete in the ASUN Conference and National Championships, respectively. Coach Willis believes that postseason eligibility has his players more fired up to play this season now that championships are at stake. 

“I think this is a different year considering that we’re able to play for something” Coach Willis states. 

UNA football has a lot of players who are going to play a huge part in this Division 1 transition. Featured on the Pre-Season All-ASUN is Parker Driggers, Takairee Kenebrew, Cortez Hall, Corson Swan, Micah Bland, Kyree Fields, and Kobe Warden. 

On offense, the Lions have “quarterback battle” according to Coach Willis.. Returning quarterbacks Rett Files, Jaylen Gipson, and Brady Pope as well as a few others are battling it out for the starting position. 

“The quarterback competition is still going on and that will be a late call” Willis said on the Aug. 5 Lion Vision Update. 

To complement the quarterbacks, the Lions have a plethora of talented skill players. Parker Driggers and ShunDerrick Powell are two running backs expected to make an impact, along with veteran receivers Cortez Hall, Corson Swan and Takairee Kennebrew. 

“We’re young at running back with exception of Parker Driggers and Powell,” Willis said. “This will be a perfect opportunity to see what the new guys will accomplish this season.”

According to Coach Willis, the receivers are the more veteran group and the offense will lean on their experience early in the season.

Willis believes that the offensive coaches have put in a lot of work in the pre-season and have faith that players will perform well this season. 

The Lions also have strengths on defense as well. Willis said there are a lot of guys fighting for playing time on defense which is a good problem to have.

On defense, the Lions have defensive back Kyree Fields returning, who led the team with 63 total tackles. Micah Bland finished behind him with 42 total tackles last season. Caleb Dawson and Jeffery Battle each finished the season with 30 tackles. 

“I don’t know if there’s just that stand-out guy, but there is a lot of depth up there,” Willis said.

These players combined with the new Division I status open new opportunities for UNA football. One of these opportunities will be the Lions facing their rival Jacksonville State University at the Trash Pandas stadium in Madison on Oct. 15 at 6 p.m. The game is already sold out. Although the game occurs relatively early in the season, it has big implications for both teams. Its the first time since joining DI that UNA gets to play JSU in a game with real conference implications. 

The transition to DI was a four-year process. In order for UNA to successfully make the move, the university had to prove that it could uphold its end of the deal when it comes to budget, academics, and other NCAA requirements 

The transition to Division 1 also came with a makeover of the football facilities. The headliner of this is the renovation of the football locker room. According to UNA Athletics, the locker room now includes more than 115 new lockers, updated showers and restrooms, new paint and new flooring.

“This is part of history, and this is a lot of firsts” Willis said.

This season is expected to be tough for the Lions, as they were selected last in the ASUN Preseason Coaches poll. One reason for that is the Lions only have four games at home this season. Those games are crucial if the Lions hope to open the DI  era on a high note. 

Coach Willis looks at these games as a family deal. From cheerleaders, the band, the majorettes and the student body. He hopes the home atmosphere motivates the team to exceed expectations.

“These guys love to play in front of people, and they want to put on a show,” Willis said.