Lions look to fulfill high preseason expectations

The UNA football season kicks off against Mississippi College Sept. 13 in Clinton, Mississippi at 7 p.m.

UNA was voted preseason favorites to win the Gulf South Conference Championship by the GSC coaches on Aug. 6. The Lions are ranked No. 5 nationally in the American Football Coaches Association preseason Division II poll.

“I think it is a compliment to what happened last year,” said head coach Bobby Wallace. “To me that is a compliment to how the players reacted when I got here and stuck in the program and bought into it.”

The Lions shared the GSC Championship with the University of West Alabama last season.

It is UNA’s goal to win the championship outright this season, said defensive coordinator Chris Willis.

 Wallace is not concerned about the talent on the roster, but is concerned about the leadership on the team, he said.

“We can talk about talent, we have talent,” Wallace said. “We can talk about coaches, we have good coaches. The whole key is going to be the intangibles of this football team. And that was the key to last year, because we had it.”

On offense the Lions are returning five starters. UNA is down three starting linemen and running back Chris Coffey after they graduated earlier this year.

“It is a big deal (losing three linemen),” said offensive coordinator Cody Gross. “We talk a lot about having a lot of skill guys (quarterbacks, running backs and receivers) back. But that doesn’t matter if you can’t protect them.”

Luke Wingo will be the starting quarterback for this year’s team, with backup Jacob Tucker getting some snaps every game, Wallace said. Wingo is entering his second full season starting for the Lions.

The offensive game plan will remain the same as it has been the last three seasons, Gross said.

“We will take what the defense gives us, but it will be the same,” he said. “We are in year three with virtually the same staff intact. A lot of the players were freshmen the first year we got here so they are comfortable with our system.”

UNA’s defense comes into the new season with two returning starters.

“We lost some great leadership,”Wallace said. “It may be a problem in some areas but on defense we have players who played a lot last season.”

He also said the linebacker position is the biggest question mark on defense.

The only other problem the Lions may have defensively is with the depth at defensive end, Willis said.

Last season the team led the country with 19 interceptions.

“We used to go out there and stress turnovers everyday,” Willis said. “We make a big deal out of it. You would have thought that was all we care about.”

The Lions improved to 10-3 with a trip to the Division II quarterfinals last season after going 5-5 in 2012. The first home game will be Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. at Langston University.