Travel will be a big part of the season again this year for the Langston Lions.
With only three true home games, Langston is looking to improve on a 7-3 record in 2011. And the Lions had to be “road warriors” last year as well with only three home games, but came away with a share of the Central States Football League title.
Langston coach Mickey Joseph sees the pros and cons of a schedule like this.
“Road games are tough games to play,” Joseph said. “But when we take kids away from home, our kids here at Langston really get focused on what we need to do.”
And he’s not satisfied with a season that is good. He is building a team to be great.
“Not enough wins and too many losses,” Joseph said. “We don’t want to be looked at as a 7-3 team or a 6-4 team. We want to be playing deep into the playoffs and to win that national championship.
“We’ve got to start by winning those out of conference games. And then we’ll focus on the conference games, and we want to each of those too. That’s what we’re stressing this year.
Joseph is coming into his second season at the helm in Langston. However, he took the position in July of 2011, too late to be in charge of the recruiting process prior to last season. So this class of recruits is his first and he is pleased with the work and the results.
“The coaches did a great job of going out finding kids,” Joseph said. “We’ve got a great class coming in and in NAIA, you can bring a bunch of kids in. We hit Texas and Louisiana really hard and we’ve got a lot of kids from California and Alabama that can play.
“We plan on redshirting them and then we’ll give them five years. You know, if you’ve got a senior class of 20 and maybe 16 are fifth-year seniors, that’s a good class.”
It’s not entirely a rebuilding program for the Lions this season, but they did lose a lot on both sides of the ball with the graduation of Carlos Ross (LU’s all-time leading rusher) and Cayetano Hingle (LU’s all-time leader in tackles). Gone also are multi-talented signal caller Darrion Lewis and cornerback Antonio Dennard, who has signed to play with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
So Joseph will be watching his grow with some on-the-job training.
“We’re young, but we have some talent. We just need to get the mental part of the game down. I think when we get that down, we’re going to be fine. But at the end of the day, we’re still young and nothing can substitute for game reps.”
And there are also plenty of Lions who have had some of that game time.
Among those is Derrick Butler, running back and kickoff and punt returner. Butler is one of those fifth year seniors, though his redshirt came midway through his career. QB Jac’Quon Thomas and receiver Kyron King will also factor into the Lions’ offense, as will backs Will Taylor and Jayce Boyd.
The offensive line took a hit with the departure of Justin Williams, who started more than 40 games, but is still strong, and returns standouts Shaquille Robison and Kendrick Rice.
“We’re going to keep our philosophy,” Joseph said. “We think we can run the football and stop the run and we think we can win some games.
“We’re going to run it first and throw it second.”
The defensive look will change somewhat as Joseph tries to get the most from what he has. And with a number of talented safeties, the Lions are going to take one the linebackers off the field from last year’s 4-3 look and show more of a 4-3-5 set in 2012.
Joseph said his staff came to this conclusion during spring ball and decided to add an extra strong safety.
The Lions also return Pierre Alexander and Lawrence Taylor on the defensive line.
“We’re pretty athletic on defense,” Joseph said. “But we’re still looking to some the young guys to step up and fill out the backup positions.”
Langston has won or shared the conference title in the CSFL three of the last four years. And the Lions are looking for stiff competition from every team.
“The Texas schools are always going to be strong,” Joseph said. “And Bacone’s going to be tough, too. Trevor (Rubly) is doing a great job up there.
“We’ve just got to continue to recruit and to play hard. We’re not taking anyone for granted.
The matchup with Bacone is early in the season (Sept. 8) and is listed as a home game for the Lions, but will take place at Booker T. Washington stadium in Tulsa. Recruiting is one of the reasons for the neutral site of this game.
“We have a strong alumni base in Tulsa,” Joseph said. “And sometimes you have to take the product on the road, so people can see it and then come back to the home stadium to watch you play. We don’t mind going up to Tulsa to play and we’ve got a lot of players from Tulsa on our team.”
Joseph also said that he recognized that Bacone is in a similar situation to that in Langston. There aren’t many NAIA teams in Oklahoma and Texas that play football and scheduling can be tough. He talked about this in regard to the Lions’ trip to Chicago to take on the defending NAIA champions.
“That’s also why we’re going out to St. Xavier in Week 3. They’re the No.1 team in NAIA, and that’s going to be the NAIA measuring stick right there.”
The Lions open the season again this year in the Delta Classic 4 Literacy against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Sept. 1.