Here is a position by position breakdown:
Lindenwood lost a handful of talented offensive linemen from its 2009 NAIA National Runner-up team, including First-team All-HAAC center Jeff Hynes. Jerry Martin and Mike Errante are also gone from the offensive front that helped the Lindenwood offense average 492 yards per game last season. The good news for the OL is left tackle Dan Jones is back for one more season. Expect him to lead some of the less experienced big fellas all season. LU had depth last season and that will help this year as two seniors and a junior step in to fill three of the four vacated spots.
If Evangel is successful this season it will be because of the experience up front. The entire Crusader line is filled with upper classmen, with the exception of Tyler Preffit at right guard. However, Preffit earned his stripes last season as the only EU lineman to garner postseason honors from the conference. With skill players returning from last year, it will be crucial for the offensive line to be good all season long. While they will be the better unit in some games this season, it is tough to compete with the depth and talent in St. Charles.
Wide Receivers & H-Backs:
There are a lot of new faces at wide receiver for Evangel. The good news is H-Back Freddie Brown is back for the Crusaders. Brown led the team with 22 receptions last season, while also rushing the ball 98 times. He will need to be good this season as the only other returning receiver for the Crusaders with more than 100 yards receiving last season is Caleb Walker. This young group will need to mold early in the season if senior quarterback Richie Roepke is going to have success.
Lindenwood will also see some new faces after losing Rudy Fleming, Marcel Thompson and Roren Thomas. However, Matt Bramow, led the team with 12 TD receptions in 2009, is back for a senior campaign. Jemere Holland and Donald Fusilier will fill some vacated spots for the Lions. Holland transferred to LU from the University of Oregon, after playing in 10 games and starting two for the Ducks last season. Fusilier led Victor Valley College last season with 36 receptions, seven for a touchdown.
Lindenwood has three running backs that would compete for a starting job at just about any school in the NAIA. It’s no secret the team returns HAAC Player of the Year and VSN Preview Magazine cover boy, Denodus O’Bryant. The young man is loaded with skills and has a chance, as a sophomore, to prove he is the best player in the country. Nate Orlando is back for the Lions after missing last season with a knee injury. He is a very solid back and while slated as the backup, figures to get a decent amount of carries. If the Lions wind up in a short yardage situation or on the goal line, don’t be surprised if they call upon No. 23 LeMarien Parson to get the job done. He has eight rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown to his credit at Lindenwood. This is the best backfield trio in the country.
Third-team All-HAAC selection Tommy Meyer is back in the saddle for the Crusaders. He rushed for nearly 500 yards last season, but got into the end zone just one time. Meyer will need to find the promise land more times this year and take pressure off his quarterback. Jermaine Walker has earned the backup role to start the season, but only carried the ball three times all of last season. Both players are young and look for solid futures with EU, but they just can’t compete with the opponent this week.
Richie Roepke is back for the Crusaders as the leader and signal caller on offense. In 2009, he completed just 55 percent of his passes and threw just two touchdowns. As a junior, Roepke threw more interceptions (4) than touchdowns (2). It is important for EU to find balance between the run and the pass if they are going to find success. Roepke needs to be a leader this season and he can win some games for Evangel.
Philip Stabeck was a second team selection by the conference last season after leading Lindenwood to the national championship game. While a lot of attention was focused on Denodus O’Bryant, Stabeck set a school record with 36 touchdown passes, while being intercepted just six times last season. The senior will have some new wide receivers, which could lead to the same or better numbers in 2010.
Evangel has some nice pieces to its puzzle for 2010. The team returns its quarterback, leading rusher and leading receiver for the 2010 season. While they can be competitive in some games this season, Lindenwood’s offense is just too good. The Lions have replaced lost talent with some very good players and it will show all season long. LU returns a lot of players off a team that averaged 53 points per game in 2009. Evangel has a new head coach and may have something in store for the offense this season, but they will not be the better offense Thursday night.
Kellen Dreyer is back as the leader on the D-Line after playing in all 14 games last season for the Lions. He will be joined by nose tackle Keenan Mace, who appeared in eight games in 2007, but has not played since. He recorded a season-high eight tackles against Saint Francis (Ind.) in the NAIA Championship Series. Ventura College transfer Derrick Clune joins the Lion defense after a solid 2009 season. He led the Pirates with 12 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.
HAAC honorable mention defensive lineman Mitch Wilson will be the leader on the defensive front for the Crusaders this season. Wilson totaled 55 tackles and 7.5 tackles for a loss last season. The Crusaders will use a new defensive scheme this season. Outside of Wilson, the group will be inexperienced. Preston Henry and Jeremy Pianalto are scheduled to start this season, but saw minimal action in 2009. Caleb Taylor will see time off the sideline on the defensive front.
Parks Peterson led the Lions with 80 tackles last season and should be a leader again in 2010. He will be alongside Dan Carlisle and Chris Howard, who tied with 62 tackles a year ago. Tony Ritzman saw action in 14 games last season, but will start for the first time this season. Brock Reed will be a solid fill-in option for LU. This is a group that can swarm to the football. They need to have a good year and keep some pressure off the secondary. It also helps to have one of your top linebackers from 2009 on the sideline. First team conference selection Logen Wright is a graduate assistant for the Lions.
Trevon Myers returns to anchor the center for the Evangel defense after finishing as one of the team’s top tacklers last season. He will be joined by a young and inexperienced group, with the exception of Cedric Johnson, to stop opposing offenses. The group may struggle this week, but could show promise as they come together over the course of the season.
The Crusaders will use five guys on coverage with three safeties and a couple of cornerbacks. Edward Sands, Cedric Reese and J.M. Robertson return as some of the leaders on pass coverage. The rest of the secondary has seen some playing time and will need a couple of games under their belt to be successful. The Crusaders don’t have a guy that jumps out in the secondary as a big time playmaker. If someone can develop early in the season, EU may be okay on defense later in the year.
After a redshirt season in 2008, Cody Fogle emerged as one of the top defenders for the Lions last season. Now a sophomore, Fogle will be one of the leaders on the Lion defense. Hakim Thomas and Damian James saw playing time for the Lions last season and will now step in as full-time starters. Bethel (Tenn.) transfer Chris Springer will look to help out the Lions defense on coverage, after playing in five games for the Wildcats last season.
Lindenwood will have the better defense in this game. The Lions are too strong with skill and experience for Evangel to be on the same level. However, don’t count the Crusader defense out all season long. This is a growing group under new head coach Brenton Illum, a former Evangel linebacker. He will get the defense on track.
Both teams have question marks in the kicking game. Halley Ferrell and Nick Somes are gone for the Lions and they must find replacements. They will look to a couple of new guys to do so. James Neal will handle the place-kicking duties, while junior Morris Keseloff will be the punter. Keseloff averaged 39 yards per punt as a sophomore for Saddleback College.
Evangel had one of the better kicking games in the conference last season behind the leg of Trevor Gies, unfortunately he is no longer with the Crusaders. EU will look to sophomore Drew O’Cain to step in and fill the spot. With the absence of Gies, the Crusaders will look to Trevor Hole to fill the punting vacancy.
Edward Sands will again handle the kickoff return duties for Evangel alongside Freddie Brown, while Jesse Vaughn will be back deep on punts. The Lions will have Denodus O’Bryant and Jamere Holland handle kickoffs and Donald Fusilier handle punts. Last season, O’Bryant returned four kickoffs for touchdowns to tie an NAIA record.
Overall Special Teams:
It’s a split decision here, however, the Lions will likely make more plays on special teams. If Evangel is going to have a chance in this game they will need to get something going on special teams. If they can’t do it, finding a chance in this game will be tough.
Simply put, the Lions are just a better football team than Evangel. That will come as no surprise to anyone. The Lions have a veteran coach that knows how to win, they are coming off a season that ended in the National Championship, many players return from the program’s best team in history and are very talented. Evangel has a new head coach. Although Coach Illum has an idea where he wants to take Crusader program it will take some time for his team to get there. They are not ready to contend with a team like Lindenwood this season.