In one year’s time since their first Division-I season, the North Alabama Lions’ football team has undergone some major changes. Just like any sporting team, you lose seniors and injuries occur but the Lions have dealt with multiple areas that have them currently at 2-4 during their bye week.
Last year in early October, the Lions sat at 3-3. One of the major contributing factors according to head coach Chris Wills has been the tougher competition.
“Last year, we probably overachieved a little and we played a little better than expected,” said Willis. “The schedule wasn’t as tough, but this year’s schedule is a lot tougher.”
During last year’s campaign, the Lions saw a bigger mixture of Division-II competition thrown in the schedule compared to this year. They also did not officially play in a conference and with five games (all-conference games) left in the season, coach Willis hopes that the Big South competition will help in the long run.
“We’ve got five games left,” Willis said. “Obviously Kennesaw St. is the team that nobody seems to beat but by going there and being competitive with them, you just hope you can stay on the field and get to the fourth quarter. If you remove them, we’ve got four games and if we can win enough of those games, we can draw a little attention to ourselves and show people that this is a young team that hung in there.”
Another factor for the Lions’ early struggles is their youth. The Lions only have 11 current seniors on the team and Willis believes that also plays a significant role.
“We had an older team last year,” said Willis. “They were a lot more mature. This year’s team is a young football team and we don’t have but 11 seniors and some of them don’t even play. We are just very youthful and making a lot more mistakes then we would with an older team and when you play a tougher schedule, those mistakes show up more.”
Though the Lions sit at 2-4, arguably they could have been sitting at 5-1. In each game the Lions have put up enough of a fight to remain just a few plays from winning. More significantly, they have put up one strong half in most of those games including a 18-0 first half lead against Alabama A&M, a 7-3 second half performance against Jacksonville St., and a 32-20 second half performance against Hampton.
The Lions lost all three of those games in which coach Willis factored in that time of possession has not been their strongest area in most of their games.
“Against Alabama A&M, even though it was 18-0 we left enough opportunities out there,” said Willis. “We’ve been struggling more on the offensive side of the ball more so than defense for the simple fact that we lose the time of possession. And when your not moving the chain and flipping the field position, you better score some points. And when you put your defense out there 45 snaps, it wears them down come fourth quarter.”
The Lions will look to shake back this season with a home match-up against Charleston Southern on Oct 19 at Braly Stadium.