By Caleb Slinkard
The Commerce Journal
If the athletic directors, coaches and media representatives of Lone Star Conference Schools are correct, 2013 will be a long year for one Carthel and successful year for another.
West Texas A&M was selected to finish first in the LSC preseason polls on the strength of Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Dustin Vaughan (4,712 yards, 45 TDs) and Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Ethan Westbrooks (19.5 sacks) during the 2013 LSC Football Media Day on Tuesday. The Buffaloes are headed by Don Carthel, who is the father of current Texas A&M University-Commerce coach Colby Carthel.
The Lions were picked to finish last, a prediction that is not surprising considering their recent records (3-8, 1-9, 1-9).
“That’s to be expected,” Carthel said. “We haven’t done anything yet, but neither has the first place team. It’s not where you start; it’s where you finish.”
The Lions will travel to face Don Carthel’s Buffs on Sept. 21. Colby said the matchup, unofficially nicknamed the Carthel Bowl, is just another game, albeit a difficult one.
“It will be interesting,” he said. “I don’t think we’re too concerned with it. It’s just going to be another game. It will be a mountain of a task to go up there. Canyon has a great environment, and it will be a lot of fun.”
One of Carthel’s main challenges will be finding a running back who can carry the majority of the rushing load. The Lions were dead last in the LSC in 2012 in rushing yards per game and don’t return any experienced back.
Former wide receiver/defensive back Aaron Wingfield started the Blue vs. Gold Spring Game. But Carthel emphasized the need for a strong offensive line over an experienced rusher.
“That was a struggle even this spring; we didn’t have a scholarship running back on campus,” he said. “However, it really doesn’t matter who you’re handing off to if you don’t have an o-line. That’s the biggest need for improvement and the hardest position to improve.”
The Lions were first in the LSC in pass defense, but those numbers are deceptive. A&M-Commerce only forced five total turnovers, dead last, and were behind often early, which allowed teams to run the ball against them for almost 200 yards per game.
According to Carthel, all spots on the Lions roster are open for grabs. The Lions only have 41 players on the roster, currently, although that number will be buoyed by their Signing Day crop (37 players) and various other signings and transfers.
“We thinned out what we started with,” he said. “We had a walk-on tryout and added some players who were on campus. We’ve signed some high school kids, and we’ll pick up a transfer or two throughout the summer. We’ll be young this season, and because of our lack of depth a lot of freshmen will play, but that’s good experience for them and they’ll be better for it later.”
While the Lions may be light on experienced talent, senior defensive lineman Tevin Moore, who joined Carthel at the media day, is excited about Carthel’s more hands-on approach to the defense.
“The difference is, with a defensive-minded coach, he’s more hands on,” Moore said. “He’s more intense, he’s more involved. It’s a big change; you can feel it.”
Carthel’s spring training camp saw a lot of former players move on, something that Moore said was needed.
“When you look back on the others years, you had players that showed up to practice and didn’t want to practice, players that were just spot takers, and [Carthel] got rid of those,” he said. “Now, we have people that are willing to play, that sacrifice, that are willing to go the extra mile. At the end of the camp, you look to your side and see who stuck with you, and that brought us together.”
LSC Commissioner Stan Wagnon announced that McMurry University would be joining the conference in 2014 as their eighth football-playing school. The addition will allow the LSC to create an eight team playoff tournament, also starting in 2014.
The Lions’ season begins on Sept. 7 against NCAA Division III opponent Sul Ross State before A&M-Commerce takes on three straight challenging opponents: Delta State, West Texas A&M and Midwestern State.
For information on the schedule and tickets, visit www.lionathletics.com.