By Caleb Slinkard
The Commerce Journal
For Texas A&M University-Commerce football players, the trip to Canyon, Texas, is a seven hour journey through an often barren north Texas landscape. All they have to look forward to when they arrive is a packed Kimbrough Stadium and a nationally-ranked West Texas A&M team ready to knock these upstart Lions down a peg.
For Colby Carthel, it’s a trip back home.
While Carthel has plunged himself into A&M-Commerce, recruiting at a frenzied pace and pulling a team together from junior college transfers and redshirt freshmen that has already equalled the Lions’ win total from the last two seasons, Canyon is still more familiar to the first-time head coach.
After all, Colby spent seven season there under his father, Don leading a defense that helped the Buffaloes record four Lone Star Conference championships, two Kanza Bowls and a regional championship in 2012. The team that Colby will take on Saturday evening was built by Carthels into the powerhouse it is today.
But now, neither Colby nor his father, Don, will be on the sidelines for West Texas A&M. Don was fired by West Texas in late August, a shocking turn of events that was officially the result of an alleged minor NCAA rules infraction. The West Texas A&M administration’s justification for firing the most successful head coach in school history was weak, to say the least.
All of that aside, Colby considers this simply another game, another chance for his green team to gain valuable experience.
“We’ve told our guys it’s not really that big of a game; it’s just the next game,” he said. “We’re looking for improvement here and, if we improve during the week and play the caliber of football we’re capable of playing, it will be a great game.”
It sounds like traditional coaching rhetoric, but standing outside the Lions locker room on a warm September afternoon, it was difficult to find anything different in the way Carthel talked about the upcoming match up. There was no swagger; simply respect for a team that Carthel knows better than almost anyone, a very talented team that the Lions will be happy to simply compete with.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. As great as the Lions have been this season, they still have a long way to go, a fact Carthel is quick to point out. Some of the players have been on campus for a matter of weeks, and the sheer number of new players is overwhelming. Even after upsetting nationally-ranked Delta State at AT&T Stadium last week, there are plenty of ways the Lions can improve.
“Looking at the record, you’d like to say we’re ahead of schedule,” Carthel said. “But we’re still making mistakes that a great team doesn’t. We have a lot of new faces with the transfers and a lot of young faces with the freshmen, so it’s going to be a growing process.”
Some players, like quarterback Tyrik Rollison (666 passing yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT) and senior defensive lineman Tevin Moore (5 sacks) are ahead of the curve, but it may a few seasons before the Lions can topple the Buffs.
Maybe even next season, when West Texas A&M will have to travel to Carthel’s new home.
The Lions (2-0) will travel to West Texas A&M (2-0) for their conference opener on Saturday. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. Visit www.commercejournal.com for game updates and listen live at 88.9 FM KETR.