SEC, here we come


Mike Gullett / Chart File Photo

Head Coach Daryl Daye talks to the Lions following a streak-breaking 35-21 victory over then – No.6 Pittsburg State Gorillas on Nov. 16, 2013

As the Missouri Southern football team hits the road for the opening game of the 2014 season, Sept. 4 against No. 22 Emporia State, the Lions look back on the past two winning seasons for the blueprint to future success.  

Head coach Daryl Daye views last season’s success as an example of a program on the upswing.

“You feel the community changing, where maybe you weren’t recognized a little bit before … people do now,” said Daye.  “They’re getting involved, people are wanting to support, and definitely I feel like [it’s] the beginning of something very special.”

For the Lions this season has a different feel as the team gets set to embark on an 11-game schedule filled exclusively with conference games.  It’s a subtle change, but a dramatic one for a university planted firmly in what many consider the elite division of Division II.

“I call this conference the SEC of Division II,” said Daye. “Guys [teams] are going to be knocking guys outta there that weren’t expected … it is definitely going to be one of the toughest schedules that our school has ever had.”

Last season the Lions surprised the MIAA, leading the conference in multiple statistics while setting multiple school records and beating rival Pittsburg State. However, after that campaign, Southern finds itself ranked to finish seventh in both preseason polls, an issue the Lions look to address on the gridiron.

“You earn your respect on the field, so we’ll see game one,” said Daye. “I don’t really get caught up in looking at the polls, I know the players do … but we will just do our talking with our pads.”

Returning for the Lions is the record-breaking triple-option unit of last season, junior quarterback Jay McDowell, junior fullback Giresse Forchu and senior running back Chris Barnwell — a group that showed obvious chemistry last season, something McDowell thinks will carry over to 2014.

“It’s definitely a big thing, having that chemistry and having that bond with the same people that have been there since I’ve been there,” said McDowell. “We are looking forward to getting it going.”

McDowell and the Lions need not look too far as they begin the year by squaring off against two of the best teams in the conference. Following the first week’s contest, the Lions will face defending champions No. 1 Northwest Missouri State Bearcats.

Northwest Missouri State may hold a position the Lions envy, but the Lions believe it is within their grasp.

“My first goal is to win conference,” said McDowell. “Team goals are to win conference and a national championship … personally, I just want to be the best I can for my team, you know, and whatever that takes, I’ll try to do it.”