Lions hit the road to hunt Bisons

Jordan Larimore

Even after a sub .500 season a year ago, Lions Head Football Coach Bart Tatum believes his team has every opportunity to turn its fortunes around. Tatum says there are five main principles he and his staff have tried to instill in the team this year: work ethic, discipline, leadership, positive attitude and family.

“We spent a lot of time asking our guys what are your goals for next year,” he said. “We have to be together, we have to be unselfish, we have to be disciplined, we have to have a great work ethic. Then we sat down and we defined those values.”

While Tatum has his team thinking the right way, he stresses that their conference is one of the toughest in Division-II football. He believes that there are at least six teams in the MIAA that could be nationally ranked.

“Washburn will be probably in the top 15 in the country in a lot of people’s polls,” he said. “Central Missouri, they’ll have as athletic a team as anybody in the country, they could have the most athletic team in the conference,” he said “Missouri Western’s had 10 winning seasons in a row. So there’s six schools right there – UNO, Northwest, Pitt, Central, Western, Washburn. All those are top 20 caliber teams.”

Tatum also believes the team has plenty of leadership in upperclassmen for younger players to look up to.

“Johnny Johnson, Justin Cooper, those are guys that in the last five or six months have exhibited phenomenal work ethic,” Tatum said. “The best I’ve ever been around. Really, really strong, committed work ethic.”

While Tatum acknowledges the strength of the MIAA, he believes his team is poised for a great run.

“I think we can have the biggest turnaround in America, as college football teams go, as far as a deficiency one year and a real positive the next year,” Tatum said. “That’s something we really missed last year.

“There was a tremendous void in our leadership, and I think this year is going to be completely the opposite.”

Tatum says he would love to be able to give this year’s senior class a chance to play on a competitive team.

“I’d really like to see them go out in a winning effort,” he said.

Tatum stressed that the attitude he wants his players to bring to every game will be crucial.

“We’ve tried to establish a relentless approach where guys don’t take no for an answer, they keep coming, they have a next-play mentality,” he said. “Guys that can flush a bad play or not get big-headed with a great play.”

Tatum said the team’s defense will be a strength if it can stay healthy, coupled with the five principles he and his coaching staff has their players stressing.

“We have an extremely experienced defense, there are 10 guys that have started games for us,” Tatum said. “We are extremely athletic on defense.”

Even with their positive attitude and Tatum’s own optimism, he identifies a weakness in one area of the team.

“Our offensive line has to get better,” he said. “We have to have better play out of our offensive line. Consistent, aggressive play up front on offense.”