Dale Carlson’s crash course on Lindenwood University-Belleville football has given him a good idea who will lead the Lynx if they are to have success in their fourth campaign.
But Carlson, who was introduced as LU-B’s second head coach July 23, says he won’t be entirely sure he’s identified the right players until they are game tested. That test starts Saturday at home when LU-B opens the 2015 season against Siena Heights University.
“We’ve done some scrimmaging within our own team, but until you actually play a game you really don’t know how anybody is going to react to a situation,” Carlson said. “But I feel pretty good about taking advantage of the talents our kids have and moving them in the direction where they can be successful.”
That list of key players on offense is a short one that includes quarterback Tarean Austin (Tampa, Fla.), running back Kam Harris (Althoff) and right tackle Justin Kulich (Sesser-Valier).
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The defense was mostly ready-made when Carlson arrived. That unit returns defensive back Traveon Stevenson (O’Fallon), linebacker T.J. Onstott (Tuscola), and linebacker Matt Blacharczyk (Belleville East).
“We’ve got a lot of returning players and some older guys in that group,” Carlson said. “There are so many guys on the defense with experience who have been through the ropes with this program. That part of it has solidified itself.”
Saturday’s game: Siena Heights University and Lindenwood University-Belleville, 1 p.m.
Last meeting: This is the the team’s first meeting.
Under center: Austin makes his long return back to football after sitting out two seasons with eligibility issues.
He was recruited out of Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Fla. by the University of New Mexico, where he got starts in both his freshman and sophomore years. He left the Lobos after the firing of head coach Mike Locksley, spent a season at Division-II Fort Hays State in Kansas, then returned home to work on his grade point average at a community college.
Ineligible to play in games, Austin spent last season running the Lynx’s scout team.
“The coaches tell me is he’s a tremendous leader and did a great job running the offensive scout team,” Carlson said. “The fact that he has some college playing experience under his belt is very good for us.”
Scouting Siena Heights
Siena Heights launched its football program in 2011, the year before LU-B brought football back to the old Township Stadium. Coach Jim Lyall, in fact, sought out Carlson’s advice in starting the program.
The Saints finished last season 6-4 and co-champions of the Mid-States Football Association with a 5-1 league record. Marian College, however, won the NAIA national playoff bid by tie-breaker.
That team lost numerous starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, but remain solid at linebacker and in the secondary where safety DeShawn Gilberg, MSA co-defensive player of the year and a second-team all-American, returns.
Starting quarterback Travis Zajkowski, who had a 111.3 passer rating last season, and wide receiver Reggie Blackmon (52 catches, 583 yards) also return.
Winning in the MSA: Depending on the source, the Mid States Association is considered among the most competitive conferences in MSA, which makes Saturday’s game the perfect test for an emerging team.
“It’s going to be a great test for us,” Carlson said. “We’re starting out not only with a Mid States game, but the co-champion as well. We’re not totally sure how that’s going to play out, which is probably true of any first-week opponent just because your personnel changes so much.”