In 2011, UNA Football had a series of highs and lows on their way to a 9-3 season that ended in the second round of the playoffs. The University of North Alabama displayed a Jekyll & Hyde performance mentality in what turned out to be Terry Bowden’s last season.
After Bowden’s resignation, former Coach Bobby Wallace expressed interest publicly and was officially named the ninth head coach at North Alabama a short time later. Coach Wallace held the position for ten seasons from 1988 to 1997 where he led the program into history by becoming the first school to win three consecutive national championships in NCAA scholarship football. He has a record of 82-36-1 at UNA. He filled out his staff with former players and coaches, which, along with a large recruiting class of local players, has reinvigorated a UNA fan base that was yearning for a greater sense of community on the staff and team.
The 2012 Lions Offense, coached by D2 Hall of Famer Cody Gross, will feature junior quarterback Chris Alexander at the helm. Alexander has two years of back-up experience to outgoing Harlon Hill Trophy Finalist Lee Chapple and the coaching staff had praise for his solid performance in the spring. He will be followed on the depth chart by sophomore Kyle Crabtree and freshman Luke Wingo. Alexander has a better running ability than Chapple, which will be complemented by the new spread option focus of the current coaching staff.
A solid UNA backfield is completed with a duo of strong runners, especially with the return of junior fullback Chris Coffey. He had 83 carries for 307 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2011. He will be joined by local freshman Lamonte Thompson, who had an impressive spring game performance.
The Lions’ excellent corps of receivers took an even greater hit than expected when All-GSC and team-leading receiver Mo Milam was deemed academically ineligible. Yet, returning are talented seniors Daniel Almon and Brian Sutherland. Almon had 25 catches for 317 yards and a touchdown in 2011. They will be supported by another key returning offense contributor, junior Jason Smith. Last season, he had 38 catches for 537 yards and four touchdowns. Also expected make an impact for UNA will be Ole Miss transfer senior receiver Melvin Harris.
The largest unknown going into the current season is the play of the offensive line. UNA will have to replace three-year starting All-GSC center Jamie Dixon and two-time All-American tackle Kyle Thornton. One bright spot is the return of senior left tackle Will Furlong and 2010 starting right guard, junior Blake Ray. Other projected 2012 starters include junior left guard David Lundberg, junior center Tyler Sizemore and freshman right tackle transfer from Lambuth, Willie Hovater.
The Lions defensive line will be experienced, but may lack the strength of last season. Senior end Richie Mataafa is a returning starter and will be playing alongside key returning contributor senior Brian Allen and former starting nose guard Dominique Duster, a junior. Allen had 24 tackles with 1.5 sacks in 2011 and Duster had 35 tackles with four for a loss in 2010. Rounding out the defensive line are 6-1, 315 pound junior Jeremiah Booth and 6-2, 267 pound sophomore Taylor Carney.
UNA’s linebackers are talented but inexperienced and will be trying to fill the big shoes left by the departure of All-American Marcus Dowtin. Moving from free safety to linebacker is junior Caleb Massey. He will be joined by probable starters Tavarius Wilson, a 5-11, 225 pound junior, and Donelli Johnson, a 6-1, 184 pound senior.
Even with the loss of star All-American and current projected St. Louis Rams starter Janoris Jenkins, the secondary looks to be a solid group led by All-GSC junior strong safety Rod Woodson. Last season, Woodson had 50 total tackles, including 24 solo tackles, 6 pass breakups and one forced fumble. He will be joined by corner backs Delvin Ervin, a 6-2, 180 pound junior, and Cartez Pickett, a 5-10, 181 pound sophomore.
UNA special teams will be the most experienced unit and features the return of three starters. Yet, they will need to overcome some consistency issues from 2011. Led by senior punter Michael Schuster, other returning starters also include placekicker Josh Montgomery and three-year long snapper Josh Roberts. Schuster had 39 punts for 39.8 average with twenty downed inside the 20 yard line. He will also do some placekicking as Montgomery had a good PAT conversion rate going 22 for 24 but was only 2 for 7 on field goals.
The new coaching staff will be concentrating on bringing the group together in the pre-season camp and attempt to foster teamwork quickly. There are many talented players on the North Alabama roster but expectations are being held in check understanding the new chemistry that has to be established compared to the Bowden era.
The Lions toughest challenges during the regular season will be in-conference battles with Delta State, Valdosta State and West Alabama, who are all ranked in the Pre-Season Top 25.
This is an edited, abridged version of the 2012 North Alabama Football Preview currently being published in “D2Football 2012 – Preview Magazine” produced by D2Football.com. The full article was contributed by UNAPride.com Editor Andy W. Davis and can be read, along with vast amounts of information about the upcoming year in D2 Football, by purchasing the magazine.