By Marciel Whitehurst
LOGOS STAFF WRITER
Incarnate Word faces yet another “first” in football this fall.
In 2008, there were the inaugural practice sessions. In 2009, UIW competed in its first collegiate varsity football contest. In 2010, the athletic department transitioned into the Lone Star Conference. This season, the Cardinals will face their first Division 1 opponent in Lamar University on Sept. 16 in Beaumont, Texas.
This is a major step in the right direction for recruiting measures, playing opportunities and exposure for UIW football athletes who may be overshadowed by the likes of Abilene Christian, West Texas A&M, and such LSC partners on a weekly basis.
Head Coach Mike Santiago and his coaching staff are doing an excellent job in expanding the Cardinal brand with scheduling tough matchups as this. Another intriguing component to this matchup is the resurgence of the Lamar Cardinal football program after a layoff of more than 20 years.
2010 marked the first game for Lamar as a member of the Southland Conference, a Football Championship Series (FCS) Conference formally known as Division 1-AA. The Cardinals finished the 2010 season with a record of 5-6 and a convincing victory over Oklahoma Panhandle State, who the UIW Cardinals defeated by three points, on a field goal in overtime by K. Thomas Rebold.
Statistically, the Cardinals have an edge offensively. UIW posted nearly 22 points a contest while Lamar was just below 20. However, Lamar’s defense was able to limit teams to just fewer than 26 points, while UIW allowed more than 30 in eight of 11 contests. Stats show when the Cardinals of Incarnate Word held opponents under 20 points they were victorious.
If the statistics hold true for each team in 2011, Coach Santiago may have one of his most impressive victories to date, considering the obstacles he’s had to face with starting a collegiate program from the ground up. A win in Beaumont would also do wonders for the confidence of a more mature but still relatively young Cardinal squad.
Knowing Coach Santiago’s philosophy, each player must compete for playing time on a weekly basis. However, Paden Lynch took the reins as quarterback and finished the season as the undoubted starter. Lynch gains wide receiver Jacob Love back from a season-ending collarbone injury, and he looks to be bigger and stronger going into his final campaign.
UIW also recruited several receivers with size and speed, who the coaching staff hopes to contribute on the outside right away. The running game is sure to be improved after year one of Offensive Coordinator Tony Marciano’s pro-style offense, which is eerily similar to that of Mike Kubiak and the Houston Texans. Trent Rios looks to carry the load for his third consecutive season as I back.
Returning in the back field is Alex Torres who missed the entire 2010 with a broken foot sustained in the spring game. Rios, Torres and Tahje Canyon could be a serious three-headed monster in the backfield. The defense will be returning every starter from a year ago, minus Rashad Patterson. Another year under Coach Todd Ivicic’s nickel package, and two seasons as a unit could yield great results.
The Cardinals are several years from being a complete team in all aspects of football, but the progress is certainly noticeable. If the Cardinal team that showed up against Midwestern State shows up each week in 2011, with a 10-team conference schedule, we could be looking at a top-five finish.
E-mail Whitehurst at firstname.lastname@example.org