North Alabama hopes for same roar from new Lions on this year’s football team

North Alabama hopes for same roar from new Lions on this year’s football team
The University of North Alabama Lions return 17 starters, despite losing some key players from last year's conference championship team. (UNA Athletics)

Bobby Wallace is taking nothing away from Willie Slater and his Tuskegee Golden Tigers.

In Wallace’s second stint as football coach at the University of North Alabama, his Lions accomplished two of their goals in earning a share of the Gulf South Conference championship and claiming a berth in the Division II football playoffs.

That playoff run ended in the second round as North Alabama fell 35-31 at home to Tuskegee.

“Tuskegee played a great game, but we didn’t play well,” Wallace said. “And we had so many good seniors who had started for four years that trusted me when I first came back here. We ended up being conference champions, and you can’t take that for granted.”

Alabama NewsCenter is posing five questions to state college coaches as the 2016 football season draws near. Next up are Wallace and his Lions, who kick off their season at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 1, at Jacksonville State, the national runner-up in the Football Championship Subdivision last year.

ANC: What is the season outlook?

BW: Because we lost so many marquee names – our quarterback in Luke Wingo, who was offensive player of the year, and Lamonte Thompson, the second all-time rusher in UNA history, and some other guys who have started for four years – I think the perception is we won’t be near as good. But at the same time, we’ve got 17 starters back. If (quarterback) Jacob Tucker has the kind of season I think he’s capable of having, I expect us to compete just like we have the last three years.

ANC: What is your team’s strength?

BW: Defensively, I think we’re the best we’ve been since I’ve been here, or been back here. We’re very fast. We’ve got some size up front in our defensive tackles and some strength there. In the kicking game, we have everybody coming back – a preseason all-conference kicker in Kevin Henke, our long snapper made all-conference the last two years and our punter’s back. Offensively, I think our strength will be more from the running backs being the big-play guys to the wideouts being the big-play guys. We’ve got three excellent wideouts, two of them have excellent speed, and Jacob can throw the ball really well.

ANC: Who are your standouts?

BW: Dre Hall had over 1,000 yards receiving last year. He’s a great player at wide receiver. For us to have a great season, Jacob Tucker will have to be our quarterback, and he’s capable of doing it. And Stephen Evans is a returning all-conference offensive guard. Defensively, Philbert Martial has been all-conference three years in a row (at defensive back).

ANC: What game do your fans have circled on your schedule?

BW: The fans more than likely have Jacksonville State circled. That is an important game that we want to win, but it’s not going to have any bearing on our goals we want to achieve for the year. It won’t count in the conference standings, and it won’t count in the Division II playoffs. It’ll be like the Jacksonville State game doesn’t exist, win or lose. I don’t look at any game being more critical as long as it’s a conference or Division II game. We’ve got to be ready to play every week.

ANC: What is your lingering question?

BW: I would think the biggest question mark is, who’s going to be the running back? Or are we going to do it by committee? And how are our quarterbacks going to play on game day?

Also read five questions with Miles College Coach Reginald Ruffin.

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