Alabama NewsCenter 2018 football preview: University of North Alabama

Alabama NewsCenter 2018 football preview: University of North Alabama
Returning wide receiver Alex Norwood will be among the key players helping the North Alabama Lions make the jump to Division I play this year. (University of North Alabama Athletics)

Purple lion paw prints line Court Street in Florence, just as they have when previous football seasons drew near. That’s a constant for North Alabama football.

But some things are changing for the Lions, who are beginning their transition from Division II to the Football Championship Subdivision of NCAA Division I.

“It is different when you look at the schedule, when you look at recruiting and NCAA rules,” head coach Chris Willis said. “There are some things we have to adjust and get used to how we do things on a calendar year. But it has the same feel.”

The football season is approaching, and Alabama NewsCenter is continuing its tour of college programs in the state. Next up is head coach Willis’ North Alabama Lions.

Watch UNA Lions Coach Chris Willis size up the historic season ahead from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Alabama NewsCenter: What is the outlook for this season?

Chris Willis: When you look at the schedule, we’re top heavy at the very beginning. No disrespect to any team I don’t mention here, but we’re talking Southern Utah Week One and North Dakota State Week Three. You’re talking national champions in one aspect and a team that made the playoffs and won nine games. Right out of the gate, we’re getting tested. We’ve got an 11-game schedule. We want to be competitive in every game. I’m not going to stand here and guarantee wins, but I think we can come away with more wins than losses. It all depends on the health. We went through a period last year where we lost a lot of players in our last year of Division II. If we hadn’t lost those players, we’d have won seven or eight games as opposed to five games. We had so many starters we lost last year. I’m hoping we don’t go through that this year.

ANC: What is the strength of this year’s team?

Willis: Last year, we were so new. The newcomers outnumbered the returners. This year is not that way. The nucleus is better; cohesiveness is better. The linebacker corps is back, and everybody knew about these linebackers. I think they’ve all got NFL potential. Some of them have plenty of years of college left.

ANC: Who are your team’s standouts?

Willis: Defensively, Chris Johnson at safety, linebacker Christon Taylor, linebacker Joshua Amanfo (and) defensive lineman Frank Williams. On offense now, we’ve got a really strong nucleus at wide receiver, Cole Hardin, an O lineman, and Alex Norwood is a wide receiver.

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

Willis: I would think the Alabama A&M game, being it’s 45 miles up the road. I think that’s a game everybody’s looking forward to. And I think everybody’s going to want to key that Campbell game when we go out to North Carolina. They’re a team in our conference and we’re going to be going up against them for years to come. Obviously, a lot of people want to see the North Dakota State game, but we also understand what we’re going up against there as well.

ANC: What is your lingering question?

Willis: My concern right now is offensive line and defensive line as far as depth. I feel good about the starters; I just need to see where we’re going to be in depth. And then we need to find who’s going to be the quarterback.

Read 2018 football previews for Jacksonville State University, Miles College, the University of West Alabama, Birmingham-Southern College and UAB, and look for new football previews each weekday on Alabama NewsCenter.

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