BATESVILLE, Ark. – In their first season of football since 1951, the 2015 Lyon College Scots struggled at times on offense, but still managed to average 182.2 yards per game on the ground, produce the nation's third-leading rusher in Michael Bowles (SR/Earle, Ark.) and average 17.0 points per game.
But with a passing game that picked up 117.5 yards per outing and seeing the need for a more balanced attack, Lyon hired an offensive coordinator to direct the program's forward push. Shawn Daniel was hired, who brought with him collegiate coaching experience from Trinity Bible College (ND), fellow Central State Football League school Southwest Assemblies of God University (Texas) and Midland University (Neb.).
Daniel said about 80 percent of the 2016 Scot offense will be new, but he can see through the production in training camp that the players are already enjoying his schemes. He said Lyon will throw the ball more this season, which should open up the strong running game that rests on the back of Bowles, who ran for 1,431 yards and 130.1 yards per game a year ago.
"The receivers are just elated because we're going to throw the ball more this year," Daniel said. "The quarterbacks have found the passing game very, very easy to pick up. The players are picking it up really well and the receivers have exceeded my expectations because they like it and they are a big part of the offense now."
Daniel said the Scots are deep at the tight end position and have two exciting young wide receivers that can make things happen. All-Central States Football League First-teamer Jonathan Hendrix (SO/Batesville, Ark.) was mainly a blocking tight end last season, catching three passes for 29 yards and a 9.7-yard average per catch. He, and Garett Denton (SO/Batesville, Ark.), are Batesville natives and are returning for their third year and second competitive season at Lyon.
"I'm very impressed with our tight end position," Daniel explained. "We're three-deep right now at tight end. Kansas (Hendrix) could very easily be a first-team all-conference player again. I don't think there is anyone in the conference that even compares to him. His blocking and catching skills are excellent. He's phenomenal. Then we have Garett, who is really good, and Caleb Thompson (FR/Marion, Ark.), who has great hands and is learning the speed of the game.
"At the wide receiver spots we're blessed to have two guys that (stand) 6-2, in Riley Caraway (SO/Batesville, Ark.) and Reace Kinley (FR/Bushnell, Fla.). With the concepts that we run, we're at an advantage because we'll be taller than any cornerback we face and that is great fit for our system."
With any offense, the key is the quarterback position. Lyon returns starter Dwane Robinson (SO/Palm Bay, Fla.) from a year ago. Robinson played quarterback and wide receiver, while being named All-CSFL Honorable Mention for his kickoff returns. He ran back 14 kickoffs for a 27.4-yard average, while completing 33-of-85 passes (38.8%) for 515 yards, with four touchdowns and five interceptions in eight starts. He also was second on the squad in receiving, pulling in 27 passes for 380 yards and two scores, proving he's a triple threat.
Another Scot that will be playing his first season, but worked out at Lyon in the spring, is Micah Wall (SO/Hooks, Texas). A transfer from Southern Arkansas University, Wall is making this fall's quarterback battle competitive.
"It's a very good quarterback competition," Daniel stated. "Competition breeds excellence. When you have competition, one person is going to rise to the top. When you don't have competition, you have a player who feels entitled. So competition is really good. They drive each other, but it's a friendly competition.
"Dwane and Micah are the top two competitors right now just because of their athletic ability and the fact that they've played college football. They both have that one year of college competition and that year of maturity. This position is one guy's job until he loses it, so it'll be interesting to see how the competition progresses."
Daniel said the quarterback has a lot of responsibility in his offense, so there is higher expectation of the player who wins the job.
The new coordinator hopes that opening up the passing game will give Bowles even more room to run this season. The First-Team All-CSFL runner carried the ball 291 times a year ago, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He will be the go-to player again this fall.
"Bowles is hands down one of the top backs, not only on this football team, but in the entire NAIA," Daniel said. "Then we've got Jason Biddy (FR/Tuttle, Okla.), a true freshman. He has stood out as a runner this fall. He has picked up the system and understands the concepts of the passing game and protection."
At the fullback spot, returner David Knight (SO/Sarasota, Fla.) will battle for playing time with transfer Joe Mahe (JR/Makawao, Hawaii) (San Mateo College). "You'll see Mahe with his hands on the ball more, but Knight brings a lot of physicality to the running game. We're not lacking with those two."
Lyon, which returns seven starters and 19 lettermen on offense, will also have its share of returners on the interior line. Khang Nguyen (SO/Batesville, Ark.) is back after missing part of last season with a knee injury. Also returning are All-CSFL Honorable Mention Tyler Vanlandingham (SO/Memphis, Tenn.) and senior Jacob Lovelace (SR/Stockton, Calif.).
"We've got some size and experience back this season," Daniel said. "Almost every position on our offensive line has some college football experience, which is crucial to have Lovelace and Vanlandingham back. They, too, have a lot of responsibility on our offense. We're asking more of them and they've been up the schemes really well.
"We also have a couple of outstanding freshmen coming in, led by Teago Thomas (FR/Jonesboro, Ark.). He is superb and will find his way on to the field a lot this season."
Daniel said the biggest challenge for his offense will be the players learning him and his philosophy. The second challenge will be for his squad to pick up his passing game, which should, in turn, give Bowles a lot more daylight in 2016.