LHU football set for season opener versus unknown Lincoln team

(LHU ATHLETICS) Lock Haven University tight end Jalen Jackson engages a defender in a NCAA college football game. LHU opens the season tonight versus Lincoln.

By SAM KUPERMAN

For The Express

Lock Haven University football will open its 2019 campaign Thursday night at home against Lincoln, a team out of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA). This is the first night game at Hubert Jack Stadium in a substantial amount of time. It is also a game against a Lions team that Lock Haven is relatively unfamiliar with.

LHU head coach Dave Taynor has obviously seen plenty of film on his team’s Thursday-night foe. That’s all based on last year’s Lions team, a squad that went 1-9 on the year and is predicted to finish at the bottom of the conference in the CIAA preseason coaches poll. This year’s team may have a coaching staff that’s playing coy with the Bald Eagles, something that Taynor believes his team is prepared to handle.

“Lincoln I imagine is gonna make some changes,” Taynor said at Tuesday night’s LHU Coaches Show at Haywood’s on the Green in Mill Hall. “This is the first depth chart I’ve ever had sent to me two days prior to a game, as opposed to four or five to the game. And it was sent with 12 players listed on defense. So unless they plan on playing some Canadian football, I expect them to play 11.”

The peculiar looking depth chart is easy to crack jokes about, and certainly isn’t ideal in a sport that’s so driven on meticulous preparation and a routine-oriented process. But Lock Haven has worked all offseason for this: an opportunity to start 2019 off 1-0 and build some real momentum in front of an engaged home crowd.

This is the first of two Thursday night contests for the Bald Eagles. They’ll get another one the first Thursday of October against PSAC East newcomer Shepherd. The Lincoln game will literally and figuratively be played under the bright lights, as members of the community don’t have to pick between watching a Penn State game or coming to an LHU home contest.

“It’s a great opportunity to be kind of in the spotlight and in a situation where our student athletes get some attention where they’re not competing against the guys down the road,” Taynor said in reference to Penn State. “We’re not playing on the same day as Penn State and we’re 40 minutes away from them, so it gives (the players) an opportunity to get recognition for the hard work that they’ve put in.”

This is also community night, meaning entry to this game is free. Lock Haven football is really dialing up its promotional schedule this year, with unique offerings at each home matchup during the fall.

The attention will be there, but what will the product on the field look like?

Well, the offensive potential of this team has been well-documented. A talented quarterback in the third year of Taynor’s tempo-based system returns to the field after missing all but the first three and a half quarters of 2018 with a torn ACL. Redshirt-sophomore signal-caller Kyle Knight will be out there and has a reigning All-American tight end (Jalen Jackson), an all-conference receiver (Bryan Greene), and an all-conference running back (Chantz Swartz) to lead the plethora of offensive weapons in Lock Haven’s arsenal.

The offensive line looks different from 2018, with a majority of last season’s starters having graduated, but four of the five starters have game experience for the Bald Eagles. The other, freshman left tackle Isaiah Clark, is a big physical player that Taynor is really high on.

“He’s gonna probably have some growing pains, like any freshman will do at any point in time,” Taynor said about the 6-foot-5 300 pound Clark. “But he has an unbelievable ceiling.”

“That group gelling during camp is the thing that was most important and they’ve gotten a ton of reps,” Taynor said of his offensive line.

Defensively, Lock Haven has some unknowns, just like its counterpart. Four returning starters in linebackers Alex Welch and Shane Scott along with defensive backs Kahari Whitfield and Austin Barber bring both production and leadership to the 2019 Lock Haven defense. A lot of players departed from the 2018 team on that side of the ball, but the group as a whole struggled mightily last year.

Taynor now has defensive coordinator Marshall Hall entering his first year calling the shots for that unit, and a more versatile approach that he hopes can prove dividends. Lock Haven has some skilled freshmen and high-impact transfers filling the voids of departed members of last year’s defense, and they’ll be put to the test opening night.

“We felt like we needed to make a substantive change on the defensive side of the football,” Taynor said. “We really truthfully put an emphasis on developing a multiple-style defense that can play seamlessly from a three-man front to a four-man front.

LHU’s base formation is listed as a 4-2-5, but that group of 11 is expected to shape shift quite often as it hopes to limit the Lions.

The biggest thing that gives Lock Haven confidence coming into the first game is the revamped culture of the football program. The players that are there want to be there, and have put forth the effort to back that up.

“The culture of the program is the most important thing that we do,” Taynor said. “Having true commitment to having great want-to as a program and having passion for attention to detail.”

“This is a phenomenal team game, so we want team guys that put us first and use their strengths to better their teammates and use their weaknesses to protect their teammates.”

The energy level around this team feels objectively different in 2019 from what LHU had in its 2-9 2018 campaign. Now it’s time to unleash it against Lincoln, and use this stage as a springboard for the new season.

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