Defense has been the strength of the Fort Lewis College football team in recent years. This year, the offense wants to be a bigger part of the equation.
The Skyhawks will get their first chance to show off the new offense led by first-year offensive coordinator Brandon Crosby at 6 p.m. Friday in the season opener against New Mexico Highlands. The game will be played at Durango High School.
FLC, which finished 5-6 last season and 5-5 in the RMAC, will enter the season with a newfound edge. A loaded senior class has high expectations for a winning season in the second year under head coach Joe Morris.
“There’s an excitement, and I think a lot of it has to do with the senior class we have,” Morris said. “That locker room, they take care of themselves. The seniors drive the bus, and I give them the keys and directions to the game. The locker room has taken on that identity at this point, and it’s been good for us.”
A year ago, FLC scored an average of 21.5 points per game, the second fewest in the 11-team Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. The defense, however, only gave up 26.2 points per game, the fourth-best in the RMAC. FLC also ranked third in team defense, as it allowed only 372.8 yards per game. But the offense was second worst in the conference with only 303.6 yards per game and was last with only 133.9 passing yards per game.
With Crosby, who arrived from the University of Nevada where he was a quarterback quality control coach, came a new offense. Players are also excited about the work of new offensive line coach Jeff Nady.
“We know our offense has not been great the last couple of years,” said redshirt sophomore quarterback Jake Lowry. “The defense has been the ones holding it together. We’re excited to go execute and definitely think we can put some points on the board this year.”
Last season, Lowry played in 10 games and started two. He passed for 265 yards, three touchdowns and one interception while he completed only 42.6 percent of his passes. He went into the offseason as the team’s projected 2018 starter and quickly began work with Crosby in the spring. He has a strong grasp of the playbook and hopes to open up the offense right away against the New Mexico Highlands Cowboys.
But the Skyhawks will be without last year’s leading rusher, Tyler Telphy. The senior from California rushed for 722 yards and five touchdowns and averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season. He is week-to-week with an upper leg injury, and sophomore Brayden Lucero will get the start Friday night.
Last year, Lucero rushed for 210 yards and one touchdown, and he averaged 4 yards per carry. Elijah Huff and freshman Massio Love also will see action.
“Telphy is a stud,” Lowry said. “I hope he gets to where he needs to be. If it’s second or third week, I know he’ll get there eventually. Brayden is also a really steady back and great player. We’ll be fine with him, Elijah Huff and the freshman.”
The FLC offense will go against a Cowboys defense that was one of the worst in the RMAC last year. The Cowboys, who finished 2-9 overall and 1-9 in the RMAC, were 10th in points allowed per game at 44 and in yards allowed per game at 476. Lowry said playing against the FLC defense every day since fall camp opened will have the offense ready to go.
“They’re one of the best defenses we will see all year, especially the D-line,” Lowry said of his teammates.
FLC is led on the defensive line by preseason All-RMAC selections Christopher Blanton and George Marpaung. The linebacker core of Darrian Stickney and Durango High alum Isiah Mayberry is also potent, as Stickney also was named to the preseason all-conference team.
“Expect great defense, all the way from the front to our DBs,” Mayberry said. “Hopefully, we can come out and put zeros on the board.”
FLC’s defense placed another on the preseason awards list, as senior defensive back Donell Pleasant III also was honored. Pleasant had four interceptions last season, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Fellow senior defensive back Dre Cortez was left off the list but has proved to play at a high level during his FLC career, with three interceptions and 72 tackles.
New Mexico Highlands returned quarterback Danny Cameron, who passed for 2,008 yards, 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season. Running back Dione Alston also returned after he rushed for 592 yards and six touchdowns last season. Wide receiver DJ McFadden also is back after he hauled in 25 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns last season.
But the Cowboys’ offense could look much different Friday night than in years past. Matt Clark is the new offensive coordinator. Morris said Clark may run more of a pro-style offense instead of the spread offense the Cowboys ran under Garret Chachere.
“It’s extremely tough this year defensively to know what Highlands is going to have,” Morris said. “You never know what Highlands is going to have when you line up against them Week 1.”