Bears aim for third-straight SAC football title

Lenoir-Rhyne may be heading into its next college football season, but expectations remain the same for the program on the gridiron.

“Our goal this year is no different than it has been the first two seasons,” said third-year L-R head coach Mike Houston. “Our goal every year is to win the South Atlantic Conference championship. Anything beyond that or anything different from that isn’t the focus of our program. Our goal is to win the league. I think each year is new and each team is a new. Anything that we achieved last year doesn’t have a whole lot of impact on this year.”

Many members of the Lenoir-Rhyne squad feel that they can exceed expectations in 2013 after winning back-to-back South Atlantic Conference Championships from 2011-12.

“We’re just going to try to take it to the next level, win another playoff game and go as far as we can — even to the National Championship,” said linebacker Tanner Botts. “A third SAC championship is a great thing, but I want to go even higher than that. I want a National Championship. That is the main goal for us.”

A new quarterback will be under center for the Bears after starter Reuben Haynes graduated last year.

Teverrius Jones and Miles Freeman are both vying for the opening with Jones currently ranked at the top of the Bears’ depth chart.

“Everyone expects me to come and fill the (quarterback) role,” Jones said. “Since we won the SAC two years in a row, they expect us to go for a three-peat in the third year. My expectations are to lead my team to victory no matter what and to get that three-peat.”

Should Jones start this season, he will have a range of running backs to hand the ball off to.

Jarrod Spears, who led the Bears in rushing last season with 994 yards and scored nine touchdowns, returns along with fullback Isaiah Whitaker, who rushed for 874 yards and five touchdowns.

Lenoir-Rhyne ran for 4,515 yards on the ground last season (376.2 per game), which was second-best in the nation in NCAA Div. II.

“The expectations are definitely high, especially coming off of a winning season,” Spears said. “Every team is looking to beat us. We just have to keep working harder and overcome whatever we go through this season. Coach Houston has been telling us to train and work hard because everyone else in the conference is working hard.”

Botts returns to a Lenoir-Rhyne defense that ranked first in the South Atlantic Conference last season. Also returning are defensive backs Myer Nolan and Michael Green.

All three Bears were All-SAC selections last fall.

“Defensively, I feel like we have some talented guys stepping in for the players who graduated,” Houston said. “It is getting them brought up to the comfort level with the returning guys that we have on the back end and playing together as a complete unit. That is coming along real nicely now.”

The Bears open their season next Saturday at Moretz Stadium against Concord at 7 p.m.

“Every team in the conference is shooting for us,” Spears said. “We’ve just got to try our best to keep working hard every week and see what we can do come game day.”