Gone are quarterback Jacob Park and running back Charles West that powered an offense that scored 29.3 points per game and gained 444.5 yards of total offense and one of the best passing games in the MIAA. Starting duties at quarterback will be determined in a battle between Dawson Herl a redshirt freshman, Jaylon Banks a transfer from Eastern Illinois or freshman David Oplotnik, Isaac Kittrell and Luke Sampson.
Three of the top five pass catchers from the 2019 season are gone, but Brian Boyd and Keandre Bledsoe set a new Southern record with 35 receptions from the tight end position and gained 437 yards, while Boyd finished with 43 receptions and a team-high 706 yards, and both added two touchdowns. Other pass catchers that saw action in 2019 to return are Ty Harvery at tight end, as well as Jaedon Stoshak and Jonathan Watts, both wide receivers competing for starting roles.
Josh Mercer is the lone returner from the running backs after having 40 rushes for 126 yards and a touchdown while being one of the best kick returners in the MIAA with 27 returns for 652 yards, including an 86-yard touchdown return against NSU. Taylor Thomas, Oakley Roessler and Trey Hock are back after redshirting the 2019 season and will be joined by Cooper Hardin making the switch from tight end to running back and freshman Nathan Glades and Jeremy Brown as they will compete for reps from the running back position.
The offensive line will see some reshuffling as it loses three that had at least three starts in 2019 but return Mohamad Al-Ramahi, Lepo Tito-Fualaau, Michael Brown and Labrentae Davis all with starting experience. Transfers LaColby Tucker, Theodore Bullard and Edward Manase all started in the game at Southern Nazarene, while Al-Ramahi and Tito-Fualaau and Caden Coulson saw time as a blocker as well.
Solomona Fetuao notched a start and was heavily rotated in during the 2019 season and will be one of the leaders on the defensive line that will start anew. Dylan Wright will be fighting for a starting spot in the interior after backing up in 2019. Kiyon Robinson and Chauncey McCaulie, both transfers, will be competing in the interior line as well for a starting spot while Solomon Garcia and Ryan Merriweather will also be in the competition. Competing alongside Fetuao as a defensive end are James Boyd, Nick Kruse, Kalepo Fiaseu, Kameron Neal, Ryan Scleimer, Dionnte White, Meshack Kioko Jr. and Renard Gwynn for a starting assignment.
Richard Jordan, Jr.
Where the Lions are strong are their one-two tackling punch at linebacker with All-MIAA LB’s Richard Jordan Jr. and Colton Winder prowling the field. Jordan Jr. finished atop the MIAA ranks and was tied for seventh in D-II with 120 tackles. That number was tied for the lead in D-II for all sophomores and he was tied for 11th across D-I, II, III, while setting the single-game record at Southern with 25 tackles against Washburn.
Winder started seven games for the Lions but finished with 95 tackles which was second in D-II and tied for second in the MIAA. It was the fifth-most across D-I, II, III for a freshman. Jakwan Allen and Bryce Osman will be fighting for that last linebacker starting spot. Allen is a returner that got into some action in 2019 after redshirting his first season at Southern and in the lone spring game against Southern Nazarene, forced and recovered a fumble to go with five tackles (four solo), and a sack.
The secondary will see some reshuffling. Jaylon Alexander and Dylan Bolden are returning and look to be the top corners on the team while Malachi Broadnax will transition from linebacker to safety after finishing 2019 with 60 tackles, a sack, interception five pass breakups and two forced fumbles playing as a linebacker and a nickel back.
Returning for the special teams will be Luke Taggart to man the long snapping duties, while the kicking will be assigned between returner Gordon Stephens, Missouri State transfer Nick Williams and true freshman Drake Reese. Josh Mercer will be back after emerging as one of the leading return specialists in the MIAA, finishing third in the conference with 652 kick return yards and a touchdown and was fifth with a 24.3 average yard per return. Mercer topped 100 return yards twice in 2019, gaining a season-high 117 yards against Missouri Western and 115 yards against Northeastern State. Jaedon Stoshak assumed primary punt return duty in 2019 finishing with seven returns for 33 yards as a true freshman.