By ROB LUDWIG / Special To The Corsicana Daily Sun
The Navarro College football staff is among those many NJCAA football observers who are wondering just how good Arkansas Baptist is going to be in 2013.
The Buffaloes are coming off a 1-8 season as they open this year on Saturday at Tiger Stadium at 1 p.m. against the Bulldogs. Navarro led only 14-0 at halftime in Arkansas last year before running away with the season opener, 40-0.
Boasting a roster of players from more than a dozen states, this year’s Buffaloes are a bit of an enigma, though there are a few returning players that make ABC quite dangerous offensively.
“They are going to throw the ball a bunch out of a lot of formations, just like us,” said Navarro Coach Brian Mayper, whose team enters the season ranked third in the NJCAA after finishing 10-2 last year. “We’re not quite sure just how good Arkansas Baptist is going to be this year, but we hear they are much improved from last year.”
The Buffaloes’ passing game will be primed by sophomore receivers Tyrone Carter and Melvin Waters, who combined for 67 catches and 10 touchdowns in 2012. Carter was among the nation’s leaders with nine touchdown receptions while grabbing 44 balls for 718 yards. Waters added 23 catches for 277 yards and also proved to be effective in the return game after averaging 22.1 yards as Arkansas Baptist’s primary kick returner.
Randall Dixon (6-1, 220) will be at quarterback, though he graduated from high school in Rock Hill, S.C. in 2010. Dixon passed for more than 1,700 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior.
That potentially potent passing game will put a premium on Navarro’s pass rush that has been reworked after losing three players to Division I in the offseason. Desmond Owino (6-4, 255) will start at one defensive end and Kyron Minter (6-0, 195) will play rush end in the 3-4 defense. Sophomores Kerry Holiday and John Williams will handle much of the duty in the middle of the defense until injured transfers Marquis Anderson (Oklahoma) and Michael Starts (Texas Tech) recover from injury.
Mayper has also been impressed by the play of freshman weakside linebacker Chrishard Buhl of Waco Midway.
“We’ve had quite a few freshmen step up like (Buhl and Minter),” Mayper said. “They had done well during the summertime, but we weren’t sure how they were going to react once we started practices. So far, they’ve done excellent. Now we’re looking forward to seeing how they react in game situations.”
Mayper has also been receiving equally outstanding fall camps from freshmen receivers Devin Lauderdale and Austin Collins. Both should play prominent roles alongside sophomore Markel Steward-Gillespie, one of the top targets in the nation.
“They both have looked really good,” he said. “We’re looking forward to seeing what they are doing in game situations.”
Mayper also wants to see what he has in a reworked offensive line that returns just one starter, Carter Wall, who is capable of playing every position on the line though will start at left tackle.
“Tim Hines (6-5, 275) is set at the other tackle, while Darius Moore (6-4, 290) is pushing Jarvis Adams (6-3, 340) at one guard spot and Charles Sanders (6-5, 290) is really pushing C.J. Greene (6-4, 325) at center,” Mayper said. “They have a chance to be a really good group, but I’m looking forward to seeing how they react under fire.”
If that line is as good as Mayper hopes, the six-deep running back position could be in for some outstanding nights this year.
“We’ve got three veteran running backs back there in Tim Wright, Cameron Washington and Tarlandus Mitchell,” Mayper said. “Wright is a strong, strong runner who can run away from people. Cameron is a powerful, hard-hitting back who can rack up the yards and Tarlandus is one of those guys who does everything for us. He lines up at running back, fullback, tight end, H-back, middle man on the kickoff return team, and is the protector on our punt team. He’s the MVP kind of guy every team needs.”
On Saturday afternoon, the Bulldogs will begin to find out how many potential MVPs are ready to step up for a run at a national title in 2013.