By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
There will be no “easy game” to start off the Concord University football season.
The Mountain Lions will face the Bears of Lenoir-Rhyne University tonight, taking on the two-time champions of the South Atlantic Conference. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. in Hickory, N.C.
Concord head coach Garin Justice said, “The guys are very excited, which they should be. They do a lot of hard work, put a lot of effort into acquiring opportunities to play football, and this is their first opportunity.”
“Hopefully, we can contain that excitement and stay focused on the task at hand.”
The Bears were 9-3 last season, and are ranked No. 23 in the national preseason poll of the American Football Coaches Association. They are particularly strong at their home field, Moretz Stadium.
“They haven’t lost a home game there in the last 2 1/2 years. It’s a great opportunity; it’s going to be a great environment,” Justice said. “It’s a huge challenge, going down there.”
Concord was 7-4 last season, including a 24-21 win over Lenoir-Rhyne in Athens in their 2012 debut. This year, Justice said Concord is again a contender.
“I think the guys have put themselves in a position to be competitive,” he said.
Concord finished 13th in total defense in NCAA Division II last season, and were seventh in pass defense.
A deep secondary returns, anchored by seniors Davon Marion and Riyahd Richardson. Defensive player of the year Jake Lilly is joined by Austin Dotson, who Justice said is “the strongest guy on the football team.”
The starting line, however, could include two true freshmen, nose guard Darryl Johnson and defensive end Brandon Fowler.
In 2012, the Bears were second in the nation in rushing out of a triple option. Returning junior Jarrod Spears gained 994 yards, averaging 13.3 yards per touch.
Justice said, “They will be a team that runs the ball close to every single down, so we’ve got to do a good job of staying true to our fundamentals ... and that’s a discipline that we’ve been trying to instill with our guys, the whole camp.”
“It’s a dangerous offense, that we’ve contained in the past, but also they’ve gotten some good plays on us in the past. So it should be a good matchup.”
On Concord’s offense, redshirt freshman Brian Novak came out on top in the preseason quarterback competition.
Justice said, “We feel very confident about what Brian can do, and his abilities. But, it’s his first start, and he’s going into a hostile environment. ... He just hasn’t played a college football game yet, and we understand there are going to be some ups and downs with that.”
Calvinaugh Jones, who ran for 749 yards in nine games last season, and redshirt freshman Sam Wright will split the tailback duties.
“Calvinaugh will be our starter in the game,” Justice said. “We have complete faith in both those guys. Plus, you have Ben Nester, who’s a guy who will continue to get carries at running back.”
“We’re very fortunate that Calvinaugh, Sam and Ben are all three very unselfish guys. ... They understand the importance of putting the team first, and being fresh.”
Justice, whose specialty is the offensive line, said about the blocking corps, “On paper, this is my best group up front,” Justice said.
The Bears’ defense is “opportunistic,” he said, “probably their most athletic defense. It’s going to be a defense that’s tough to move the ball on.”
In ways, the two programs are much alike, and have been for awhile.
Justice said, “The crazy thing is, with Concord and Lenoir-Rhyne, it seems like every single year we’ve mirrored each other as programs go.”
“Every year we think we get a little bit better, and we think, ‘Ah, we’ll have an edge on Lenoir-Rhyne this year.’ Then we go play them, and it looks like they recruit and coach, too.”
“I know it’s a headache on game day, because I’d like to get an easy win sometimes, and they’re not an easy win. They’re a challenge.”
The Bears have won seven of 11 games in the all-time series between the schools.
“It’s going to be a tough game, but the guys are very excited about the opportunity,” Justice said. “We’re a program that’s built on competition. We’ve got a team of young men who thrive on that competition and those challenges.”
— Contact Tom Bone at