Lamar’s great season something to build on
Going into this season, not many fans would have predicted a playoff berth for the Lamar University football program. The team still seemed to be in a rebuilding phase; a winning record might have been the best hope. Then, after the Cardinals lost their first three games in the Southland Conference, dreams of any post-season games seemed downright ludicrous. Heck, that would require an improbable six-game winning streak over some really good teams.
As Southeast Texans know — as well as fans beyond this region — that’s exactly what happened. That ugly 50-27 loss to Nichols State way back in September was the last defeat this team would accept. With grit and talent, the Cardinals began defying the odds and kept winning. When starters went down, backups stepped up. The coaches sent in new plays, and reworked old ones.
As a result, the Cardinals are all the way up in Cedar Falls, Iowa, today for a first-round playoff game against Northern Iowa. If you didn’t make the trip — and more than a few area residents have — you can catch the game at 4 p.m. on ESPN3.
This is an impressive feat for the team, and the players and coaches deserve all the accolades being piled upon them.
It takes a special kind of athlete to stay focused after a lousy start, when it looks like you might just be playing out the season again as an underdog every week. It also requires a special kind of coach to find a way to motivate athletes who are clearly discouraged, to make them believe they can dominate and win. Fortunately, Lamar had those kinds of players, and those kinds of coaches. Anything less — with either group — wouldn’t have led to that chartered airplane flight to Iowa on Friday.
Coach Mike Schultz clearly deserves the most credit. Turnarounds like this don’t happen by accident. They happen only when the head coach makes sure his assistant coaches and players lay one brick after another until they have a path to the postseason.
Regardless of what happens today — and we are clearly looking for another win — a season like this can have a long-lasting impact on the program. More recruits, and better ones, will be willing to try Lamar after seeing what this team is capable of. The stands at Provost-Umphrey will be fuller next year — and don’t discount a sellout or two. The vibe even affects students who want to attend Lamar, giving them another reason to choose this university over others.
We’re thrilled with this season, and excited for the next one. The Cardinals are winning again, and this might just become a habit.