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Bigger players, bigger hopes for SUU football

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It is a simple plan for success. Southern Utah University's second-year coach, Ed Lamb, believes his Thunderbirds will be a better football team this season because they are bigger, stronger and faster.

"We have had a couple of good recruiting classes, have guys that are working harder in the weight room, and overall we are just stronger than we have ever been," said Lamb. "When I took over, we made a point of getting bigger and stronger. We've done that."

The additional size and strength has come at every position, but the offensive line has made the biggest difference. Lamb said SUU's line averaged about 6-feet, 265 pounds before he arrived but now averages about 6-4, 300.

"This year we finally look like a real Division I football team," he said. "That is going to help us out all season."

"Before I got here, I think we averaged about 265 pounds and just over 6-feet on the line," added Lamb. "Last year, we were closer to 280 pounds up front, but this year we finally look like a real Division I football team. We average about 6-foot-4 and right around 300 pounds on an average. That is going to help us out all season."

The defensive line is another place the team has added bulk. It is something Lamb hopes will help the team stay stronger throughout the season. He felt that his team wore down last year. The team was 3-3 before dropping four of its last five games to finish 4-7. Of course, wearing out could also have something to do with the fact that his team could not get off the field on third down. Lamb didn't like how SUU's defense had been on the field more than any D-I unit at one point last season.

"Through like five games, I know we led the country in plays on defense. That is not a key for success," he said. "I think we have guys now that can make plays and get off the field."

One player the Thunderbirds will count on to make those plays is senior linebacker Robert Takeno, a returning Great West Conference first-teamer.

"He has a nose for the ball and puts himself in good position," Lamb said.

Akeem Anifowashe has also got off to a good start and is expected to produce.

While the T-birds' defense struggled last year, giving up 32 points and 209 yards rushing per game, the offense was effective, but a little too one-dimensional for the coach's liking. SUU was 3-0 when it ran for 100 yards.

"We know that if we can get better at the ground game, we will be able to compete in our conference," Lamb said.

"We were able to throw the ball around pretty good against just about anyone," said Lamb. "The problem was we weren't able to maintain a consistent running game."

Running behind the big guys up front will be tailback Deckar Alexander. The 5-foot-7, 170-pounder was good at the beginning of the season, but Lamb said he wore down after being a little overworked. He feels there is more depth at the position now. Daryl Brown has looked good and will get more carries.

Cade Cooper steps in at quarterback and has looked sharp. The BYU transfer has plenty of weapons on the outside. Tysson Poots was an honorable mention All-American last season after hauling in 14 touchdowns and over 1,200 yards. Jared Ursua and Fesi Sitake also return, giving the T-Birds three of its top four targets back.

Another positive is the return of nearly all of its coaches. Stability is just what the program needs, and that is the way Lamb has built his staff.

"This is a first-class coaching staff," Lamb said. "They are family men and committed. Most of the time at this level you will see young single guys trying to make a name and move on."

SUU is hoping this is the year it takes a next step.

"We want to compete for our league title," Lamb said. "I think the guys are here to do that. If we can just live up to our potential, I think this could be our time."

e-mail: mblack@desnews.com