September 18, 2012

Is this the start of Sul Ross rising?

More news about: Sul Ross State
There was buzz when transfer quarterback A.J. Springer arrived at Sul Ross. After a 62-35 drubbing of ranked Trinity this past weekend, that buzz can be treated with a little more credibility.
Sul Ross athletics photo

Sul Ross created a little bit of a buzz this spring and fall with the addition of a former NCAA Division II quarterback in A.J. Springer, but what little buzz that brought along with two close losses to start the year couldn't have prepared the Division III world for what happened Saturday.

I'll admit, I had been impressed with the amount of points that Sul Ross was able to put up against Western and Eastern New Mexico universities the first two weeks. That told me that I thought they would score points against Trinity, based on the last first-person experience I had watching the Tigers in 2011.

McMurry, with a backup quarterback was able to move the ball pretty well against the Trinity defense in the first round of the playoffs last season, and while I didn't know how many holes had been filled for the South Region power, it was not surprising to see that a team was able to have a strong passing game against them.

Even still, to act as if you could predict a 62-35 score over a team ranked No. 11 by a team who has only two winning seasons since joining the ASC in 1996 would be a fallacy. In fact, the Lobos' overall record since joining the ASC in 1996 is 42-115 coming in to the 2012 season. The last time Sul Ross defeated any kind of team with a storied history of success was a win over a 7-1 Hardin-Simmons team in 1997.

So what was it Saturday? A Sul Ross team ready to shock the ASC and the South Region, or a Trinity team that might not be as good as advertised? Of course without a knee-jerk reaction, the answer likely lies somewhere in between.

But, what little buzz Springer brought can now be treated with more credibility as he and four-year letterman Dominique Carson just put a mighty fine skin on the wall regardless of whether Trinity lived up to its ranking.

Carson, despite playing with a struggling program has been a staple for the Lobos and a standout performer and earning second-team All-Conference honors last season. So far in 2012, Carson has scored seven touchdowns with five being at least 51 yards in length.

For Carson, he said that Sul Ross just needed one big win to build on.

"We've always had a good team, but we've had some key injuries here and there," said the senior running back. "But we have a lot of new coaches and more players helping out, and now with the win we just want to keep winning."

While Carson has waited around campus for things to get better, he may have gotten a shot at a dream senior season with the addition of Springer. Alpine, Texas, hovers around 6,000 in population. So how does a kid from Fontana, Calif., just east of Pasadena and with 200,000 residents end up in Alpine? Is it the scenery or attractions? Likely not, Springer came to Sul Ross with a connection from new assistant coach John Tyree who joined head coach Wayne Schroeder's staff last season. He coached at Fontana High School.

"Every system needs a quarterback, and he showed up at the right time," Carson said of his new teammate. "He showed everybody what he had, and he was named the starter in the spring. He peaked pretty quickly, and then he's gotten better each game so far."

Springer started out at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., playing as a dual-threat quarterback for two seasons. He transferred to NCAA Division II Lincoln University in Missouri, but was frustrated by a run-heavy offense that didn't set his arm free.

He sat out in 2011 before getting a call from a familiar voice.

"Coach Tyree called me up and wanted me to come last year, but I had trouble transferring with the amount of credit hours I had, so I had to make sure and get eligible," Springer said.

So, it took him a semester to get eligible, and he was able to practice with the Lobos in the spring and gear up for his final season of college eligibility. He wasn't all that impressed with the scenery after all.

"As soon as I got here, I was like, 'Where am I at? Am I really in Texas?' It was hard to get used to at first," said Springer. "But I adapted pretty well, and my teammates were pretty cool and helped let me know the ins and outs."

Thus far, unlike in Missouri, Springer's arm has been cut loose. He has completed 74.1 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions. And he's thrown for 961 yards in three contests.

But Springer said that he has been in awe of Carson's numbers. To go along with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown this season, he's tallied 447 rushing yards and 221 receiving yards with the aforementioned seven scores.

"It's almost like a video game at times. He makes moves that most people can't, and he's one of the best backs I've ever played with," Springer said.

Now, the challenge for Sul Ross is to significantly close the gap between the program's quality wins from a span of 15 years down to just a couple of weeks. The Lobos are going to get their shot – the next giant to slay is Mary Hardin-Baylor in Alpine on Sept. 29 to start off American Southwest Conference play.

"That win definitely built our confidence, but now our job is how we handle success," Springer said. "We beat a good team, we know we are a good team. We have to build on that everyday in practice, in the film room and in the weight room. We know Sul Ross' past. But we know that we are building a new culture, and we've all bought in."

Mary Hardin-Baylor notches big win over Wesley, jumps to No. 2

How could I forget the Crusaders? But, let's be honest, we'll be talking about Mary Hardin-Baylor a lot during stretch time, and Sul Ross' upset may steal the headline, but UMHB's win over Wesley is huge for the program going into conference play. The Cru had lost their last two playoff games to Wesley and picked up their first win in Delaware since 2007. LiDarral Bailey managed the game well, scoring two touchdowns on the ground and passed for two while the defense compiled eight tackles for a loss and four sacks. Ironically, UMHB takes on a disappointed Trinity on Saturday in San Antonio before taking on the shocking Lobos on Sept. 29 in Alpine.

SAA recap & preview

Birmingham-Southern, Rhodes and Millsaps remain unbeaten with wins this week while Sewanee fell to Maryville and Centre lost to Washington and Lee.

Game of the Week
Rhodes and Birmingham-Southern will play the first official SAA game against each other Saturday in Memphis, Tenn.

ASC recap & preview

Sul Ross and Mary Hardin-Baylor's story has been told while Hardin-Simmons also got in the win column with a 57-21 win over Texas College. Willamette knocked off its second ASC opponent by defeating ETBU; D2 West Alabama hammered Mississippi College, and Howard Payne lost to first-year football program Wayland Baptist (NAIA).

Game of the Week
Wesley will get its second tough ASC opponent in a row taking on Louisiana College in Pineville, La., at 8 p.m. (CDT) Saturday.

South Region Independents

Trinity takes on No. 2 UMHB after Sul Ross knocked the Tigers out of the Top 25. Austin College beat NAIA Southwestern Assemblies of God, and Huntingdon kept the offensive explosion alive with a 62-17 win over LaGrange.

Game of the Week
After a disappointing loss to Birmingham-Southern earlier this season that makes the road to the playoffs much tougher for Huntingdon, the Hawks could pick up a quality win if they were to upset No. 22 Hampden-Sydney on the road in Virginia.

Tweet of the Week

"First game ball and it feels great! A lot of others deserved it as well. Enjoyed the win, now it's on to Trinity! #CRU"
-- Sam Maxie -- @CruMaxie67

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Justin Goldberg

Justin Goldberg is a newspaper copy editor and freelance writer in southwest Virginia. Originally from New York, he played Division III basketball in that colder region of the country, but moved to Virginia in 2008 to earn his M.F.A. in creative writing. He has written for multiple publications, including C-VILLE Weekly and The Roanoke Times. He is happy to join for his first season as the Around the South columnist.
2013 columnist: Andee Djuric
2012 columnist: Kyle Robarts
2008-11 columnist: Jason Bowen

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