Just a few years ago, Vinton was averaging fewer than two wins a season (seven wins in four years to be exact), struggling to find consistency on either side of the ball.
Last year the Lions inserted a new coach, Tarius Davis, and started seeing improvement to the tune of a three win season and a star emerge.
The 2011 season was also aided by a large group of returning players. This year, they only return three starters who will play both ways, which has meant the Lions’ coaching staff has had to change things on both sides of the ball to highlight talent and minimize its weaknesses.
But that was last year, and the Bulldogs will be the first to tell you things can change quickly in a year.
One of those three returning starters made quite the impact last year. Senior running back D.J. Reed returns to the field in 2012 after missing two games due to injury and still running for 847 yards. Reed picked up 154 of those yards against the Bulldogs last year.
“They still have that big halfback from last year (Reed) who does really well for them,” said Legé.
The Lions have also changed things up on offense, instead of being a run first team, they have started doing things different, which means Iota cannot just focus on stopping Reed.
“Vinton has kind of changed their offense, they’ve gone to a sort of spread offense that has opened things up for them,” said Legé.
Defensively, Iota will have its hands full with Reed, its quarterback Tanner Guidry and the rest of the Lions offense, but Legé says the Dogs are up for the task.
“They have a left-handed quarterback that throws the ball well,” he said, “and they have some skill guys that let them do that as well.”
In last year’s game, Iota came close. It did a lot of things right, breaking up the Lions aerial attack play after play. But the size of Vinton’s offensive line coupled with Reed’s playmaking capability proved too much defensively for the Bulldogs.
It hurt Iota one too many times and led to the Bulldogs 12-6 defeat.
Iota has its own offensive stars returning on offense. Now it’s a matter of turning it on and curbing the mistakes. According to Legé, that will be the most important key for success Friday night.
“We have to go back and correct what we have done wrong before we worry about anyone else,” he said.
If Iota can do what it sets out to do in that regard, though, it can reverse what happened last season against Vinton.
In the season opener of 2011, the Bulldogs hosted the Lions and loss a heartbreaker by one touchdown in the low-scoring affair.
“We feel like we kind of gave that game away on our part,” said Legé. “A ball came out of our hands on a play and was returned 70 yards for a touchdown and we were shut down on the goal line another.
The problem for Vinton was Iota’s biggest problem last year and one it continues to face this year, depth.
Nine of Vinton’s starters will go both ways, but even with the depth issues and lack of starting experience, the Lions can hang their hat on size on the line once again this year. Vinton has an average of over 200 pounds on the offensive line and over 210 pounds on the defensive line. Both lines feature four of the nine players playing both sides of the ball.
The Bulldogs and Lions will also have to keep their eyes on the sky as Hurricane Isaac continues to make its way toward Louisiana, which may force a postponement of Friday night’s tilt, but not a cancellation.
“We are under hurricane preparedness,” said Legé. “I’ve been in touch with the Vinton coach and we’ll play Saturday if we have to but we’ll play.
“We’re just kind of waiting to see what the weather will do, what we are doing with school and so on.”
That decision would come Wednesday after the storm passes, however.
For now, however, Iota is set to head to Vinton Friday night for the season opener. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at B.S. Walker Stadium.