Pioneers to play 2016's first college game vs. Lyon - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

Pioneers to play 2016's first college game vs. Lyon

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Provided by Wayland Baptist Athletics

Wayland Baptist will start the 2016 football season in the same place – Batesville, Ark. – where the Pioneers ended their 2015 campaign. Butch Henderson hopes the outcome is the same, too.

Wayland will play what's believed to be the first college football game of the 2016 season when the Pioneers take on a conference opponent – Lyon College – in a non-conference game. Kickoff is at 8 p.m. Thursday with coverage available through www.wbuathletics.com.

Wayland wrapped up last season in Batesville by posting a 51-30 victory over the Scots, securing the Pioneers' most successful season (four wins) since the program was restarted in 2012. Lyon, meanwhile, ended its first season of football with an 0-11 record.

Forty-one weeks after that game, the Pioneers and Scots will do battle again in what will be a precursor to their Oct. 29 game in Plainview that will count as the official Central States Football League matchup.

"We finished with them and now we start with them," Henderson said of Lyon, adding that the Scots are "building a program. They have good athletes and had a good recruiting year."

Thursday's non-conference game was scheduled after both schools had games with Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference schools – Wayland vs. Southwestern College and Lyon vs. Tabor – fall through.

"It's just good to be playing," Henderson said. "I'm not sure we've really looked at it being a conference opponent, just an opponent to play. We've practiced long enough (WBU started Aug. 9), plus a good four weeks of spring training. The kids are ready to play."

Henderson believes the Pioneers are primed and ready to roll.

"I feel real good about things. They came back in great shape, so we've been able to get a lot covered. We haven't had to worry as much about conditioning as we were installing the system."

And because this is the fifth season since Wayland's football program was restarted, "installing the system" has gone much smoother. Almost all of Wayland's offensive starters return, as do about half the defensive regulars.

"We have lots of players who have been here 3-4 years, which sure helps," Henderson said. "For them to know what to do lets the younger ones see them and learn. We have some young athletes who are very talented, so I believe the future is bright. We have some good back-up guys down the road for when we start getting nicked up."

However, just as important as experience in Henderson's book is having the proper mental game.

"We've worked really hard on that. If you expect good things to happen, they happen to you," he said. "We felt like physically we played as hard as you can play, but you have to get the mental part of where you want to be. If you think you are going to win, those things start happening for you."

Leading the Pioneers' defense will be senior outside linebacker Alden Mann, who was named Wayland's first all-American in the new era last season when the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder from Wimberley finished third in the NAIA in tackles per game (13.8) and, in nine games (broken hand), set the school record with 124 tackles. He also logged 19 tackles for loss, seven sacks and two interceptions, along with forcing two fumbles and recovering one.

Joining Mann at outside linebacker will be senior Grant Savage, who started last year at strong safety. "He has looked really good, as has Dontay Raglin. Dontay has been a good athlete all along, but he has awakened," Henderson said, adding that redshirt freshman Weston McIntire "has been real strong in the middle."

An intact secondary returns featuring cornerbacks Josh Paul and James Battley III, who intercepted three passes each last season, and Brandon Sheppard, along with junior safeties Michael Nealy and Travis White, a medical redshirt last year after starting in 2014

The only veteran up front is 6-foot-2, 314-pound junior tackle Denzel Bradford. He'll be joined up front by brothers Marcos Hinojos Jr. at tackle and Jacob Hinojos at end, both redshirt juniors and sons of assistant coach Marcos Hinojos. Starting at the other end will be another redshirt junior, C.J. House.

With starting experience at every position, Wayland's no-huddle, shotgun-exclusive offense will have the potential to race up and down the field in 2016. At the controls will be shifty senior quarterback Payson Bain, who in 2015 led the CSFL in passing yards per game (201.8) and touchdown passes (19) while throwing for 1,816 yards.

"Payson is making good choices and throwing the ball well, especially deep," Henderson said. "He's a senior, so he's been in the system, and does a great job of leading our kids. We think he's going to have an exciting year."

The Pioneers have three proven receivers, all with serious speed. They include senior Trey Rowe, who led the CSFL with an average of 21.5 yards per catch last year while retrieving 30 balls for 644 yards and a team-best seven touchdowns. Also on the outside will be junior Devonte Hayden, who caught 19 passes for 352 yards and three TDs, while returning at slot receiver is junior Preston Woodard, who snared a team-high 32 passes for 614 yards (19.2 average) and five TDs. Junior Keyshawn Hawkins lines up at tight end.

The offensive line is filled with veterans and anchored by senior Jacob King, a four-year starter at right guard, while at left guard will be senior Brandon Grant, who sat out last season with an injury after earning all-conference honors two years ago. Another senior, Terry Fields, and junior Kyle Rickman will start the season at tackle while at center is sophomore Keaton Vawter.

Henderson said the team's most solid group from top to bottom is the offensive line. "Most of those guys have been here three, four, five years, so they're really mature. They have a great ability to open holes. They look good."

So does running back Jerrell Peterson, a redshirt freshman. "You put that combination (Peterson with a stout offensive line) together and we feel like we can run the ball," Henderson said.

Wayland's kicking game is in excellent shape with the return of junior Daniel Martinez. Last year, the left-footed Martinez made 13-of-17 field goals, including a school-record 56-yarder, and twice was named NAIA National Special Teams Player of the Week. Also returning is sophomore punter Caleb O'Connor.

The Pioneers have to feel good about their chances against Lyon. Last year, Wayland intercepted five passes – including a pick-six by Savage – and Richard Parham II recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown, while on offense Bain threw for three TDs and graduated Michael Romero rushed for 161 yards and another score. The 51 points were the second-most scored by the Pioneers since Wayland restarted the football program.

"They could have changed a lot of things in the offseason, you never know, but we're expecting the same kind of offense and defense as they had last year," Henderson said. "They go in and out of a power-I into some spread stuff (on offense), and they have a really good tailback."

After Lyon, the Pioneers catch their first of two open weeks before making their home debut Sept. 10 against Sul Ross State.

Like last year when Wayland opened the season with back-to-back wins over Southwestern (Kan.) and Howard Payne, Henderson said it's important to get off to another strong start.

"You need that for momentum," he said. "If we're looking for a mental change, we need wins. We have to things rolling by the time we get into conference."

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