MONTGOMERY, Ala. – It’s all about legacy.
When LaGrange College head football coach Matt Mumme met with the veterans on the team following the 2015 season, he talked to them about what sort of mark they wanted to leave on the program.
“When we started looking at the 2016 season back last November, and I was talking with this senior class, there was one word that came to mind on what we wanted 2016 to look like, and that was what is their legacy going to be?,” Mumme said during the USA South media day on Monday. “What do these guys want to leave for the other groups that are coming up? What do they want to leave on the institution as a student-athlete? And so this offseason, this summer, they’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what that’s going to look like.”
The hope, obviously, is that the legacy the seniors leave will be a winning one.
The Panthers are coming off a difficult season where they went 2-7 (one of the games was canceled because of weather), and they had their share of heart-breaking losses.
The Panthers started the season with three straight losses by a combined 11 points, and that included a one-point setback to Birmingham Southern, and an overtime loss to Berry.
Although the record wasn’t what the Panthers were hoping for, they weren’t far away from being a winning team, and many of the players who contributed last year are back as they look to turn those close losses into victories.
This year’s team returns nine players on offense, and most of those players are multi-year starters, and there are seven starters coming back on defense.
The veteran players will be joined by a big freshman class, and all of the players will report for preseason camp in two weeks.
LaGrange College opens the season on Sept. 3 at Birmingham Southern.
“We’re ready to get cranked up. It’s here,” Mumme said. “It’s going to be here in two weeks, and we’re excited to get our kids on campus. My staff has done a tremendous job of going out and recruiting this next class. We’re going to have probably around 70 freshmen come in. We’re excited to work with them. They’ll be coming in to join our 68 returners.”
Mumme added that “this will mark the first year in LaGrange College football history that we’re going to have a large junior and senior class of 32 players coming back. So we’re really excited about that.”
While having veterans obviously helps the team, Mumme said it’s also gratifying to see those men stay around and accomplish their academic goals.
“This season will mark our third full season as a staff at LaGrange College,” Mumme said. “The key word for us is growth. Repetition breeds success. It’s been my goal since taking over at LaGrange College to grow young men up, and get them to that point where they’re going to be a junior and a senior, to see these guys go on and try to finish their college education and get their degree.”
Many of the veterans will be offensive players, and that includes junior quarterback Connor Blair, who once again will direct Mumme’s pass-oriented offense.
Blair averaged 293 passing yards per game last season, and he completed 63 percent of his passes and threw 19 touchdowns.
Blair will have some talented veterans to throw the ball to, including seniors Marsalis Jackson, Ervens Oge, Josh Hardrick and Lavell Meeks who combined for 166 catches and 17 touchdowns.
Leading rusher Jamarkis Holmes also returns, as do four of the five starters on the offensive line.
Defensively, some of the top returning players are defensive back Brandon Penn and defensive lineman Demetrius Rodgers, who were the second and third leading tacklers, respectively.
There are 18 seniors on the roster, and most of them arrived at LaGrange College the same time Mumme did in 2013.
Mumme began that season as the offensive coordinator before moving to head coach with three games left in the season.
“The commitment that each one of these guys has given, it is unbelievable,” Mumme said. “A lot of these young men that are going to play for us this year, especially on the offensive side of the ball, they’re going into their fourth season as starters. And those are reps that you can’t replace. These are reps that these guys have gotten over the last three years that will help them be successful. Great players make great coaches. Our job is to just try to put these guys in the right situation.”
Mumme has a lot of familiar players to work with, and he also has mostly the same coaching staff from last year, so there is plenty of continuity.
Everything is in place for the Panthers, now it’s just a matter of going out and making it happen.
“I love these players, I love my staff, and I can’t wait to get things going in a couple of weeks,” Mumme said. “I’m excited about the group that we have coming back. I’m excited about the group we have coming in.”
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports