KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Lincoln Blue Tigers have struggled to find a true home over the past 20 years. Lincoln has bounced from the MIAA to the Heartland Conference then back to the MIAA, then to the GLVC and then finally back to the MIAA this season.
“We really feel like this is home,” Coach Malik Hoskins said. “As far as Lincoln University football itself — we’re still in transition. We’re transitioning as far as the head coaching position; we’re transitioning the kind of athlete we get in and transitioning as far as facilities are concerned.”
The Blue Tigers will need to be much better than they were in the 2018 season. Lincoln struggled against lesser competition than it will face in the MIAA — finishing the season with a 3-8 record.
Its struggles on offense were a problem all season for Lincoln with the offense breaking the 20-point mark in just four of its games. The offense averaged 16 points per game and just 177 yards of offense per game.
The Blue Tigers will bring some much-needed experience with them in the running game. Running back Kimbo Ferguson returns for his senior season after leading Lincoln with 655 yards in 2018.
There is a chance for Ferguson to improve his stats in 2019 with more carries. Ferguson received just 12 total carries through the first three games last season and 12 in two of the final three games. The senior running back averaged 99 yards per game when receiving 10 or more carries.
Leading the offense will be sophomore quarterback Henry Ogala. Ogala’s dual-threat ability was a big part of the Lincoln offense in 2018. As a freshman, Ogala passed for 1,683 yards and rushed for 440.
Lincoln had its struggles offensively, but the Blue Tigers showed in 2018 that their defense could be the strength of the team. Lincoln finished fourth in scoring defense and third in total defense last season. Cornerback Chavon Gross hopes his leadership can help the defense transition to the MIAA.
“My responsibility is to make sure that everyone is listening to the plays, making sure everyone is focused and ready to play,” Gross said. “We just want everybody to have positive and good vibes during the transition that is going on.”
Gross led the team with 10 pass break-ups while adding 40 tackles last season. The Blue Tigers will have to find a way to replace their top-three leading tacklers. Those three players combined for 255 tackles last season.
Vontavious Thacker will be tasked with replacing Saint Durassaint at linebacker this season. Thacker recorded 43 tackles in 10 games last season. The defense will also have to find a better way to generate pressure in 2019, totaling just 12 sacks last season.
Lincoln will get the chance to ease into the MIAA schedule with its first two games against opponents who combined for just six wins last season. The Blue Tigers open on the road against Washburn before hosting Missouri Southern for their home opener.
“When you talk about the MIAA, there’s a reason you have some of the best teams in the country and it’s because you have some of the best football coaches in the country,” Hoskins said. “I’m excited as a head coach to be able on Saturdays and Thursdays to look across at the other sideline and see some of the best football coaches in the nation and being able to see how I stack up against those guys.”