Feb. 7, 2018

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. --- Steven Smith didn't slip in the door quietly last year, he kicked it down with a bark.

As in, talk of winning a national championship.

In his first year. At Lincoln. Coaching football.

For a program that hadn't had a winning season since 1972. For a program that had won one or fewer games as many times as it had two or more the past 20 years. And for a program that had been 11-67 this decade.

Well, add one more to the former column, it's now 11-10, and roll the decade total to 12-76 --- the Blue Tigers went 1-9 in Smith's debut season.

These were some hard lessons learned.

"It was very disappointing and humbling," Smith said Wednesday, national signing day for college recruits. "I think you look at it two ways --- I'd never lost in the college rankings, so it showed me how to humble myself.

"The second thing is that I thought I could build Rome in a day, and that's just not possible. That was just one of those things I could not do, and I understand that now."

Which is not to say, however, he's abandoned talk of winning a national championship at Lincoln.

"Never, never, no," Smith said. "We'll never settle for anything less than that."

Help is on the way, as the Blue Tigers signed 26 players to national letters of intent Wednesday.

"I think we did a good job of filling some holes; I think we've done what we were trying to get done," Smith said. "We've done a good job of bringing in a bunch of guys in who can help us moving forward. We didn't have a whole lot (Lincoln signed 32 players last year), because we have a lot of freshmen and sophomores on our team, already, who played last year.

"We have a foundation, we're just trying to put a little on top of the foundation we already have."

It's no surprise where the focus was, as the class includes no less than nine offensive linemen. And it's no surprise why, either --- out of 168 Division II schools, the Blue Tigers ranked 158th in rushing offense and 162nd in total offense last season.

"It was a real big emphasis for us," Smith said. "Along with a couple guys who were here already, I think we have a good nucleus of guys. That group is so important to everything we're trying to get done, because without them, we won't be successful.

"And everyone of those guys we brought can help us immediately."

The leader of the pack appears to be 6-7, 315-pound Jacobi Cratic, a highly-touted transfer from Georgia Military College.

"He's a kid who got a lot of different offers from D-I schools," Smith said, "who just so happened to choose Lincoln because of his situation."

This shouldn't be a surprise, either --- Lincoln signed seven defensive backs after the Blue Tigers intercepted ZERO passes last fall. As in none, the only D-II team to pull off that feat.

You'd think by accident alone, they'd get one or two. That was also a big factor in Lincoln being a staggering minus-21 in turnover margin --- second worst in the nation.

The only quarterback in the class is Hasan Muhammad-Rogers, a transfer from Illinois State. "He's a dual threat quarterback who was highly recruited as a freshman," Smith said.

But one point of emphasis seemed to change from Smith's first recruiting class --- signing area players. Last year, there were 12 signed; on Wednesday, only four.

^ Tre Vaughn, 6-1, 190, tight end, Fulton

^ Drake Rucker, 6-7, 310, OL, Moberly

^ Harrison Brownell, 6-2, 295, OL, Camdenton

^ Hunter Schroer, 6-6, 230, DT, South Callaway

The low numbers, however, were not necessarily by choice. "This was just not a really big year," Smith said, "but next year should be different."

This fall, Smith says, should be different, too.

"We played a lot of freshmen (including at quarterback) last year, but I don't use excuses," he said. "I feel like it was a learning experience for them; they learned exactly what I'm looking for, what I want of them, what I expect of them.

"Now, coming into this year, it should be totally different. Now, they know exactly where the bar is set."

Many fans must have thought Same old Lincoln during last year's 1-9 campaign. If they did, they didn't say it to Smith.

"A lot of fans kept telling me that they're seeing the progress, that it's a different team," he said. "But for me, I expect the W's along with the progress. I am the hardest critic of myself."

That had to make last season especially tough to watch.

"It was very difficult," Smith said. "But I had to realize that instead of thinking it was all bad, I had to study the film and look at the progress."

If nothing else, this is a smart team ---no less than 35 players are currently carrying a GPA of at least 3.0  That's something Smith plans to use to the team's benefit.

"In order for that (high GPAs) to happen, they had to study to be successful," Smith said. "Last year on the field, we tried to use athletic ability in order to be successful. Athletic ability was a 1-9 record.

"So this year, the emphasis is going to be doing a better job of studying your opponent and understanding your opponent. Then, take your athletic ability and enhance it."

Smith remains positive, 1-9 or not.

"We've got the process in place," he concluded, "and I saw some progress last year. Now, the progress is going to turn into wins."

Just remember, Rome wasn't built in a day.

Or even two.

Second-year Lincoln coach Steven Smith says the Blue Tigers addressed their most important needs during Wednesday's national signing day for college athletes.

LINCOLN FOOTBALL 2018 RECRUITING CLASS

(Including some thoughts from Lincoln coach Steven Smith.)

HIGH SCHOOL SIGNEES

Cody Bagby - DE, 6-2, 215 (Wentzville, MO/Timberland)

Cody is a very accomplished DE prospect who was named first team all-district and all-conference. During his senior campaign he totaled 57 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, six sacks, eight QB hurries, and two blocked punts. His father attended Lincoln and played baseball for the Blue Tigers.

Sidney Gates - DT, 6-1, 275 (Kansas City, MO/Center)

Sidney comes to Lincoln high with high accolades. He was named a finalist for the Bobby Bell Award (Best Defensive Lineman in KC Metro), second team all-state, first team all-conference offense and defense, All-KC Star Football Team, and All-Simone Team. He collected 23 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and one forced fumble his senior year. He works hard in the classroom as well, earning honor roll all four years in high school.

Otis Jackson - WR, 6-5, 180 (Tifton, GA/Tift County)

Otis is a long and athletic WR out of Tift County, Ga. He had 10 catches for 200 yards in a quarterfinal playoff team his senior season. He also plays basketball, and he played on the 2017 State Championship team for Tift County High. He is also the #1 ranked triple and high jumper in class 7A in Georgia.

Khristian Johnson - WR, 6-0, 170 (Glenwood, IL/Bloom Township)

Khristian possess excellent speed, hands, and route running ability. He earned all-conference honors his senior season at Bloom Township High and was also named Team Captain. Khristian is also a very well-rounded individual being nominated for the National Society of High School Scholars and winning Homecoming King his senior year.

Jakobi Jones - DB, 6-2, 185 (Stone Mountain, GA/Tucker)

Jakobi is a tall, athletic defensive back prospect. He possess great speed and balance. He suffered a torn ACL during H.S. which cut time from his high school career. He did compete on the varsity squad at Tucker High as a sophomore, and was the first person in his grade to record an interception.

Quenterrious Kennemore - DB, 5-10, 175 (Rome, GA/Rome)

Quenterrious comes to Lincoln as a two-time high school state champion. He helped lead Rome High to back-to-back Georgia state championships his junior and senior seasons. He is also a two-time second team all-region selection. During his senior year, he had 10 pass breakups, three interceptions, and 41 tackles.

Ezekiel Lang - WR, 6-3, 190 (DeSoto, TX/DeSoto)

Ezekiel is a big, physical WR with play-making ability who was named MVP of the 2017 National Pylon 7-on-7 tournament.  His junior year he helped his high school team go four rounds deep in the Texas playoffs, DeSoto's longest run in a decade. He is also an excellent blocker and played for mostly run-based offenses in high school.

Thomas Larson - DB, 5-11, 180 (Winfield, MO/Troy)

Thomas comes to Lincoln from the St. Louis area. He is a ball hawk, as indicated by his 14 career interceptions and 230 career tackles. His leadership skills as a three-time Team Captain are impressive. He was also twice named first team all-conference and is a three-time academic all-conference performer.

Garen McKinney - DB, 5-10, 170 (Stone Mountain, GA/Tucker)

Garen led his team in interceptions as a junior, then as a senior, he was not thrown at nearly as much, giving up zero TDs. He was named a DeKalb County All-Star as he helped his team to the semi-finals as a senior.

D'Andre Nutall - OL, 6-7, 280 (St. Louis, MO/Riverview Gardens)

D'Andre is another talented St. Louis-area prospect. He led Riverview Gardens high school as a Team Captain to an 8-4 record his senior season, the most wins by Riverview Gardens in 20 seasons. He was selected first team all-conference as a senior. D'Andre is a balanced individual, serving as the Drama Club Treasurer and Section Leader in Choir at Riverview Gardens.

Tylan Oglesby - DB, 5-10, 180 (Clarkston, GA/Tucker)

Tylan helped his high school team to a 25-4 record over the last two seasons. He is a three-sport athlete competing in football, basketball, and track, and is also a three-time honor roll student who received the National Society of High School Scholars Award.

Fernando Ramirez - K, 5-10, 170 (Omega, GA/Tift County)

Fernando is an excellent kicker out of Tift County, Ga. He was named third team all-american, a Chris Sailer Award Finalist (best kicker in nation), and a 2017 Ray Guy Prokicker.com Top Prospect. He is very consistent, making 15/16 field goals and 52/52 PATs.

Drake Rucker - OL, 6-7, 310 (Moberly, MO/Moberly)

Drake is a long and athletic offensive lineman out of the Central Missouri area. While at Moberly High, he earned all-district and all-conference honors, and was named the team's Most Improved Player as a junior and then Team Captain as a senior. He helped the Moberly Spartans to a final ranking of No. 6 in the state, their highest ever. He is also a thrower on the track team.

Michael Smith - DE, 6-0, 228 (Kansas City, MO/Platte County)

Michael had an excellent high school career at Platte County High as a three-year starter. He won the Bobby Bell Award (Best Defensive Lineman in KC Metro), was twice named all-state, and is a two-time conference Defensive Player of the Year. He was also named to the All-Simone Team. During his senior year he lead the state in sacks with 17.5.

Tre Vaughn - TE, 6-1, 190 (Fulton, MO/Fulton)

Tre is a versatile H-back from Fulton, Mo. He was a three-year starter and two-time all-district and two-time all-conference player. He was also named all-state for his senior season.

Donovan Wright - WR/CB, 5-8, 165 (Albany, GA/Westover)

Donovan is an explosive athlete. During his senior year he returned two punts for TDs, and two kickoffs for TDs. On top of kick returning he can play both sides of the ball as a slot WR or CB. He possess the speed and agility all college coaches covet in recruits.

MID-YEAR TRANSFERS

Dakota Cox - OL, 6-6, 330 (Monroe, GA/New Rock Prep Sports Academy)

Dakota earned many honors in high school, including first team all-region and first team all-state his senior season. He also was selected to play in the Southeast Bowl All Star Game in Georgia. While at New Rock Prep he was named a Prep School All-American last season.

Jacobi Cratic - OL, 6-7, 315 (Albany, GA/Georgia Military College)

Jacobi comes to Lincoln out of Westover High in Albany, Ga. He posses great athleticism while standing 6-foot, 7-inches tall. He was highly recruited by NCAA Division I schools for his versatility and size. He was a three sport athlete in high school: football, basketball, and baseball.

Zach Farrow - OL, 6-4, 300 (Louisville, CO/Midwestern Prep Academy)

Zach is a versatile lineman who could play many spots along the front line. He was named first team all-conference his senior year while at Monarch High in Colorado. He also earned one of the most important awards on any football team his senior year of high school, the Steel Worker Award, awarded to the most improved on the team.

Austin Harris - DB, 5-10, 180 (Memphis, TN/Whitehaven)

Austin was a Team Captain playing QB and DB at Whitehaven High in Memphis, Tenn. His team was the Class 6A State Champion in 2017. He also played varsity baseball for two seasons.

Demar Holmes - OL, 6-5, 275 (Chicago, IL/Georgia Military College)

Demar is a very athletic offensive line prospect, with good feet and balance. He is expected to compete for playing time this upcoming season.

Jordan McCoy - OL, 6-3, 300 (Whittier, CA/East Los Angeles College)

Jordan brings a winning resume to Lincoln. While at St. Paul High he was a three-year starter and named captain his senior year. During his senior season he helped St. Paul break a seven-year playoff drought. While at East Los Angeles, Jordan excelled in the classroom, making the Deans List with a 3.56 GPA.

Eric Robinson - TE, 6-3, 215 (Fort Valley, GA/Midwestern Prep Academy)

Eric is an amazing athlete with the ability to go up and catch the ball. He earned first team all-state as a junior, setting a record with 15 receptions in a game that season. He was in a tragic car accident and missed 11 games his senior season. While at prep school last year he led his team in receptions with 62 while accumulating 545 yards.

Avante Ross - DB, 6-0, 175 (Atlanta, GA/Grady)

Avante is a very explosive defensive back prospect. He brings a nose for the football when tackling, indicated by his 10 forced fumbles his senior season at Grady High. He was also named Defensive MVP and Special Teams MVP for Grady while earing all-state honors in Georgia. He additionally played four years of basketball in high school.

Jonathan Vega - OL, 6-3, 380 (Haines City, FL/Ridge Community)

Jonathan brings not only good size and strength, but also unique skills to the offensive line. He is a certified trainer and a black belt in taekwondo. While in high school he was selected to play in the Marcus Dixon All-American Bowl and the Blue Grey All-American Bowl.

LETTER SIGNEES

Harrison Brownell - OL, 6-2, 295 (Camdenton, MO/Camdenton)

Harrison is a very dependable offensive center who started for three years and had zero fumbled snaps and zero QB sacks allowed as a senior. He was named Team Captain for Camdenton High and won the "Chuck Miller-Spirit of the Hogs Award". For his performance his senior year, he earned first team all-conference and first team all-district. He is also a State Champion Power Lifter.

Hunter Schroer - DT, 6-6, 230 (Jefferson City, MO/South Callaway)

Hunter is a physically imposing prospect who was named first team all-conference in 2016 and 2017, and all-district in 2017. He was also voted Team Captain his senior season and was selected to play in the 2018 Lions All-Star Game in Missouri. He also participates in track and field at South Callaway.Type your paragraph here.

Loeffler's Link

On signing day, LU's Smith reflects
on lessons learned last season
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