Sterling College football coach Andy Lambert is loose, joking. As always.
“Are my players in good shape?” Lambert asked. “They look great. I put on five pounds and lose my cardio every time I sit down for a meal, but that’s another story.”
Lambert’s attitude hasn’t changed in his 10 seasons as the Warriors’ coach. It’s everything else that’s changed for Sterling in the last year.
That’s because the Warriors are loaded, and coming off their first KCAC title and NAIA playoff bid in school history. They’re also ranked No. 15 in the NAIA preseason Top 25.
Sterling went 9-3 last season
“The priority, right now, is coming out of camp healthy,” Lambert said. “We’re relatively healthy right now, but there are some guys we just can’t replace.”
One of those guys is senior wide receiver/returner Antonio Bray, the reigning KCAC special teams player of the year and an NAIA All-American after racking up 2,352 all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns last season.
Bray, from Van Nuys, Calif., didn’t just torch teams in one area, either. He had 881 rushing yards, 479 receiving yards and 992 yards returning kicks and punts.
“The biggest challenge for us has been finding more things to do with him,” Lambert said. “He is one of the keys for what we want to get accomplished this season.”
Sterling’s biggest advantage might be at their most important position, with senior quarterback Reggie Langford returning. Langford took the KCAC by storm last season, racking up 2,665 yards of offense (1,144 rushing and 1,521 receiving) and 19 touchdowns.
Langford, Bray, offensive lineman Zach Beims and wide receiver Dentton Hudspeth were all preseason All-KCAC picks.
“Reggie is one of a kind,” Lambert said. “That kind of kid doesn’t come around very often. He’s a leader on the field, in academics and socially. Nothing gets him down ... he’s the kind of guy that, when you see him, your attitude automatically improves. You can’t help it.”
Sterling opens the season on Sept. 6, hosting Concordia, before back-to-back road games against ranked opponents at No. 5 Baker on Sept. 13 and at No. 19 Friends on Sept. 20.
The Warriors’ defense is the biggest question mark. Sterling lost three players that earned All-KCAC honors, led by first-team linebacker Kris Lehmann.
“I know that our defense got after us several times early in camp,” Lamber said. “I know that they can flat-out run, I just don’t know how that translates into games just yet.”