Offensive skill players adjusting to new system


Jake Thompson

Senior Lance Lenoir headlines a Leatherneck receiving core that will give opposing secondaries problems.

Danny Frey

No more spread offense for Western Illinois football. It might be a whole new offensive system, but the same great skill players are there
learning it.

“We are a pro-style offense,” said offensive coordinator Doug Malone. “That’s what we want our identity to be. It’s not going to be three yards and a cloud of dust, but you have to have a toughness and ability to run the ball.”

Among the skill positions, one of the biggest question marks is how the Leathernecks will replace powerful running back Nikko Watson. One back has not separated himself from the rest yet.

“We’re going to use them all,” Malone said. “They all have different strengths and abilities.”

One of the three main options at running back is a sophomore Steve McShane who is more than excited with the pro style attack. 

“In high school, that’s what we ran,” McShane said. “I love being in the I-Formation so much, and I feel like you are able to see more things coming from that far back.” 

The powerful back this season is lined to be the experienced senior Devon Moore, who saw a bevvy of playing time before Nikko Watson returned after the first two games last season.

One aspect that the Western coaches seem to understand well is the importance of transfers and especially the fifth-year players who can contribute right away. A great example is Jamie Gilmore from Temple. In Philadelphia, Gilmore saw playing time his first three seasons before redshirting last fall. The biggest adjustment so far for him is not football related.

“I’m getting used to the small town, especially coming from Philly,” Gilmore said. “Football-wise it was an easy transition with me playing for four years. From day one since I got here everyone has been so accepting.”

A point of emphasis under the Charlie Fisher regime is the use of the tight end, and Adam Conrady returns for his sophomore campaign. In the pro style offense, they will be utilized often, and another transfer, Tony Harper from Pitt, bulks up the tight end depth even more.

When looking at the depth chart as a Leatherneck football fan, it would be hard to not be ecstatic about the wide receivers.

“We feel confident in six or seven of our guys at receiver,” Malone said. “It’s a good group there that has made plays throughout all of the spring and in fall camp. They are good players that we can trust.”

The plan of course is to get the All-MVFC wide out Lance Lenoir the ball and he realizes he has a target on his back.

“I just work hard and give it all I got every play and every down,” said senior wide receiver Lance Lenoir. “My teammates help me with their abilities too.”

One of Lenoir’s teammates providing another explosive option is fellow senior Joey Borsellino. Just like Lenoir, he doesn’t shy away
from confidence.

“I’d be worried if I was a defensive coordinator,” senior wide receiver Joey Borsellino said. “You’re picking your poison when you’re playing us. We have plenty of guys who have emerged and can hurt you too.”

Lenoir made 83 catches a year ago for 1,184 yards and seven touchdowns while Borsellino scored four times after 62 receptions and racked up 849 receiving yards. A good mix of Isaiah Lesure, Adam Hoogerwerf, J’Vaughn Williams and Jaelon Acklin and Stacey Smith round out the top seven Leatherneck wide receiver options.

The play-making abilities of the receivers was an important factor in the Leathernecks winning a playoff game last season.

“We changed the culture in going to the playoffs last year and it gave us a little taste of how (good) we can be and that is fueling us this year,” Borsellino said.

Lenoir has been with Borsellino and Williams for all four seasons in the wide receiving corps. So much so that he may get a little emotional.

“In my last game after the national championship game, I think I’m going to cry,” Lenoir said. “That (winning a national championship) is the goal, the dream and the expectation.”

Twitter: @smallmedorlarge