Woodard: 2015 Cardinals will be his best
BEAUMONT — The waiters started the claps and cranked up the restaurant-version “Happy Birthday” song — known at Café del Rio as “The Rio Birthday” — as they all surrounded Lamar football coach Ray Woodard.
They had the perfect birthday present a restaurant can give — a strawberry desert, matching Lamar’s school colors, heavy on the white whipped topping.
As Woodard began to speak on his 54th birthday, he gave himself a present of his own — the right to remain seated while speaking. The members and guests of the Press Club of Southeast Texas’ monthly luncheon intently listened, nonetheless.
Woodard gave his high praise to a team coming off an 8-4 record that has 45 letter winners returning, six of them starters on offense last year and eight of them defensive starters.
“This will be the best team we’ve had since being back in the conference,” said Woodard, the Cardinals’ only head coach since the program was restored in 2010.
Yet he lamented the Southland Conference is no walk in the park.
Lamar tied Stephen F. Austin and Central Arkansas with a 5-3 mark in the conference standings, two games behind co-champions Southeastern Louisiana and Sam Houston State. It was pretty impressive for a young program, but two of the three Southland teams that made the NCAA Division I playoffs — Sam Houston State and SELA — dominated Lamar head-to-head.
Woodard was left wondering what might have been had Lamar and SFA played last year (which they won’t this year, either). Central Arkansas beat the Cardinals 44-41 in overtime in Conway last year.
“Only three teams at best [from the Southland] make the playoffs,” Woodard said. “We picked maybe a bad year to be good.”
There’s always this year.
The preseason of it has been solid to date. Woodard is nearing his second scrimmage this month, scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday, with no major injuries to report.
“Some people won’t play because of nicks or sprains, but we’ve not lost anyone,” he said.
And, he has three transfer quarterbacks he feels confident in playing at any point of the season, although he mentioned two of them plenty more.
Woodard believes senior Joe Minden and junior Carson Earp both will take snaps in the Sept. 5 season opener against Bacone College of Oklahoma at home. He added he would like to redshirt Blake McKenzie, although the sophomore from Corpus Christi — who already redshirted his first year at a California junior college — had an impressive showing in last Saturday’s scrimmage.
“You could see him, too,” Woodard said. “I wouldn’t mind redshirting him if things work out with other two, but you could see him.”
Woodard feels good about McKenzie despite not having as much experience as Minden, who was a backup at SFA, and Earp, who played two years at Navarro Junior College.
“I would say he’s a little behind them on experience, but I would feel good about him going into a game,” he said. “But he has [a little less than] three weeks just like the other guys [before the Bacone game]. You’re right; I should have mentioned him.”
Any word on Joe?
Little, if any, news on Joe Okafor’s stay with the Pittsburgh Steelers has streamed since his signing earlier this month, and when asked for an update, Woodard didn’t have anything to pass along.
The Steelers’ website didn’t have any statistics on the 24-year-old defensive tackle.
“It’s great for the young man,” Woodard said about Okafor’s signing. “It’s great for us. We wish him well. I hope we get to see him do something this week in the preseason game.”
The Steelers, who are 0-2 this preseason, will host the Green Bay Packers at noon Sunday.
Lamar football upcoming events
• 2 p.m.: Free tailgating spots available at Provost Umphrey Stadium
• 6 p.m.: VIP reception for Cardinal Club members
• 7 p.m.: Kickoff scrimmage at Provost Umphrey Stadium
• 5 p.m.: Kickoff Banquet VIP private reception with former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden for Gold and Red sponsors at Ford Park Arena, Beaumount
• 6 p.m.: Dinner and Cardinal Program featuring Bowden at Ford Park Arena