Giving it to the ref

Texas A&M-Commerce running back J.T. Smith hands the ball to an official after scoring a touchdown during a 2021 game. Smith was one of two Lions that spoke at the Southland Conference media day.

  LAKE CHARLES, La. — Exciting was one of the words used by Texas A&M University-Commerce football coach David Bailiff during the Lions’ first media day as a member of the Southland Conference.

  “It is an exciting time for the entire university,” said Bailiff. “Going to a Division I school entirely changes the optics of the school, academically and athletically. We have an unbelievable president in Dr. Mark Rudin, and this was his vision, to lead us to Division I. It is a tremendous move for the university.

  “We are excited, because we don’t know where we stack up. This is exciting for the alumni, there is a buzz on campus and we are looking forward to Southland Conference play.”

  The Lions are moving up from NCAA Division II and leaving the Lone Star Conference for the Southland. A&M-Commerce was a charter member of the LSC dating back to its founding on April 25, 1931.

  The Lions went 70-20 in their last seven seasons in Division II, including a 46-7 record in the LSC. They won the Division II national championship in 2017.

  Lion running back J.T. Smith, who rushed for 336 yards and five touchdowns last season, talked about competing in football and in track and field for the Lions. He won the NCAA Division II national 100-meter dash title in the spring in 10.44 seconds.

  “It is a blessing to be able to compete at a high level in two sports,” said Smith, who is a 5-11, 190-pound senior from Klein Oak. “My track skills help on the field tremendously. It helps me get away from defenders and once I am gone, no one is going to catch me.”

  Linebacker Dee Walker, who is a 6-2, 240-pound senior from Moultrie, Georgia, talked about playing on the same team in 2021 with offensive lineman Amon Simon, who has signed as a free agent with the Dallas   Cowboys, and defensive back Kader Kohou, who has signed with the Miami Dolphins.

  “They opened up doors that we did not have before,” said Walker. “They have shown our young guys the path of how to get to the NFL from here.”

  The day concluded with one-on-one interviews with ESPN New Orleans (KLRZ 100.3), KBMT (12NewsNow) from Beaumont, KPLC 7 from Lake Charles and Commerce’s own KETR 88.9 FM.

  The Lions are to report back to campus in the first week of August to begin fall camp and take the field inside Ernest Hawkins Field at Memorial Stadium for the season opener at 7 p.m. on Sept. 1 against Lincoln (Calif.).

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