By BEN JOHNSON
It wasn’t exactly what Paul Lane envisioned for his return to football. After a six-year coaching hiatus, Lane’s offense was staring 85 yards down the field at the end zone with Pittsburg State’s defense standing in the way.
“It was tough,” said Lane, who had just taken over in the summer months as Northeastern State’s offensive coordinator. “Not having called a play in six years, and then the first play from scrimmage we were on the minus-15 yard line.”
Certainly not the welcome back Lane had been hoping for. But the RiverHawks managed to maneuver their way through the reigning national champion’s defense before eventually scoring a touchdown on Terrence Dixon’s 46-yard run.
“I think what we showed on that initial possession — to be able to go (85) yards and score against the defending national champs — that gave us a glimmer [of what we had],” Lane said. “Now I truly believe that we have enough confidence in what we’re doing.”
Now in his second year in charge of NSU’s offense, Lane says he has certainly settled into his role with the RiverHawks. He did admit, though, that it was tough getting back into the day-to-day grind of football.
“From an organizational standpoint,” Lane said, “one of the hardest things was organizing my day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. at night.”
Lane — whose last coaching stint was in 2006 at Southeastern Oklahoma State — also had to take on the role of coaching quarterbacks — something that was foreign to him.
“The biggest change for me was the coaching position — a position that I had never coached,” said Lane, who had coached the offensive line at Southeastern Oklahoma State.
“I’ve worked hard this summer, and even this past spring, to try and hone my skills, as far as coaching quarterbacks. I had to get a better understanding of what they need on a daily basis, as opposed to a offensive line player or a running back, which I had coached previously.”
Lane also arrived in Tahlequah trying to command an offense that rewrote more than a dozen school records in 2011. He also had to do it without the luxury of the school’s more heralded wide receiver, Trey McVay.
It certainly wasn’t easy.
“I think there were so many comparisons to 2011 with the offensive output,” Lane said. “It was just one of those magical years. Those don’t happen every year.”
The RiverHawks followed up the 2011 season (440.8 yards per game and 33.8 points per game) with an average of 374.1 yards and 23.1 points per contest.
“I feel very fortunate to have him on the staff,” NSU head coach Kenny Evans said of Lane at Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association’s Media Day in Kansas City, Mo.
“I think (last season) was a learning experience for him coming back, but also us being in a new conference. Every week was something new to him, too. I look for us to be better than ever, offensively.”
Headlining NSU’s offense will be tailback Joel Rockmore, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a sophomore last season. Johnny Deaton returns at quarterback, the Riverhawks’ offensive line is largely still intact after Michael Bowie was drafted by Seattle, and the RiverHawks have a promising group of young wide receivers.
“Our goal is to exceed the gains that we had towards the end of the year last year with those four wins,” said Lane, whose team closed out the 2012 season with victories over Central Missouri, Southwest Baptist, Lincoln and Central Oklahoma. “If we can exceed what we accomplished there, I think that we’ll gain a lot of confidence.”
And maybe this year’s first drive won’t come with NSU deep inside its own territory.