There’s a different feel to Southern Utah football these days, beyond the fact three assistant coaches left last winter to work at rival Weber State and retired media information director Neil Gardner now spends more time in Hawaii than Cedar City.
The Thunderbirds expect to win.
Southern Utah won eight games and reached the FCS playoffs for the first time in school history last November.
This season, the Thunderbirds want more.
It could happen, too.
The pieces are in place for improvement on offense, which was SUU’s soft underbelly a year ago, when the Thunderbirds averaged only 20 points and 300 yards a game. Southern Utah’s strengths were defense and special teams and Lamb played his hand like Amarillo Slim. He was conservative -- never gambling on fourth down and always taking the points when the opportunity arose. He played for field position and turnovers and it worked out better than any SUU fan could have hoped.
Enter Ammon Olsen and Gary Crowton.
Olsen is a junior quarterback who started his collegiate career at Southern Utah and transferred to BYU. Finding himself stuck behind Cougar star Taysom Hill, however, Olsen has returned to SUU.
Crowton, of course, is the former BYU head coach who Lamb hired after offensive coordinator Steve Clark left for Weber State.
Crowton is being counted on to punch-up the offense and, perhaps, overmatch most of the defensive coordinators he will battle head-to-head on the FCS level.
One thing is certain.
Lamb, who worked for Crowton at BYU in 2001, is happy over the reunion.
Asked about Crowton at the recent Big Sky Conference’s football meetings in Park City, Lamb said, "It’s been better than I could have imagined.
"My hope was we would get the same guy I worked for at BYU — someone I knew as incredibly passionate and energetic. And that’s happened. He’s a great leader, very charismatic."
Apparently, Crowton isn’t acting his age, which is 57.
"For him to come in this way has been very gratifying," Lamb said. "He’s brought the same energy. He’s certainly not in the retirement mode in any way. He’s younger than his chronological age with his passion and the way he moves around the field — the everyday activities."
Olsen’s return also helps, if only because it gives Lamb more depth at quarterback.
"Ammon is doing very well," he said. "... He has a lot of physical tools. But the competition with Aaron is really neck-and-neck. Like any position on our team, the new guy has to clearly beat out the established guy."
When preseason camp opens, the quarterback battle will be the No. 1 story.
"I know it’s something our whole team is keeping an eye on," Lamb said.
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