Whether they knew it at the time or not, Salisbury University football fans were getting to know the team’s next starting quarterback well ahead of him actually getting the job. After coming shortly in during a big win over Southern Virginia last season, SU sophomore quarterback Jack Lanham had one of the moments of the season.
Late in Salisbury’s 33-0 victory over Rowan last season, Lanham delivered an 88-yard touchdown pass to senior slot back Blake Joppy. From there, the team saw in live action that they had a successful arm coming on the bench.
With last year’s starter Brandon Lewis out with an injury for Salisbury’s ECAC Bowl appearance, Lanham received his first career start in the maroon and gold. Despite the Ithaca comeback result, Lanham saw meaningful minutes under center, going 5-for-13 for 47 yards and an interception through the air.
“I’m proud of him. I think he’s stepped up. He’s talking a lot all of the time, trying to be a leader,” SU senior offensive lineman George Morton said.
On the ground, Lanham was Salisbury’s leading returner in rushing from last season, tallying just 77 rushing yards. His six-foot-three, 220-pound frame would help spur on a rushing unit losing their top six rushers from a season ago. The preparation started early on for his new role in 2018.
“All through the spring, I was taking reps with the first team,” Lanham said. “Over the summer back home, I had to work out daily, throw with receivers, really just to get my mind prepared for the season, knowing that I’d be at the helm.”
That preparation led up to opening night against the Albright College Lions. Despite wet weather conditions, Lanham helped the offense to a 48-14 victory through the option offense. Through the air, Lanham went 1-for-5 for just eight passing yards, while rushing for negative yardage.
As a more inexperienced wide receiving core develops, the hope is that the passing game will become stronger. SU head coach Sherman Wood says that Lanham is a quiet guy, but a tremendous competitor who has shown his leadership with the offensive unit in the preseason.
“Jack realizes that he’s the guy. He has to be the leader regardless of the age,” SU head coach Sherman Wood said. “He’s done just about everything we’ve asked him to do. He came back in pretty decent shape. One of the things I wanted to see from him more than really anything was that he’s not just part of the team, he needs to be a leader. He needs to take charge and those type of things.”
The leadership will need to come out for an offensive skills group that lost nearly all of its veteran players in the receiving and rushing categories. Having a sophomore quarterback leading the way for the Sea Gulls is something relatively new for Salisbury senior quarterbacks in each of the last two seasons, Ryan Jones and Brandon Lewis.
In front of him, Lanham has one of the more veteran offensive lines in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) protecting him and blocking for the rest of the backs. The SU quarterback says that having that veteran presence around him is noticeable.
“Mainly, they stay calm out there,” Lanham said. “They know because they’ve seen it before. They help me stay cool, and I try to do the same for them.”
That blocking allowed for a school-record 654 rushing yards to be gained by the Sea Gulls in their season-opener against Albright. The veterans up front took over control of the second half of the game.
“When you have guys moving guys backwards, you don’t really have to do too much,” SU junior super back Mike-Ryan Mofor said. “You just need patience and to trust your eyes. Something was going to come. It built up and then it came.”
In his first game for Salisbury, Mofor rushed 10 times for 237 yards and two touchdowns in the 48-14 victory. After the performance, the Laurel, Md., native was named the NJAC Offensive Player of the Week and also made the D3football.com Team of the Week.
It was not just Mofor that boosted the offense to victory. The super back was one of five Sea Gulls to rush for over 70 yards in the contest. With very few returners to the backfield, the initial numbers bode well for the rest of the season.
A familiar face for Lanham this season is another former Calvert High School product, sophomore slot back Shamar Gray. The Prince Frederick, Md., native showed his speed on the outside in the opening win, rushing eight times for 86 yards.
After a strong output of rushing yards against the Lions, NJAC opponents will certainly still be looking to stop the triple-option offense, which Lanham has shown to be able manage and garner success from. The question will be if the same magic can occur through the air like his passing touchdown against Albright last season.
Next up, the Sea Gulls (1-0) host the Kean University Cougars (0-1) in their conference opener on Saturday at 1 p.m. Kean fell in their season-opener last week, losing to Springfield College (Mass.) 42-0. The Sea Gulls defeated Kean 21-13 in Union, N.J.
“I think [Lanham’s] up to any challenge,” Wood said. “He wants to win in the worst way, and I think mainly because he wants people to know that he knows about the past quarterbacks we’ve had in this program. They’ve all been great.”
By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: SU sophomore quarterback Jack Lanham gets ready to take a snap vs. Albright in the season-opener. Aug. 31. (Emma Reider image).