WAXAHACHIE —

Football in Waxahachie is nearly here and so close the city’s hungry Lions can almost taste it.

It seems Central States Football League (CSFL) odds-makers are just as hungry for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) fall season.

The CSFL announced the 2016 preseason poll on Wednesday and Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) was picked to finish third after finishing 8-3 and capturing a Victory Bowl title last season.

“The third place vote is what I anticipated since it was our finish last year,” said Frank Tristan, the head football coach at SAGU, about the CSFL picking Arizona Christian University (ACU) as the league’s early favorite. “I feel like Arizona Christian and Langston are returning a lot of players and I expect them to be strong this year as well.”

SAGU will return several starters as well as a handful of all-conference picks. D’Vonn Brown, the CSFL Defensive Player of the Year, will return for his senior season. Brown, along with fellow first-team picks junior offensive lineman Devon Petty, junior defensive lineman Matt Lighter, sophomore defensive back Carl Morgan and senior kicker Chadd Dearen — after deemed ineligible to play because he passed the NCAA eligibility requirements — will all be returning for the 2016 season.

Thirty-six athletes signed National Letters of Intent during February’s National Signing Day, including bruising Red Oak High School running back Brandon Moffett. Tristan said the former Hawk will fight for one of the two remaining running back positions on the depth chart behind incumbent starters Ricky Bickham and JP Lowery.

“Brandon’s a really strong kid and we’re really excited to get him,” Tristan said. “We have JP and Ricky that are the staples because they had good seasons last year, but Brandon’s in a fight for those third and fourth running back spots. Brandon’s been up here working out a bunch up here on his own and he’s proving he’s a tough kid.

“Last year we were down to our fifth running back going into the third game. Running backs get banged up because of the difficult college football seasons. We really feel comfortable if we have three or four running backs we can count on.”

Tristan added if Moffett can tackle the learning curve of NAIA — adjusting to the speed of college football and the time he makes decisions on the football field — he could become a vital part of the Lions’ rushing attack.

With the powerful offenses and defenses of ACU and Langston looming in the distance, a balanced attack could be vital for SAGU to repeat the success of 2015.

ACU finished the 2015 season with a 6-3 overall record and was undefeated in conference play. They were also ranked No. 22 in the 2016 Spring NAIA Football Coaches’ Top 25 Poll, a poll comprised of the league’s coaches and sports information directors, and received 52 points in and seven first place votes.

Langston University was the No. 2 vote-getter and the Lions were three points shy of the Firestorm.

Langston received 49 total points and was picked twice as the first place team. Southwestern Assemblies of God University also received a pair of first-place votes and took a third place ranking with 42 total points to finish in third.

Wayland Baptist University (Tex.) sewed up fourth place with 33 points and Texas College ranked fifth, receiving 24 total points. Bacone College landed in the sixth spot with 19 points and Lyon College (Ark.) rounded out the poll with 12 points.

During the 2016 season, seven teams will compete for the CSFL title, including three teams from Texas, two schools from Oklahoma and one University out of Arizona and Arkansas. The CSFL is comprised of Arizona Christian University, Bacone College, Langston University, Lyon College (Ark.), Southwestern Assemblies of God University (Tex.), Wayland Baptist University (Tex.), and Texas College.

“Our expectations are pretty high for the season,” Tristan said. “If the mixture we have — the new guys and our returners — can gel quickly and we coaches put the right guys in the right spots, I think we can surprise some people.”

Contact the Waxahachie Daily Light sports desk at 469-517-1454 or kmatthews-marion@waxahachietx.com. Follow Khris on Twitter at @Khris2MarionWNI and the Daily Light on both Facebook and Twitter. Join the conversation or alert the sports desk on Twitter by using #WDLsports in your tweets!