Western Courier

Leathernecks hope to build off last season

By Tom Loftus

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Last season’s 8-5 record, No. 20 national ranking, and mini-run in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs simply marked the beginning of a new era of Western Illinois football – not an anomalous blip, or a sign that 2011 will represent a rebuilding season for a team that graduated one of the finest quarterbacks in program history.

Or at least that’s how Leathernecks coach Mark Hendrickson sees it – and his players and coaching staff apparently agree.

Hendrickson likes what he has seen thus far during summer preseason practices, but he knows that his team needs to continue to strive for bigger and better performances if it expects to match or better last year’s showing.

“We’ve worked hard, and a high percentage of the time, that work has been done with good energy and good enthusiasm,” said Hendrickson, who was the runner-up for the Eddie Robinson Award last season, a prize given annually to the top head coach in the NCAA FCS. “And yet we still have a long ways to go before that first kickoff. We know that. And we need to become very consistent.

“Both sides of the ball, and the kicking game, all three phases, have their moments where we do things very well. But we want to get to the point where we do things very well every rep. And we’re certainly not there yet. We’re too inconsistent, and we want to become consistent.”

Western lost two legendary starters to graduation, quarterback Matt Barr (runner-up for the Walter Payton Award as the most outstanding offensive player in the NCAA FCS) and linebacker Kyle Glazier (runner-up for the Buck Buchanan Award, given to the most outstanding defensive player in the NCAA FCS). Never before in NCAA history has one single team had a coach and two players earn runner-up honors for these prestigious end-of-season awards.

But while Barr and Glazier will be missed, Hendrickson will once again be able to employ the considerable offensive talents of running backs Caulton Ray (1,075 rushing yards, 4.4 yards per carry in 2010) and Bryce Flowers (804 rushing yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 332 receiving yards); receivers Terriun Crump (888 receiving yards, 5 receiving touchdowns), Charles Chestnut (22 receiving yards) and Justin Morgan (192 receiving yards); and kicker Pat Smith (21 of 21 on PATs, 5 field goals made).

Three quarterbacks are currently in the running to replace Barr: juniors Will Lunt, Josh Hudson and Cody Reardon, with Lunt reportedly having the inside track to start in the Leathernecks’ season opener on Thursday, Sept. 1 at Sam Houston State (6 p.m., WGEM-Fox TV). Western’s home opener, on its new Matrix Turf-covered surface at Hanson Field, is Saturday, Sept. 10 at 3 p.m. against Jacksonville.

On defense, top returning players include Kevin Palermo (52 tackles), Kieron James (42 tackles), Keith Enderlein (35 tackles), Dwight Harris (30 tackles), Raynard Pamilton (30 tackles), Ryan Davis (29 tackles) and Tim Franken (29 tackles).

“The 2011 team, they’re very excited to find out how good they can be,” said Hendrickson, whose team is ranked No. 24 in the nation in the FCS Now preseason poll, behind Missouri Valley Conference foes Northern Iowa (No. 7) and North Dakota State (No. 11).

“By no means, we certainly don’t look as this as a rebuilding year by any means,” the Leathernecks coach continued. “They want to take this thing another step. They know it won’t be easy, they know it will be a challenge, but we’ve got good leadership, we’ve got some good players, and we’ve got some younger guys that’ve got to grow up in a hurry, and I believe they will.

“So, they’re just very excited to find out how good they can be. They’re ready to move on, full speed ahead.”

 

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The independent student newspaper of Western Illinois University. Serving Macomb since 1905.
Leathernecks hope to build off last season