Oct. 9, 2009
Without doubt, this has been a difficult football season so far. The year began in the spring with the signing of a heralded recruiting class and with the anticipation of improving on last year's record. Hope was high, and there were expectations among some that WCU Football would move into the middle rank of the Southern Conference this year. As early success has not been realized, there has been disappointment, and with cause. However, no one is more disappointed than the coaches and team who are committed to reaching and exceeding that goal.
Game scores are the most visible measures of on-field success and how the team is progressing. Yet, there are many positive and encouraging signs with this football team that are evident off the field. One of these is the fact that, in the spite of a demanding preseason, the emotion of dealing with the death of a teammate over the summer and a grueling regular season, our roster is intact. In addition, the image of the team as a whole and as individuals has improved on campus and elsewhere. Academics have become even more important. Players are supporting each other. And regardless of the score, they play hard to the end.
Another bright spot is the strong individual performances by several of the players. This coaching staff has just begun its second season of implementing its philosophies and strategies. As more and more players become increasingly aware of the expectations and responsibilities of their positions, these individual performances will become team performances.
Many of these accomplishments have been turned in by relatively inexperienced players. The staff had only a few days to evaluate whom they would recruit and ultimately sign in 2008.While we had an outstanding recruiting class in 2009, they are still just freshmen. Of the 82 players on the roster, more than 40 are true or redshirt freshmen. Of the 60 member travel squad, more than 30 are true or redshirt freshmen. An old coach once said that best thing about freshmen is that next year they will be sophomores. In our situation, we cannot afford the luxury of waiting until next year. Many of these young men have had a great deal, maybe too much, playing time very early in their college careers, and that inexperience is sometimes evident. But even this hardship is providing a groundwork for the future.
Strength and conditioning is a vital aspect of football. The work of our strength staff, particularly Brad Ohrt and Bryan Tatum, is beginning to show benefits for the football team, as well as all of our sports. This is a slow process that will be increasingly evident in the months to come.
Throughout all of this, the team has taken a workingman's approach to their cause. Discipline is good. Practices are hard and productive. They focus on getting better each week, fostering teamwork, learning their roles, going to class and the job ahead. Others around the program have complimented their attitude through the adversities of life and sport.
We are two years into what is expected to be a five year effort. The university made a strong commitment to the football program with the implementation of the recommendations made by of the Football Task Force. Support has been identified and significantly improved. Infrastructure has been enhanced.
Coach Dennis Wagner was given a five year contract to make our program successful and competitive in one of the toughest FCS conferences in the country. He, his staff and the young men who have committed themselves to that end, should -and will--get that time to reach their goal. It can be done, and they deserve the support of us all.
Coach Wagner and the team have mine, and I invite all friends of the Catamounts to stand with us.
Chip Smith Director of Athletics Western Carolina University