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Date Posted: 23:48:38 08/01/03 Fri
Author: Starter
Subject: WIU Picked as Favorite in Gateway

WESTERN ILLINOIS IS GATEWAY FAVORITE FOR FIRST TIME IN 19-YEAR HISTORY
Expectations run high at Gateway Media Day
July 31, 2003
by Jason Kaufman

MACOMB, Ill.— For the first time in the 19-year history of the Gateway Football Conference, and after winning four of the last six conference titles, Western Illinois University has been predicted to finish on top of the league. The defending co-champions collected 24 of the 32 first-place votes in the league’s 2003 Preseason Poll, announced at Thursday’s Media Day in St. Louis.

The Leathernecks return five all-Americans from a squad that went 11-2 and finished among the nation’s top five teams last season, and placed a league-high 10 players on the 2003 Gateway Preseason All-Conference Team. Defending national champion Western Kentucky was predicted to finish second, receiving six first-place votes, while Youngstown State was picked third. UNI, Illinois State and Southern Illinois all placed within nine points of each other, while SMS and Indiana State rounded out the poll, conducted by league’s coaches, sports information directors and media members.

“Every year presents a different set of challenges,” responded head coach Don Patterson (left), to inquiries of being picked to win the league. “Last year we were considered underdogs, and this year we’re the favorite. We’ve been able to meet or exceed the predictions in 13 of the 17 preseason polls. So the challenge this year is to somehow find a way to get through the league unbeaten. We just have to be sure we give ourselves the best chance to do that by playing up to our full potential.”

Returning Gateway Offensive Player of the Year Russ Michna (Sr., QB), junior offensive lineman Fred Layne, junior placekicker Justin Langan, senior defensive lineman Mike O’Brien, senior linebacker Lee Russell, senior defensive back Victor Campbell, sophomore return specialist Reggie Gray, sophomore running back Travis Glasford, senior wide receiver Terrence Hall and senior defensive lineman Jon Kowalyshen were each named to the preseason all-conference squad. Western opens preseason practice Saturday, Aug. 2.

“It’s not so much the target on your back,” said Michna, “it’s more of a challenge to us. You still have to prepare an be ready every week in this conference. There’s a lot left to do, and we have some exciting games to get through in this conference. We can’t be too concerned with individual games. Our goal is to put another team in the national championship.”

“The Gateway is the best I-AA conference in the nation,” said Russell. “You can’t fall asleep any game, any week, or you’ll get bit. That’s the complexity and the greatness of the conference.”

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