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Date Posted: 10:23:28 08/06/03 Wed
Author: Starter
Subject: Football Media Day

FOCUS ON FUNDAMENTALS KEY TO “FILLING UP” FOR LEATHERNECKS
Returning award winners, new staff members highlight media day topics
August 5, 2003
by Jason Kaufman

MACOMB, Ill.— “Our guys are still hungry,” Western Illinois head football coach Don Patterson remarked after partaking in the Media Day luncheon and opening his address to members of the media. “They’re not filled and they’re not satisfied,” he continued, referring to the disappointing loss to the 2002 season. “It’s nice to go from 40th to No. 2, and it’s nice to be a No. 2 seed in the postseason, but it’s not nice to lose a close game in the playoffs.”

Western returns nearly two-thirds of its starters from last years’ 11-2 squad, including nearly three-fourths of its lettermen and over half of its All-America honorees, in an effort to repeat as Gateway champions and make a deep run in the postseason. Four of the seven Gateway Conference games this year will be played at Hanson Field, one more than in each of the last two championship seasons (2000, 2002). In addition, three of those four opponents play road games before visiting Macomb, a factor that the Leathernecks hope works to their advantage.

“Being picked No. 1 (in the Gateway preseason poll and in the Football Gazette I-AA preseason poll) is not a bad thing,” said Patterson. “It’s not a kiss of death, and actually it’s a rather nice compliment. Our players are confident with having the target on their backs. They know they still have to go out and prove it. All the preseason hype doesn’t move the ball one inch. It still takes a lot of hard work to be there at the end of the season.”
In years past Western banked on the fact that it had finished higher than predicted in 10 of the Gateway’s 17 preseason polls. Now that they have earned their first-ever spot at the top of the chart, the Leathernecks are hoping to maintain a reputation built by finishing lower than predicted just three times.

“Our players are determined not to disappoint,” Patterson continued. “7-0 (in the Gateway) is a good goal for us. It’s a realistic goal, but not an easy one. We’re very capable of that, but we’re also, in this league, capable of losing all seven.”

Figured into the mix of key ingredients are new assistant coaches Richie Solomon (defensive backs) and Ronnie Harmon (running backs). One of the NFL’s all-time best running backs and former Iowa Hawkeye, Harmon will play a key role as mentor to a group of three returning backs who will all fight for playing time. Attley Lawson, Travis Glasford and Charles Hayden have the potential to combine for well over 2,000 yards on the ground. Add to the second-best scoring offense in school history the returning Gateway Offensive Player of the Year and an offensive line that returns five players who saw starting time last year, and you’re faced with a promising difference from this time a year ago.

“Last year at media day we said we were building our offense around one returning starter - a right tackle,” remarked Patterson. “Well, that offense averaged 36.2 points per game and was +13 on turnovers.”

Solomon, who has 25 years of collegiate and NFL coaching experience, including 19 years with defensive backs, said he “feels like a rookie again,” but is excited about a deep secondary returning to an experienced defense. This year’s defense, led by Buck Buchanan finalist Lee Russell will feature several key additions at linebacker, including Minnesota transfer Phil Archer, as well as 10 defensive linemen who saw significant time last season.

With their focus on fundamentals and not on preseason hype, the Leathernecks are poised for more success in 2003.

“We can’t stay the same,” offensive coordinator Mark Hendrickson said. “We have to be better players than we were 12 months ago. If we focus on improving the small things, the success will come.”

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