The MTSU football team will have several new faces and some returning players as it looks to return to the top of the Sun Belt Conference.
Last Monday, preseason practice began in preparation for the 2011 season.
About this time last season, MTSU gained some unwanted attention around the region and the nation.
The team was a preseason favorite for the SBC title and there was even talk of being in the Top 25. However, before the season began, star quarterback Dwight Dasher was suspended before the first game against Minnesota for an unpaid gambling debt.
At the same time, it gave the two other quarterbacks on the roster, Logan Kilgore and Jeff Murphy some valuable experience.
Now, heading into this season, Dasher is gone and Kilgore and Murphy hope to build on that experience as the team gets ready for the Sept. 3 opener at Purdue.
“Last years’ experience is going to help a lot because we will know what to expect heading into each game and what it will be like from a traveling from pre-game to the game,” Kilgore said. “I think the experience will go a long way.”
His teammate Murphy added, “It is not just the experience of playing, as both me and quarterback Logan Kilgore got to play a good bit last season. The experience of going on road trips and sitting in on meetings and the fact that we have been through a fall camp and day-to-day activities during the season is a tremendous advantage.”
Fall camp will determine the starter, but the coaches, including head coach Rick Stockstill and new offensive coordinator Willie Simmons like both players’ leadership so far.
“I think the most important trait a quarterback can have is the confidence from those 10 other guys,” Simmons said. “When they look in his eyes, they know he’s going to get the job done. Once that guy develops it with those guys, we’ll know he’s the guy.”
While there has been a turnover with the team’s leadership, including two coordinators who were promoted from within, Simmons and defensive coordinator Steve Ellis, Stockstill has made turning over the ball one of his focus points since he arrived on campus in 2006.
But the focus hasn’t paid off in recent years.
Last season the Blue Raiders were near the top of the conference in terms of the amount of turnovers the team committed. MTSU was first in the SBC in interceptions thrown with 24 and last in turnover margin.
“One key thing we try to teach them about turnovers is fundamentals,” Simmons said. “The main thing that causes turnovers is poor fundamentals. … If the guys do what they’re coached to do and work on their fundamentals every day, then it cuts the turnovers down. … It’s our job to get better at fundamentals and stress the small details that prevent you from having the three, four and five turnovers a game that we had last year. We just need to be a more sound and more well-coached football team.”
On defense, the team is looking to replace eight starters on a defense, but one of the returning players, safety Derrick Crumpton, is pleased with progress, so far.
“I am excited to have the opportunity to lead such a young and energetic group of players,” Crumpton said. “Those types of young players are going to enter our system, and I feel like they are going to step up and make plays. Aside from that, I look forward to being around a new group of players and having the opportunity to lead them with the very best of my abilities.”
In the preseason SBC poll, the Blue Raiders were picked to finish tied for third, and running back Benny Cunningham looks at it as a chance prove people wrong.
“I feel like it serves as motivation,” Cunningham said. “Being overlooked is going to push everyone. If you forget where you are, it will remind you that you have not accomplished anything yet. Entering the season highly ranked can get to some people’s heads. We do not have to worry about that this year. Everyone is starting at ground zero and we need to go out and earn our respect.”
For the second straight season, the Blue Raiders will open against another Big Ten school.
This time MTSU will travel to Purdue for a Sept. 3 match-up against the Boilermakers. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. and will be shown on the Big Ten Network.