Ten minutes before football practice began, junior wide receiver Travis Foster (No. 4) watches offensive linemen Dylan Keith, Josh Carrera, Kenny Andrew and Kyle Appleford warm up with a little tire flipping
Second-year University of La Verne head football coach Andy Ankeny is hoping to improve a program that almost went winless last season.
Improvement, growth and change were all words used by players and coaches to answer the underlying speculation around campus as to how the team will get better.
Last year’s record of eight losses and one victory was motivation for everyone to work harder this off-season to ensure a successful campaign.
“We’d like to become a more consistent football team,” Ankeny said. “We don’t want to be such a roller coaster. We want to be consistent mentally and physically.”
The Leopards hope to return to the glory days of the early ‘90s where they won 21 regular season games in a row and earned their first and only NCAA playoff berth.
While a winning record would be a success compared to the past few seasons, players and coaches worked during the off-season to just get better.
Another addition to the program is ULV alumnus Mark Odin as offensive line coach.
“I love these guys. They worked really hard this off-season, and they’re in really good shape,” Odin said. “We’re extremely prepared and have improved a lot as a team.”
“All off-season we worked on getting bigger, stronger and faster,” sophomore right-guard Travis Arroyo said. “We’re feeling really well. Our chemistry is good, and we’re all excited for the season to start.”
Arroyo is one of two returners, including sophomore left-guard Josh Carrera, whom the Leopards will depend on to anchor the line this season.
The Leopards lost three starters on the offensive line from last year’s team, and six starters on offense overall.
One of their playmakers that they will be relying on is senior wide receiver, John Ausman, who had 22 receptions and gained 197 yards last season.
The Leopards will have a chance to showcase their new offense with the hiring of offensive coordinator Brandon Easterly.
Easterly, who came from East Texas Baptist, will be running a one back zone offense this season.
“The transition has been awesome,” Easterly said. “It’s been fun with the staff, the players and the community. We’re all fired up. Our offense will be fast paced, we’re going to get the ball snapped really soon and make plays.”
On the defensive side of the ball, La Verne is returning eight starters. Last season’s defense gave up an average of 31.7 points per game
A bright spot for the program is the returning Second Team All-SCIAC players, which includes the linebacker tandem of junior Branamier Courtney and senior Jason Carpenter, who led the Leopards last season with 70 tackles and six sacks.
Carpenter also did most of the punting last season, averaging 37.7 yards.
One of the players who is no longer with the team is kick return specialist senior Grady Thomas, who led the Leopards last year in all-purpose yards.
Thomas gained 609 yards on kick returns and 104 yards on punt returns last season.
The team, which was scheduled to leave campus at 3:45 Friday morning, will begin its regular season Saturday in Spokane, Wash., at noon against Whitworth.
Whitworth is coming off an 8-2 season that saw the school win its second straight Northwest Conference title. The team is returning seven starters on offense and two on defense.
As far as a game plan goes, the coaches and players are just excited to get the season started.
“We’re very prepared and ready to go hit somebody else,” Ankeny said.
“Like any good offense, we want to establish the running game early on and do what we do best,” Easterly said. “We’re going to protect the ball and get it in the hands of our playmakers.”
The Leopards have four scheduled games at home this season, with the Homecoming game against Pomona-Pitzer on Oct. 18.
Richard Lugo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.