By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
When one fight breaks out at an ACU football practice, it’s no big deal. But when two or three tangles occur, that’s-
“Intensity,” said junior off-ensive lineman Britt Lively. “We’re really seeing some fight this year that we haven’t seen here in a long time.”
Oddly enough, the two or three exchanges that took place in the Wildcats’ summer practices are examples of what Lively calls “adrenaline boosts,” ways in which the players let their desire to win out.
Which, after back-to-back records of 2-9 and 3-8 in 2000 and 2001, respectively, is a pretty big desire.
“We’re sick of this 2-9 stuff,” Lively said. “We have guys on this team who are just tired of losing. We’re hungry for some victories this season.”
At the heart of that hunger is Coach Gary Gaines, who carries a 5-17 record into his third season with the Wildcats.
“We’re playing to win this year,” Gaines said. “We’re definitely looking for big improvement over what took place last year.”
What took place was a sixth place finish in the Lone Star Conference South and a nearly identical standing in every major statistical category: sixth in points scored, last in points allowed, sixth in turnovers and last in yards allowed, to name a few.
“Everybody was disappointed in last season,” junior linebacker Cliff Compton said, “but everyone’s had a great attitude coming in. Hopefully we can change things.”
To do that, the Wildcats will receive little help from their schedule, which features four Top 25 teams in No. 2 California-Davis, No. 7 Texas A&M-Kingsville, No. 9 Central Arkansas and No. 11 Tarleton State. To top it off, the team’s first three opponents are UCA, UC-Davis and TSU, respectively.
“I see that as a challenge,” said junior wide receiver Roddy Alexander. “It’s a great opportunity for us-if we can play with those teams, then we definitely know we’re able to compete with anyone else we’ll play.”
Junior quarterback Colby Freeman agrees.
“I think one of the main things our teams have lacked in the past is being able to understand that we can play with big-name teams,” he said. “We feel like we’ve done things that show we can compete at that next level.”
In order to get to that level, Gaines said the team has a few kinks it has to work out before the season gets underway Sept. 7.
“The blaring weakness I’ve noticed so far in practice is our special teams coverage,” Gaines said. “We need to see as much improvement there as we do on offense and defense.”
Gaines said the Cats would be counting on several players to lead the charge, including Lively, Compton and Freeman, as well as senior running back Eric Polk, senior of-fensive lineman Cameron Ros-ser, junior offensive lineman Blake Lewis, so-phomore linebacker Shawn Taylor, junior defensive lineman Brad Wal-ton, sophomore placekicker Eben Nelson and senior defensive back Steven Riddley, a transfer from the University of Oklahoma.
“We’re gonna be like a big family,” Lively said. “We want to be a really positive thing for this school-good players with unbelievable attitudes.”
Gaines said the team hasn’t set any goals as far as victories, but rather little goals to maintain focus.
“If we take care of some of the little things like turnovers, interceptions and average kick return yards, it brings the kids to the big goal we need to achieve,” Gaines said. “The wins will come.”
Freeman said another goal relates back to the intensity level.
“I can guarantee that ev-ery Saturday we go out on the field there’s gonna be a will to win,” he said. “When you’re so close to winning but you still have a losing record, it’s difficult. But we’ll be trying our hardest to make this school proud of its football team.”
ACU opens up the season at Shotwell Stadium on Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. against Central Arkansas.