With 93 new faces reporting to fall camp, and several key players returning from injury, the Wildcats are primed for a bounce back season.
After a 6-6 record during just its second year as a Div. 1 competitor there was a lot of attention centered around the ACU football team. Unfortunately due to injuries and inexperience the Wildcats struggled in 2015, posting a 3-8 record, despite winning their first two Southland Conference games of the season.
However, with another year under his belt and many of his players, head coach Ken Collums is optimistic the team will take a big step forward in 2016.
“We’re a step closer to where we need to be in this Div. 1 transition, which means we’re going to have a bit more depth this year,” Collums said.
One of the ways ACU will take this step forward in Collums’ eyes is consistency. With tough competition like Air Force and respectable FCS programs like Northern Colorado on the docket for this year mistakes will be magnified.
“I want to play more consistently than we did last year, we were very up and down last year,” Collums said. “My thing is just consistency, our guys are going to be able to make plays, they’ve just got to get to where they’re making the plays and doing the little things every single down.”
With a good balance of experience and youth, the Wildcats will look to find that consistency in a number of different players especially tested transfers like junior D.J. Fuller.
Since the Wildcats Div. 1 transition, Collums has made a name for himself by bringing in explosive junior college transfers to fill skill position roles and add a spark to the offense and defense. Last year it was senior Carl Whitley, who paired with then senior Cedric Gilbert and gave the ACU a deep threat tandem. In 2016, the coaching staff is hopeful that Fuller, who accumulated 629 yards and eight touchdowns a season ago, can replace Gilbert alongside Whitley.
“We’re getting better on and off the field, just communicating and become more of a team,” Fuller said.
Another workhorse for the Wildcats will be junior preseason all-American Sam Denmark. Denmark has started for ACU at linebacker for the past two seasons, and he along with junior defensive linemen LaMarcus Allen emerged as the anchors of the defense.
Our good offseason is showing out on the field, everyone is running around, not everyone is feeling as sore as we usually do at this time in camp,” Denmark said. “We go out there every single day, guys aren’t worrying about being tired or anything. We’re more a team unit.”
Denmark led the team with 138 tackles and along with Allen was tied for the team lead in sacks last season. These two will be critical in improving the team’s scoring defense which was 32.5 points per game in 2015.
Back on the offensive side of the ball, the Wildcats will also look to improve their scoring offense as they averaged just over 24 points per game. And it’s no secret that they will rely heavily on the young arm of redshirt sophomore Dallas Sealey and experience of junior De’Andre Brown.
“We can score a lot of points,” Brown said. “We have a lot of secret weapons people don’t know about. Some of the transfers we had come in this year are really good at what they do.”
Brown ran for 801 yards last year and recorded five touchdowns after eclipsing 1000 yards in 2014.
Aside from the Wildcats’ secret weapons, Sealey believes his increased role late in year a season ago will help prepare him for taking over the offense.
“It helps me to have more confidence and have a little bit more self-esteem,” Sealey said. “Everybody has their faith in me and they trust me and they expect me to go out there and make plays.”
Sealey said the mindset of the team is simple, they want to win. It’s not about the individual accolades, just the W’s in the win column.
If the Wildcats are able to they will silence a large handful of doubters, who picked ACU to finish 8th in the Southland Conference which is right where they finished the season in 2015.
“We’re determined because last year it didn’t pan out like we wanted it to,” Brown said. “So we are really determined to show everybody we’re better than what they think we are.”
video/editing by: Hannah Null