Despite tough schedule, football team remains confident for a successful season
Kicking off the season with high hopes to win the University Athletic Association title and make it to the playoffs, the Washington University football team prepares for the season opener against No. 1 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
The team will make its first appearance on Friday at 8:30 p.m., as it takes on Wisconsin-Whitewater, the three-time defending national champion with a 45-game winning streak.
Wash. U. posted a 6-4 record last season to finish second in the UAA. The team scored an average of 21.2 points per game and won the Founder’s Cup against the University of Chicago. Despite the success that the Bears had, the team missed the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season.
Nevertheless, head coach Larry Kindbom believes his players are hungrier than ever to prove themselves a playoff-caliber team.
“Our goal for this season is to achieve our full potential,” Kindbom said. “What really matters is whether we can go out and play at full speed for 60 minutes against a good football team. We need to achieve whatever we have in us…so far I believe things are looking pretty good and they are prepared as they should be.”
This season, the team will be facing arguably the toughest schedule in Wash. U. football history—five of its opponents have been to the playoffs in the last three years.
“It’s going to be a true test of how good we are as a team,” sophomore defensive back Ryan Bednar said. “Even though it’s not going to be easy, I’m happy with our schedule, and we just have to do what we’re supposed to do as a team.”
Kindbom expressed pleasure with how his team has progressed in developing chemistry both on and off the field. Kindbom hoped that some of his players would step into the leadership positions once held by former seniors Easton Knott, Kyle Larkin and Nick Hillard.
“The challenge that we felt we would have is not in the players’ abilities,” Kindbom said. “We have a lot of abilities in our team, but it’s more about where would the leadership show and who would be willing to step up maturity-wise. So far, I’ve been pleased, and I think our captains have been setting a great example for us.”
Kindbom said that the freshmen class has made an important impact, its talent and competitiveness raising the level of play and improving the team as a whole.
“They’ve all made a strong impression so far,” Kindbom said. “I think they’ve upped the level of the upperclassmen who came back and saw how strong these freshman were, and they’ve had to work hard to keep their positions. Unfortunately, none of the freshmen will start in the first game, but they’ll be on the field.”
The team has put a lot of work in the special teams unit this offseason in order to support one of the country’s best kickers, senior Eric Chalifour. In addition, senior starting quarterback Dan Burkett looks to carry over his success from his last game against Chicago, when he put up a career-high 316 passing yards. Working hard this offseason to improve his game, Burkett developed a strong relationship with offensive coordinator Scott Mueller and has proven himself a competitor and strong leader.
“Burkett will definitely make a great impact this season,” sophomore wide receiver Conor Sapp said. “He’s set a good example for the team, and we expect for him to have a great season.”
In spite of the challenges that lie ahead, Kindbom puts a lot of faith in the preparation that his team has done and wants his players to play their best and believe in themselves.
“All we can do is go out there and be our best. The moment we try to be somebody else, we’re going to fall short,” Kindbom said. “Our job is to do what Washington University can do…we feel good about where we stand as a team, and we’ll just have to see where the chips fall.”