After completing a 6-5 season last year, the Warriors return in September and are determined to make some changes to tackle the season differently.
Last season, the Warriors won all but one of their six home games. On the road, the Warriors found less success, losing four out of five of their away games.
This year, fans will see the team play rivals like the Tiffin Dragons and the Hillsdale Chargers. The Warrior’s final game of the 2016 season will be played on Tom Adams’ field against Grand Valley State University, who beat the Warriors at last year’s homecoming game.
Warriors’ Head Coach Paul Winters said the team is focused on attacking the 2016 season with a fresh face.
“We [want to] come out with a chip on our shoulder,” he said. “We haven’t accomplished what we’ve wanted to accomplish recently, and it’s time to do that.”
This year will be Winters’ 13th at WSU. According to WSU Athletics, 26 of his players were named to Academic All-GLIAC teams, and 15 players received All-GLAC recognition. Overall, his team ranked fifth in the nation in fewest penalty yards per game.
This year, Winters said he wants to see the team win all of their home games and clinch a championship.
“Our goal is to play up to our potential,” Winters said. “Those are things that are staples. If you can win all your home games and do well on the road, you’re a champion.”
The Warriors will play in 11 games this season, five of which will be away. In order to win all of them, defensive linebacker Valorian Cunningham said he and his teammates have to be more focused.
“There’s a crowd that’s against us, so we just bond as brothers, as a team [and] as a staff,” Cunningham said.
Offensively, the team needs to use a multiple run/pass strategy, Winters said.
“We’re physical. We’ve got great running backs and we plan to use ‘em,” Winters said. “We feel like we’re five, six deep in the position.”
Last year, the Warriors lost in their homecoming game to the GVSU Lakers 17-38 (and before you ask- no, Fetty Wap was not in attendance).
Cunningham said that in order to not let that happen again, the team needs to make sure they do not go outside of the offense and help their opponents to score.
“Basically, we have to learn from our mistakes and don’t shoot ourselves in the foot as much,” Cunningham said. “By watching film from the homecoming game and other losses, we can build and have a better team.”
He said another team goal to offset losses like the one against Grand Valley is to take the season game by game. Athletics officials said that the team will not plan for each game until a week before to maintain their focus.
In order for the defensive team to have success this season, their goal is to play with great intensity and their linemen back up the defensive team, Winters said.
“We have three fifth-year seniors at the linebacker position,” said Winters, “and that’s the strength of the defense right there. Those guys have played a lot of football and won a lot of games.”
In addition to veteran team players like Cunningham, wide receiver Manny Mendoza and running back Romello Brown, Winters said there are some new ones as well.
Eleven senior players graduated last year, and new players were added to the team to match that number. Ten of the new faces are freshmen - quarterbacks Jacob AmRhein, Westley Brandon and Steve Glenn; offensive linemen Nolan Smith and Brendan Hrcka; wide receivers DaVarie Halliburton and Ray’Jon Williams-Jackson; running back Dillon Powell and tight end Evan Conn.
The Warriors also added their 11th player, quarterback Dakota Kupp, from Central Michigan University.
“We’ve got some outstanding young guys on the line… and they’re gonna play hard,” Winters said.
Winters said he considers the fans a part of the team as well, and has one message to them this season: their enthusiasm is contagious.
“When the students get into it, our players get into it,” Winters said. “Our atmosphere, because of our students, is outstanding. Everybody wants to watch Michigan [and] Michigan State; we’ll create that atmosphere right here.”
Home games are free for students to attend when they bring their OneCard. The kickoff game is September 3 against the Northwood University Timberwolves.