Lycoming football ignoring the hype

The sentiment was overwhelming Thursday morning. Talk to member after member of the Lycoming football team and they’d dismiss the notion of being the No. 1 team in the Middle Atlantic Conference preseason coaches poll.

To the Warriors in preseason training camp, it was easy to dismiss the poll which anointed Lycoming the favorites to win the MAC title. Heck, offensive coordinator Scott Brisson put the kibosh on the preseason poll meaning anything some two weeks ago on Twitter.

“I checked the mail today, no banner came for the preseason poll,” Brisson tweeted.

It’s a sentiment the coaching staff has driven into the minds of their players. While it was nice recognition, the preseason poll carries no weight in the Warriors’ locker room, and the players expressed that during media day on Thursday at David Person Field.

“It doesn’t matter at all. We haven’t been thinking about it ever,” Lycoming senior receiver Matt Atkinson said. “We talked about it once and when we did talk about it, we said it doesn’t matter. We’re not playing like we have a target on our backs. We’re going to be the best we can be, preseason ranked No. 1 or not.”

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” junior quarterback Tyler Jenny said. “We’re just going to keep taking it practice by practice and game by game and let the pieces fall where they may.”

It wasn’t necessarily a surprise to Warriors head coach Mike Clark that Lycoming was picked to finish first by the conference’s head football coaches. He thought he had a pretty good football team returning this fall.

But he said the honor was more about what last year’s players did to create this opportunity. It’s the first time the Warriors have been selected atop the preseason poll since 2004, a year in which they were coming off a 9-2 finish and an appearance in the NCAA quarterfinals.

“It’s great that people recognize that we’re in the discussion,” Clark said. “It’s not that we’re not excited because we are. But we had four first-place votes, Albright had three, Widener had two and Delaware Valley had one. It’s not like the nine other coaches are saying we should run away with it. Do we deserve it? We’re definitely one of the best teams in the league. But we still have 12 weeks of work and growth. This team, while talented, we have a lot of work to do before we win a championship.”

And it’s an idea his players endorse. After back-to-back years of losing key MAC games on the final possession which cost Lycoming a shot at the MAC title, the fire is still burning to capture the school’s first conference championship since 2008 and the 15th overall.

Most tweets from Brisson and the Lycoming football Twitter accounts come with a Chasing 15 hashtag at the end of it just to further emphasize what the goal is for the team. And to win the conference, the Warriors will have to beat one of the more parity-laden MAC schedules in recent memory.

Four of the 10 teams in the league received a first-place vote in the preseason poll, and the top four teams were separated by just 11 points. And that doesn’t even include the likes of Lebanon Valley and Wilkes, to perennially pesky teams, and a fast-rising Stevenson team which is poised for its best season since joining the MAC three years ago.

“You can’t take anyone lightly. You can’t afford to take anyone lightly,” defensive tackle Dwight Hentz said. “If we let any one of those teams hang around, those are the team that will knock you off.”

“We’ve been beaten down. We’ve been right there and lost,” Atkinson said. “The number one goal is the league championship. We’re practicing like we’re playing in that championship game every day. It’s the reason for us to want to perform every day.”

The reality is, though, Lycoming was voted No. 1 for a reason. The Warriors return three players on defense – Hentz, Kabongo Bukasa and Tanner Troutman – who were voted preseason All-Americans by various outlets.

The offense returns its quarterback and a slew of position players who made significant contributions during last year’s 8-2 season. It’s a combination which has folks around Lycoming excited. But it’s a tempered excitement. There’s far too much football to play before anything is decided.

“It’s great and it means we’ve gone from being average to being good. But it’s a meaningless poll,” Clark said. “I’m not surprised. I think we are good. I think we can win a league championship. But I think there’s a lot of teams out there, including Wilkes in our league opener, Misericordia, Stevenson and Lebanon Valley who didn’t get first-place votes who will try to do something about it.”

“We can get excited, but we can’t let it get in our head,” Bukasa said. “While you’re on the field it doesn’t mean anything. We still have to win games. Awards are nice, but it doesn’t win you the MAC or send you to the playoffs.”