Warriors focused on getting back to winning

There seemed to be a hesitation among members of the Lycoming football team to talk about the potential of this year’s team. They all know potential is just that and nothing is set in stone.

If nothing else, the last few years have helped educate the Warriors on the meaningless notion of potential. Because without results, none of that matters.

So even though there is an opportunity in front of Lycoming to snap its streak of four consecutive losing seasons, it’s not really something anybody wanted to discuss at length during the preseason. It’s a team tired of talking about how close it has been the last few years to being a really good football team. And it’s a team tired of talking about potential.

Instead, Lycoming’s entire focus is on fipping the script and getting back to the winning ways the program has long been noted for. Even though the 2018 season ended with an appearance in the annual MAC-Centennial Bowl Series against Franklin & Marshall, that game ended with another disappoint defeat where the Warriors managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

“Listen, I didn’t come back here just to lose,” said senior captain Ahmad Curtis, who is back for his fifth season.

It’s been easy over the last couple seasons for coach Mike Clark and the rest of the team to point to various plays over the course of the 10-game regular season and say how they could have had winning records, and they’d all be right. Last season the Warriors finished 5-6 and lost four games by one score or less, including one-point losses to both Franklin & Marshall and Stevenson. In 2017, the Warriors were 4-6 with four losses by a combined 14 points. And in 2016, Lycoming was 3-7 with four losses by 17 combined points.

But in each respect, Clark was quick to point out how each of those seasons could have been even worse. Six of the Warriors’ 12 wins over the last three seasons have come by six points or fewer. So despite returning one of the most experienced and talented defenses in Clark’s now 12-year tenure, and despite returning a sophomore starting quarterback whose name is littered through the Lycoming record book for single-season results, there is a little hesitation as this group talks about potential.

“Last year was nice because you play in a postseaon bowl game, but what does that really mean,” Clark said. “We could have been an eight-win team last year and we were a five-win team.”

The positive thing everyone in the Lycoming program should hang its hat on is they all seem to recognize what has happened in the last few years isn’t the standard they’re shooting for. Most, if not all of the players on the roster, came to Williamsport because of the tradition of winning Lycoming has in its history. But last year marked the first time since the 1971 through 1974 seasons Lycoming endured four consecutive losing seasons.

It was a fact which hit last year’s seniors hard as they walked off the field at Franklin & Marshall. Those seniors graduated without ever having had a winning season. Four of the members of that senior class are back for a fifth year after injuries took a year of competition away from them. Curtis, Jarrell Payne and D.J. Boyd have all returned to the defense, and Dan Sipps is one of four returning starters on the offensive line, except this year he slides from guard to center.

Those players kick the season off today at Susquehanna in the annual Stagg Hat Trophy Game, where the Warriors have won just one of the last four meetings after taking 13 of the previous 15 from the River Hawks.

Despite the tepid response to the beginning of the season, it doesn’t mean there isn’t excitement around this football team. In fact, there has been potentially more energy surrounding the start to this season at Lycoming than any other in recent memory. Those withing the David Person Field locker room understand there’s an opportunity to turn around the direction of the program this season even if it’s something they’re not outwardly discussing.

“The energy on this team is outrageous,” senior captain John Schmidt said. “I’ve never seen anything like it, and this is my fourth year here. We’ve had some great teams here even if the records might not show it. But the energy is unmatched.”

“The older guys here, we’re trying to set a standard for the younger guys to build on,” Curtis said. “We’re trying to give those younger guys a sense of urgency and excitement to take their years here and help feed it into a cycle of winning. And if everyone feeds into it, then it keeps going.”

Clark said the entire team took a look in the mirror after last season to try and reevaluate how things are done and what needed to be changed, and that included the coaching staff. They didn’t take the opportunity to play in a postseason bowl game, or beating league-leading Misericordia on the season’s final day as a reason to be overly optimistic about the season they had.

So this preseason hasn’t been about potential or expectations. This preseason has been about focusing on what they can best control, which is what they do on the football field. And if this is a team which can eliminate some of the mistakes which have plagued it in recent years to go along with its raw talent, well there’s reason to be optimistic.

“We’re just trying to be the best team we can be right now,” Clark said. “We can be a really good team, but you can’t beat yourself and you can’t make mistakes. So those are the standards we’re trying to do a better job with.”