No more excuses. After two years toiling as an affiliate league member, the football team has finally found a home as a full member of the Mid-American Conference.
“It means everything,” coach Al Golden said about the team’s first season in the MAC. “It’s changed the whole landscape. “We’re in the business to get into bowl games now,” he said, “and that’s why I came.”The Owls, who finished 1-11 last season, want to establish themselves as worthy contenders in a conference that sent four teams – Central Michigan, Northern Illinois, Ohio and Western Michigan – to bowl games last season.
“As a team, we want to show people we can play [in that conference],” said red-shirt junior right tackle Jabari Ferguson. But before Temple can face their MAC East Division opponents (Akron, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Kent State, Miami and Ohio), the Owls will kickoff their season against Navy on Aug. 31 at Lincoln Financial Field. With only five seniors on the roster, the team is looking for leadership from players of all experience.
During preseason camp, Golden emphasized the importance of establishing a “player-driven” team and some of the players said they saw signs of that developing in the summer.
“The other day at practice we had a big team meeting and we talked about a lot of things,” quarterback Adam DiMichele said. “That was one of the signs that [Golden] was looking for.”
DiMichele, a red-shirt junior, is one of five captains on the team, along with red-shirt junior defenjunior center Alex Derenthal, sophomore cornerback Anthony Ferla and red-shirt senior defensive back Abioye Oyeyemi.The Owls’ quarterback said the meeting, along with several team-building excursions in the offseason, helped bring players together.
He said the team talked about “everything and anything” in the meeting and several players were able to get a lot off their chest. “There are plenty of guys, besides the captains, who have shown leadership
on this team,” DiMichele said.
Azubuike said coaches pegged him as a leader on the team after watching him switch from tight end to outside linebacker to defensive end in three seasons, in addition to playing special teams.
“They know that they can get a positive response from you and they know you can make an impact on the team,” Azubuike said.
“It just kind of happened and I embraced it, because I want the best for my team.”
Discipline is what appeared to be best for the Owls during Golden’s first season. Now, in his second go-around with the team, Golden said the atmosphere surrounding the team is starting to change.
“I’ve found myself coaching a lot more now [rather] than just being an administrator,” Golden said. “The players are starting to police themselves a little bit more. So, it’s not just one person’s vision anymore. It’s really becoming a lot of people’s visions. It’s really becoming a culture.”
During his first 19 months on the job, Golden said the coaches had to focus on, “instill[ing] our values, our principles and trying to change individual behavior.”
“Now, our focus is on moving forward and becoming a team and that’s what we have to get done here this year,” Golden said.Junior defensive back Georg Coleman
said preseason camp, where several players on the team fought to obtain top positions on the depth chart, helped bring the team together.
“That was our main goal,” Coleman said about camp. “It was a confidence booster to go into the season.”
Confidence may be high, but the time for talk is almost over. The Owls must prove their mettle on the field.Temple is predicted to finish sixth in the seven-team MAC East Division, according to a MAC News Media Association preseason poll. The Owls have only four wins in the last four seasons.
What will it take for the team to improve this season?
“I think it’s going to take all of us,” red-shirt sophomore defensive back Dominique Harris said. “It’s going to take the whole team to have that drive and passion to win.” The passion to win has grown since Golden arrived on campus in December 2005, Coleman said. There has been a noticeable change in the direction
of the program, he said.
“It’s like night and day,” Coleman said. “We work a lot harder because we’re going for a bigger goal now. We’re going for the MAC Championship.
“We’re not just going out to win one or two games,” Coleman added. “Coach has put it in our heads since day one, ‘Everyday you wake up, think about a MAC Championship.'”
Expectations are high and Golden said the team knows what he wants to see this season.
“We want to be a tough team,” Golden said. “We want to be known as a relentless team and as a team that finishes.”
No more excuses.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at email@example.com.