Provided by Wayland Baptist University
Butch Henderson admitted it. A year ago when the Wayland Baptist Pioneers officially kicked off their first football season in 72 years against Adams State University, the NCAA Division II Grizzlies manhandled his young NAIA team.
"Adams State was the most physical team we played all year," the WBU head coach said in looking back on the game that ended with Adams State winning with ease, 55-7. "After we played them we became a lot more physical."
Henderson is intent on the Pioneers not being manhandled by Adams State again when Wayland opens the 2013 season at 8 p.m. Friday in Alamosa, Colo. (For information on tracking the game online, go to www.wbuathletics.com.)
"The idea we approached this week with was ‘Meet the Challenge,'" Henderson said. "Our challenge this week is to be as physical as they are."
The coach is confident they will be.
"I feel like we are (ready)," he said.
The Pioneers figure to be better prepared if for no other reason they have a season under their belts. Unlike the inaugural campaign when Wayland fielded a team of almost all freshmen, the team's 78-player travel roster this week shows 39 sophomores and 37 freshmen, plus one junior (defensive end Holt Henderson) and one senior (tight end Josh Amador).
"A lot of these young men have been on our campus now for three years (including a ‘leadership class' in 2011) and in our system for three years," Henderson said. "Those young men have moved up another year in age, and that maturity level allows you to be able to do more things. Add around them the young men coming in new, and I feel good about where we are."
While Henderson feels confident in his team's preparation, he's absolutely sure the Pioneers are ready to take the field against their first opponent.
"They are really ready to play against somebody else," he said. "We spent four weeks in the spring and four weeks in the fall going against ourselves, so they're really ready to play against somebody other than their teammates. They're also ready to get into a playing routine where you work hard early in the week and taper down (as game day draws closer). For the past month there's been no tapering down."
Part of the Pioneers' hard work the past few weeks has been a series of intrasquad scrimmages, during which Henderson came away impressed.
"They went real well," he said of the scrimmages. "They gave us a lot more live work. The kids have gotten after it and gotten a lot better. We're a lot further along than we were last year. We've come a million miles."
Seeing that improvement has inspired Henderson.
"That's fun," he said. "It gives you momentum, and (the players) can feel that…they can sense that. Now we want to take off and continue to gain momentum."
As much as the Pioneers are looking forward to the start of the season, Adams State's Grizzlies are likely the same way. Unlike last season when the Grizzlies had already played a game when they traveled to Plainview, Friday night's contest will be the team's season-opener.
At 8-3, Adams State is coming off its best season ever in the school's D-II era. The Grizzlies bring back nine total starters, including a trio of all Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference defensive players in linebackers Vince Coach and Connor Stevens and cornerback Cariel Brooks, all juniors. Stevens is the team's top returning tackler with 77, followed by Coach with 67.
On offense, the Grizzlies operate out of a multiple spread directed by senior quarterback Cody Davies (6-2, 200). Davies passed for 1,155 yards and six touchdowns in 10 games a year ago, including 287 yards and three TDs against Wayland before he was pulled for a substitute. Combined, the two Grizzlies quarterbacks completed 27-of-29 passes while on the ground 10 Adams State rushers racked up another 288 yards. The Grizzles outgained Wayland, 642 to 223.
Wayland lost starting quarterback Anthony Campuzano in the third quarter of the game to a separated shoulder, which kept him out the next three weeks. While Campuzano, a sophomore, is expected to start on Friday night, Henderson expects sophomore Braden Hudson and redshirt-freshman Joshua Houghtaling of Artesia, N.M., to get a chance directing Wayland's no-huddle offense as well.
"All three of them are playing really well," the coach said.
The thing Henderson remembers most about last year's game is turnovers. The Pioneers fumbled the ball away four times and threw one interception.
"We moved the football, but they created a lot of turnovers," he said. "Defensively, we lined up with their offense and played pretty consistent, but just fighting from behind because of turnovers was tough."
Henderson looks for the Grizzlies to be tough again this season.
"They'll be very comparable (to last year)," he said. "They had two or three seniors (including free safety James Ackel who is trying to land a job in the NFL) who were really main players in their defense that they lost, but I'm sure they reloaded with the same type of athletes."
NOTE: Wayland's junior varsity team will play the first of four scheduled games at 2 p.m. Saturday at Greg Sherwood Memorial Bulldog Stadium against Western Mountain Academy of Albuquerque, N.M.