With tonight’s season opener, the Bulls find themselves looking to begin strong and perhaps surpass the mediocre preseason expectations for the team with a successful run. The players came up with an 8-3 record at the end of the team’s first Division I-A season and some praise from the media like a postseason ranking of 30th in the New York Times.
However, the team now looks at endeavoring on its toughest schedule to date and find themselves once again viewed as a program on the verge and not quite ready for the praise of media and pollsters. And why not? An 8-3 season last year doesn’t really prove anything does it?
“I think that last season our record was good, but where we need to be at is better than where we were,” wide receiver Huey Whittaker said. “All those rankings in the 90s and 100s, that just fuels us to work harder.”
“The key is for us to work harder and get better,” Whittaker said. “That way we can gain the respect we think we deserve.”
With a big win over Pittsburgh in the second week of last season and sweeping the last six games of the season, some of the members of the team find themselves questioning, “Where is our respect?”
“You can’t really do anything about what is said,” wide receiver Chris Iskra said. “You just go out there and play. You have to prove them wrong. We proved a lot of people wrong last year, and we have to keep doing that until we get the respect we think we’ve earned.”
Out of 117 I-A teams, a No. 91 ranking from The Sporting News and a No. 71 ranking from CollegeFootballNews.com is not the recognition the Bulls think they deserve. But some have come to expect it.
“We know we are going to be underrated all the time,” linebacker Kawika Mitchell said. “They’re not going to give us anything. We are not going to get that kind of respect until we earn it. That’s the way we think about it.”
Whittaker views the preseason rankings as motivation for the team, not a slap in the face.
“I never agree with (criticisms) that come from the outside,” Whittaker said. “We are a family inside. Their beliefs are my beliefs; the team sticks together. We believe we are greater than the credit we get. The only way to prove that is to do it on game day.”
Likewise, Mitchell agrees with the opinions working as motivation, stating that the team can’t spend time worrying about polls and not focusing on their games.
“We just have to keep progressing and earn our own respect,” Mitchell said. “Last year was a good season; I don’t think it was good enough, though. We always hope to be 11-0, so until we have that perfect season, I don’t think we as a team will be satisfied.”
And with that type of focus, Mitchell thinks the team will find satisfaction. However, nothing short of a perfect season will satisfy others.
“It’s never enough,” wide receiver C.J. Lewis said. “You always want to strive for more. We are definitely not satisfied. We just use the criticisms as motivation. We are here as a team. We are going to fight for the wins for us as a team.”