Ogden • Weber State coach Jay Hill didn’t want to hear about past success.
Frankly, the Wildcats have had that success for only one season. Hill, as would any other coach who has experienced a breakthrough, wants more. And at this moment, with Weber State having not played a game, Hill doesn’t want his players buying into the hype.
“Right now, we’re not good enough,” said the man heading into his fifth season at a place not many thought could reach its current state when he took the job.
It’s easy to scoff at Hill’s words. The Wildcats are coming off a year where they won a school-record 11 games. They shared the Big Sky Conference title, nearly upset eventual national runner-up James Madison in the FCS quarterfinals and finished the season ranked fifth in the country. This year, Weber State is ranked No. 8 nationally in the FCS coaches preseason poll.
They return a deep and talented team, led by senior linebacker LeGrand Toia and offensive lineman Iosua Opeta, Weber State has five players who are preseason All-Americans. The Wildcats have 10 players who garnered All-Big Sky honors. So, it’s easy to dismiss Hill saying they aren’t good enough as coachspeak.
But, here’s the thing: The Wildcats aren’t in this for conference titles, All-American plaques and free T-shirts. They want to win a national title. And more than anything, that’s what Hill is talking about. Is it possible to attain such greatness? Who knows. But as Weber State heads into its season-opener at Utah, winning it all is the ultimate goal.
“As long as we abide to the plan of winning, we feel like we can come out victorious in every game,” Toia said. “We have a lot of toughness and a lot of talent. We just want to come out and enjoy each other every day.”
Weber State has so much talent and depth at the skill positions and on the interior, it’s easy to overlook some questions about the roster. But the Wildcats are still looking for a starting quarterback to replace the departed Stefan Cantwell.
Jake Constantine, Kaden Jenks and Braden Miles are vying for the spot. Jenks and Constantine came to the forefront as fall camp progressed, with Constantine taking many of the first team reps in recent practices.
Constantine, a Boise State transfer, is a pro-style quarterback and if he wins the starting job, he’ll have plenty of people to throw to, such as preseason All-American Rashid Shaheed.
Talent is one thing. A good recruiter can create a talented roster. A culture shift within a program isn’t as easy, but that’s what Hill has been able to accomplish.
“Coming in, I always saw this coaching staff as elite,” Opeta said. “I knew if we could get the whole team to buy in, that eventually it would pay off. I think the biggest difference over the years is our closeness as a team. When I first got here five years ago, I didn’t always fit in and the seniors didn’t do the greatest job of bringing the younger players along. Now, the chemistry on the team has been great, and that makes a difference.”
WEBER STATE’S 2018 SCHEDULE
August 30 • at Utah, 6 p.m.
The Utes certainly aren’t going to take the Wildcats lightly.
September 8 • at Cal Poly, 7:05 p.m.
On the road for the Big Sky opener, but this shouldn’t be too difficult.
September 15 • South Dakota, 6 p.m.
Finally, a home game for the Wildcats.
September 22 • Northern Colorado, 6 p.m.
Conor Regan sports a big arm as Northern Colorado’s quarterback.
October 6 • at Northern Arizona, 2:30 p.m.
First game after a bye week, so Weber State should be fresh.
October 13 • Eastern Washington, 4:05 p.m.
Eagles are traditionally one of the better teams in the Big Sky.
October 20 • Montana State, 4 p.m.
Bobcats gave Weber State all it wanted last year.
October 27 • at North Dakota, 1 p.m.
The two teams didn’t face each other last season.
November 3 • Sacramento State, 12 p.m.
Ex-Wildcat coach Jody Sears is the reigning Big Sky coach of the year.
November 10 • at Southern Utah, 5 p.m.
T-Birds gave Weber State its only conference loss last season.
November 17 • at Idaho State, 2:35 p.m.
The Bengals limped to a 4-7 finish last season.
The Wildcats will succeed if ... They keep their eyes on the prize. Last season, they won the Big Sky title and advanced to the FCS quarterfinals. If they don’t rest on their laurels, there aren’t many reasons why this shouldn’t be another big season for Weber State.
The Wildcats won’t succeed if ... They suffer rampant injuries, or if the new QB can’t acclimate himself. It’s hard to see much going wrong if this team stays healthy. Last season’s team nearly beat California; this group is one of the most talented FCS teams in the country.
The bottom line is ... With so many dynamic players returning, Weber State knows what it is capable of. The Wildcats want to prove last season was no fluke. They have the talent and the depth to run the table in the Big Sky. Can they accomplish it?