Weber State’s Taron Johnson finally achieved his biggest goal after two seasons of rebuilding.
And the experience, frankly, left him feeling a little let down.
“Going into the game, maybe we were content just getting into the playoffs,” the Wildcats standout defensive back said. “I feel like this year, when we get to the playoffs, it will be a whole different mindset.”
Mindsets and expectations certainly seem to be different around the Ogden campus this fall as the Wildcats prepare for their fourth season under coach Jay Hill. Weber State started 0-9 in Hill’s first season in 2014, but has gone 15-13 overall since. Weber State is ranked No. 22 in the FCS coaches poll coming into this season — and its goals and expectations are much higher still.
“I would expect us to take another step forward,” Hill said. “… But we still have a huge step to take if we’re going to be a consistent contender. I don’t think we’ve taken that yet.”
What would that step look like for Weber State after last year’s seven-win campaign and the Wildcats’ first trip to the playoffs since 2009?
“Win a Big Sky championship,” Johnson said. “I honestly think we have the talent to do that.”
Johnson, an FCS Preseason All-American selection, and Big Sky preseason all-conference linebacker Landon Stice will lead the Wildcats’ defense this year.
The offense, meanwhile, has some catching up to do as Hill looks to replace a number of key players from last year’s squad. Weber State seems ready to hand the keys to the offense to senior quarterback Stefan Cantwell. But Hill needs to see some more from the former Bingham High and Snow College standout.
“He’s got to continue to progress,” Hill said. “It’s been a long time since he’s played a lot of minutes in a football game. … We need to get him in a game and get him hit and standing in the pocket when he’s getting pressure. That’s when I’ll know exactly what we’ve got. But my expecation is that he’ll handle it like a champ. He’s tough as nails.”
Fortunately, Cantwell will have one of the country’s best tight ends as a safety net: 6-foot-5 preseason All-American Andrew Vollert. Vollert caught 62 passes for 840 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
But the numbers that stand out in his mind are 45-14, the score of Weber State’s loss to Chattanooga in its first-round playoff game.
“That still stings,” Vollert said. “That’s on every guy’s mind for sure. That’s not acceptable anymore. We’re not going to be happy to just make the playoffs. We want to win a Big Sky championship. We want to make a playoff run. We want to make some noise.”
Weber State schedule
Sept. 2 • vs. Mont.-Western, 6 p.m.
Sept. 9 • at Cal, 3 p.m.
Sept. 16 • at Sacramento St., 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 • vs. UC Davis, 5 p.m.
Sept. 30 • at Montana St., 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 • vs. Southern Utah, 6 p.m.
Oct. 21 • at Cal Poly, 7:05 p.m.
Oct. 28 • vs. Montana, 1 p.m.
Nov. 4 • at E. Washington, 2:05 p.m.
Nov. 11 • at Portland St., 3 p.m.
Nov. 18 • vs. Idaho State, 2 p.m.