Yes, it might have seemed kind of a reach at the time. When Jay Hill took over as the Weber State coach three years ago, it looked like a long shot that guys such as senior quarterback Jadrian Clark would ever see the FCS playoffs before their football eligibility ran out.
But Clark had faith.
"A hundred percent," said Clark, who threw all of six passes the year before Hill came aboard.
"I always believed we had enough talent," he added. "We just finally found the right mix to where we are today — able to win seven games and make the playoffs."
Weber State (7-4) finished its regular season by defeating Cal Poly and Idaho State. The reward for the Wildcats is an at-large berth to the FCS playoffs and a road trip to play UT-Chattanooga in the first round on Saturday at noon MST.
It marks the Wildcats' first postseason appearance since 2009' the second of back-to-back playoff appearances under former Weber coach Ron McBride.
That, of course, was followed by a collapse, triggered when McBride's successor, John L. Smith, skipped out on the 'Cats after one spring practice to take a temporary head coaching job at Arkansas. The Wildcats plummeted under his replacement, Jody Sears, who won just two games each in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Hill's debut in 2014 produced just a pair of wins as well. But things were beginning to take their current shape in '14, particularly in regard to Clark — who started the last five games of that campaign.
Last year, Weber State improved to 6-5 for its first winning season since 2010.
"With where we were and everything we were trying to get done, when we took over, I think we're right about where we were hoping to be at this point," Hill said. "We're super excited about where we're at. We get to play a very, very good Chattanooga team. They're good on both sides of the ball."
Chattanooga (8-3) comes into the playoffs on a two-game losing streak. But the last loss was a 31-3 defeat at No. 1 Alabama — a game in which the Mocs were still within shouting distance at halftime (down 14-3) against the powerful Crimson Tide.
"They were playing with them through three quarters and that's the number one team in the country," Hill said. "I know one thing: They just played Alabama, so they're not going to come in scared about Weber State.
"I don't know, maybe they'll let their guard down a little bit and we can punch them in the mouth."
In the week leading up to the playoff game, the Big Sky announced its all-conference selections. Clark, from Lakeland, Fla., was picked to the All-Big Sky third team after throwing for 22 touchdowns and 2,823 yards this season.
Weber State had two first team Big Sky conference selections in senior linebacker Tre'von Johnson and junior tight end Andrew Vollert.
Johnson, who went to Hunter High School, had 42 solo tackles in the regular season while Vollert, who transfered from San Jose State, snagged a team-high 57 catches for 757 yards.
"That guy [Vollert] is a game-changer," Clark said. "He's my roommate, so we threw over the whole offseason. He really forces teams to key on him and that opens up other guys to go one-on-one."
Clark added that, prior to the season, the goals for Weber's players were to win a conference title and make the playoffs. The Big Sky championship didn't happen, but the postseason wish did.
"It's time to make some new goals," Clark said.