It's September and in the sporting world, that can only mean one thing: football season is officially underway.
The 2016 season is shaping up to be an interesting one for the Whittier College Football team, as they seek to establish a new identity under the guidance of an entirely new coaching staff. After last year's winless season, former Head Coach Todd Stratton resigned and the Athletics department hired Mike Neale, a defensive coordinator from Albright College, soon after. Neale hopes to bring a new winning culture to the Whittier Football program, which hasn't managed to capture a SCIAC title since 1998.
The Poets have completely reconstructed their coaching staff, with the only returning member being Offensive Coordinator Mark Mejia, who served as Quarterback Coach for the past two seasons at Whittier. With the exception of Mejia, the members of this new coaching staff include: Defensive Coordinator Ryan Jirgl, Offensive Line Coach Eric Wade, Wide Receivers Coach Brett Bartolone, Special Teams and Defensive Backs Coach Dean Schofield, Running Backs Coach Joey Cejudo, Defensive Line Coach Jeremy Atencio and Offensive Assistant Coach Philip Chou.
These new coaches were all brought in by Neale in the hopes that they will offer an outsider's perspective on how to turn the program into a winning one. Before the season started, Neale revealed the theme for the team this year, which he calls "Reach Your Full Potential" (RYFP). The new coaching staff aims to make an immediate impact on the team by mentoring the players as people, students and athletes.
The story of this new coaching staff grabbed the attention of the Whittier College Sports Network, who documented the training camp in a Hard Knocks-style web series over the summer. The series featured a behind-the-scenes look at the team's training camp, including interviews with players and coaches that were also shared with the Quaker Campus.
"I really love every hint about [the coaches]," explained senior defensive back Billy Thomas. "There's no gray area. They let us know exactly what they want, how they want done, and it's up to us to perform."
"The coaches are a lot younger than our old coaches, so training camp this year has had a more up-tempo pace to it," linebacker Austin Brasher said at the conclusion of training camp. "It's a whole new level of energy this year, but ultimately, it's still on the players to all come in here and do our jobs."
Coach Neale seemed to be impressed with the way his players were handling camp. Neale maintained his strict attitude however on the day-to-day activities. "The guys have overcome both the mental and physical challenges of each practice. We're striving to be 10 at the end of each practice, and I feel like everyone has been responding well."
Hearing that players are responding well to training camp is always a good sign given their demanding schedules. On a typical day, players were required to be up by 6 a.m. and ready to begin conditioning and weight training. Watching films and installing different plays would take up most of the morning, followed by practice in the afternoon and a review of the practice film during the evening. As camp progressed, the team would move to two practices a day, with one in the morning after the install and one in the afternoon after lunch.
"The most challenging part of camp is just staying healthy physically," said senior tight end Brenton Bray. "The two-a-day practices can really take a toll on your body, so the biggest challenge is just taking care of your body and finding a way to stay healthy."
Thomas echoed Bray's thoughts. "No matter how hard you work all summer, nothing prepares you for camp," explained Thomas. "It's always a grind."
The Football training camp officially concluded on Sept. 3, but the team will still be hard at work during the final week of the semester as they prepare for the season opener against Whitworth. Come see the Poets take on the Whitworth Pirates on saturay at 11 a.m. at Memorial Stadium as they look to make a statement.