Spring football has arrived for the Fighting Scots and it’s here like never before. First-year head coach Mike Rader and the rest of his newly acquired staff have big plans for the Scots.
The expectations are higher than ever, but Rader knows that with great expectation comes great responsibility.
“Expectations are to take it one day at a time,” Rader said. “I don’t want everyone to be concerned with wins and losses. I just want us to get better every day, and the wins will take care of themselves. It’s about every day making sure we win that day and get better that day. Nothing in this game or in life is guaranteed. Just because we are making changes around here doesn’t guarantee wins; we still have to put in the work every day.”
Rader, a Johnson City native, played wide receiver for East Tennessee State University and later went on to coach for his alma mater, Troy, before serving as the receivers coach for MC’s rival Huntingdon College.
In his short time as the head of the football Scots, Rader has completely changed the culture from that which those in the program are so used to seeing.
“It’s a complete 180-degree swing,” said senior linebacker Jamie Owen.
Owen, a 6-foot-1-inch, 230-pound linebacker, was selected as first-team all-conference for the Scots last season as a defensive end.
Owen compared his feelings this spring to his state of mind last year.
“[I am] definitely more excited. I’ll be a senior, so I know I’m never going to play again, and that gives me a lot of motivation. Everyone will be in the best shape of their life by the time fall comes around. These workouts we are doing are intense.”
When Rader was hired, establishing the right mindset in the weight room was one of his top priorities. Owen, whose progress is indicative of the team’s results as a whole, has gained 30 pounds of muscle this offseason due to Rader’s new workouts.
In addition to the new weight room system, practice itself is also vastly different. The level of intensity and speed that is demanded out by the entire coaching staff is something that Scots players are not accustomed to.
This spring has a much more up-tempo pace to it: players are required to “fly around” everywhere they go. These are the types of habits with which coaches want players to become familiar so that going full speed becomes second nature by the time fall comes around.
With the addition of coach Rader also came a new offensive scheme.
“Early on it was brand new, but I am happy with what [the players] have been able to learn since the first day,” Rader said. “We are just trying to fine-tune with all the little things of each play.”
One Scot who is going to need to master the system is highly touted wide receiver Blake Williams.
“I feel like I am getting it pretty well,” said Williams, a sophomore from Clinton. “It’s a lot less complicated than it was last season, and it’s definitely going to be more effective. This offense is much more explosive than last year’s offense.”
Williams proved last season to be a reliable force on the field, with 23 receptions on the season, including a 40-yard touchdown reception against North Carolina Weslyan.
With coach Rader also serving as the wide receivers coach, Williams will have closes eyes on him throughout the spring and fall. And with the loss of All-American wide receiver Wesley Idlette to graduation, Williams is going to be expected to produce big numbers as the team’s No. 1 option.
“Playing with Wesley really helped me learn a lot … like reading defenses and finding holes in the defense,” Williams said. “Other guys are going to have to step up, too, because one good receiver isn’t going to be able to carry the team.”
Along with Williams, other notable wide receivers that will be expected to produce will be senior Tim Foster, a 6-foot-6-inch former basketball player, and the 5-foot-11-inch speedster Ed Johnson.
Foster, who played tight end last season, improved immensely over the course of 2011 and showed off his skills against Averett by hauling in two touchdowns.
Johnson, though, knows that with Williams and Foster getting a lot of attention from defenses, he will need to step up.
“Right now, I’m obviously working hard in the weight room and running hard,” Johnson said. “I’m also on a weight-gaining diet so my body will be prepared when fall comes around. In high school I was always the one to make the play when my team needed it, so I feel like I will be able to step up and be that guy when my number is called by Coach Rader.”
The Scots offense will be rounded out by a dynamic duo at running back. Travis Felder, the team’s offensive MVP last season, and Paul Costanzo plan to add to a rushing attack that the Scots have lost sight of in recent years.
Not only is the offense going through some adjustments, but the defense is also under construction. Newly acquired defensive coaches include defensive coordinator Scott Brumett and defensive backs coach Teddy Gaines.
Brumett, Lincoln County native and former teammate of Rader’s at ETSU, has been hired to command the defense. Previously the defensive coordinator at Brevard College in Asheville, N.C., Brumett is excited about what he sees in the Scots defense so far.
“We have a pretty good group up front, and our secondary is going to be a strong point of our defense,” Brumett said. “We are just like the Ravens and the Steelers: we’re going to be an aggressive 3-4 defense.”
Much like Rader, Brumett is setting the goals and expectations high.
“Our goal would be to lead the conference in total defense, sacks and turnovers,” he said.
Brumett knows the key player to lead the defense to these lofty goals.
“Jamie Owen. Instead of being a true defensive end, he will now be playing outside linebacker. Jamie has already committed to the position and is set on staying over the summer and taking over his new role.”
Owen knows that expectations are high but also realizes that football is a team game. He is also aware of the path to success.
“Hard work in the weight room and having faith in my teammates to make plays when teams are more focused on me,” Owen said. “Last year, we lacked in turnovers, but I think this year we are going to have a lot more.”
During his time at MC, Owen has earned the reputation of being one of the hardest workers on the team.
“My thing is to give everything I got, but more important is to make sure everyone else is doing the same. One person isn’t enough.”
Owen believes that the team has gotten the message.
“I think we have put in more work than ever before,” he said. “We are going to be better than we have been in a long time. Our senior class has to leave a winning foundation behind.”
This spring has been filled with excitement and publicity that the Scots aren’t used to seeing. With the addition of the new coaches, the media and the community have also proven to be very enthusiastic about this upcoming season, frequently attending what were previously considered banal practices.
It seems as though expectations have never been higher for the Fighting Scots. With the addition of a new coaching staff and improved attitudes throughout the roster, Scots fans can expect the team to live up to the hype.