By Jason LinebergerStaff Writer
Sometimes we all need a fresh start. You know the times in your life where you must put the past behind you and look towards the future. It could be starting a new job, moving to a new location or, for us as students, starting a new semester. For the Catamount football team it means leaving behind the cloud of emotion that has surrounded the team’s recent lack of success and creating a new emotion-a winning one. First year head coach Dennis Wagner brings that emotion and fire as a new era of Catamount football begins. Wagner, a former head coach at Wayne State and assistant at Fresno State, also coached lineman at Nebraska, giving him big time experience and knowledge of winning football. That experience proves key for a team who has only won eight games the past three seasons. As Wagner took over the squad he also appointed some changes in the coaching staff naming Matt Pawlowski as assistant coach and defensive coordinator. Changes were also made at offensive coordinator as Keith Heckendorf got the call. Along with new faces on the coaching staff and a new outlook, Western welcomes a lot of talent who are new to the playing field as they lost 14 seniors last season. On offense, the Catamounts return five starters. The quarterback spot is wide open with three players all competing for playing time this season. Senior Andy Horn and sophomore Adam Hearns combine for just four starts and red-shirt freshman Zack Jaynes has yet to see the field, meaning all three will have to learn how to manage the game quickly. At receiver, Western loses All-American wide receiver Eddie Cohen to graduation. Marquell Pitman, a red-shirt sophomore who caught five touchdowns last season will be looked to as the leading receiver. Red-shirt freshman receiver V.J. Hunt will also see the field often after an impressive spring game. Western will also rely on red-shirt junior Kyle Garland, sophomore Greg Clark, and transfers Adrian Collins and Sterlin James. At running back the Catamounts will also have to rely on talents who have not seen much time on the field after both backs from last season are gone. Quan Warley and Josh Wright were red-shirted last season and will be joined by two transfers, Jayson Williams and Evan Williams. The offensive line returns three starters led by center Kevin Wiggins, senior tackle James Singletary and junior guard Ben Davies. Seniors Josh Deaver and Ryan Cooper will also see the field, as well as sophomore Matt Winter. Along with fulfilling his head coaching responsibilities, Coach Wagner brings his experience coaching lineman to the Catamounts, taking the reigns over the position. Defensively Western returns six starters. Two of those starters, seniors Jeff Bradley and Keanon Orrwill, look to lead the defensive line and use their experience to fill gaps and holes in the opponent’s front line. Junior Gene Singletary, red-shirt junior Joe Clark-Dear, junior Charles Johnson, sophomore Jon Julien, and red-shirt sophomore C.J. Johson will also provide key roles at depth on the defensive line. At linebacker the Catamounts return leading tackler last season Quintin Phillips who is joined by two seniors, Michael Shaw and Chaz Jackson. Phillips had 127 tackles last season, making the All SoCon team and was named honorable mention for All-American. In the secondary, Western will have to replace two key players Carlton Bailey and Meko Watson who were looked to as primary leaders on the team. Junior safety Chris Collins will provide the most experience and was the Catamounts second leading tackler last season. He is joined by Darrell Gray who also started a year ago. On special teams place-kicker Jonathan Parsons is gone, giving the competition to juniors Mark Sides and Blake Bostic, and freshman Andrew Bathiany. Punting the ball this season will be freshman Blake Cain. John McDaris returns as long snapper after he suffered an injury in the Alabama game last season. As for Western’s schedule, the Catamounts have little room for error. The schedule opens at home on a Thursday night against Shorter at E.J. Whitmire Stadium under the lights. The following week Western takes an intimidating road trip to Tallahassee where they’ll face the Florida State Seminoles in front of what should be a hostile crowd at the Seminoles’ opener. That game will mark the beginning of a tough road schedule for Western, playing at out of conference Presbyterian, as well as SoCon foes Citadel, Furman, Wofford and Elon. As for the home schedule, the Catamounts will face out of conference opponent Liberty September 13, new Southern Conference member Samford October 4, Georgia Southern October 25, and Chattanooga November 1. The Catamounts close their home schedule and the regular season in The Battle for the Old Mountain Jug against rival Appalachian State November 22. The game will be televised on Sports South. Time will tell how this new era of Western football will play out. One thing is for certain, the Catamounts are not dwelling on the past. As this year’s NFL saying goes, “Believe in Now.” That’s what this year’s football team is doing. Forgetting the past, focusing on the future. A new excitement is in the air in Cullowhee. Coach Wagner has brought a new sense of urgency and determination in his players and staff. The first chance to see your Catamount football team in action will be Thursday August 21 at the Meet the Cats controlled practice, scheduled for 6 pm. The practice is open to all students and fans. Coaches, players and cheerleaders will be available for autographs at 7:30pm.