Note: The following is probably a little more than you need to know about the Sac State football program, but since we are playing them in a few days, I thought some of you may be interested.
After two losing seasons, he's confident the Hornets are a team of value
By John Schumacher -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Measuring progress can be tricky. Improvement comes in many forms, some more subtle than others.
As Sacramento State football coach Steve Mooshagian heads into his third season, he sees plenty of signs his program is headed in the right direction.
Start with 64 kids who stayed here this summer to work out. Add more depth and less reliance on true freshmen, a rise in confidence and a sense the Hornets have strengthened their recruiting efforts.
After 2-9 and 3-8 seasons, though, Mooshagian knows the best barometer of advancement ultimately comes down to wins and losses. While he can't guarantee progress in that category this season, he says he believes it will happen.
And he's willing to put his money where his mouth is.
"If someone bought a season-ticket package and at the end of the year said nothing positive about it, bring it back in here and I'll write them a check and give them their money back," Mooshagian said.
In other words, Mooshagian believes in his Hornets, perhaps more so than at any other time since the former Cincinnati Bengals receivers coach signed a four-year deal Jan. 15, 2003.
He lost All-America wide receiver Fred Amey and school career passing leader Ryan Leadingham, but Mooshagian is counting on 17 returning starters to help the program move forward.
Sophomore running back Ryan Mole ran for 858 yards and five touchdowns last season, earning co-Newcomer of the Year honors in the Big Sky Conference. Quarterbacks Chris Hurd, a transfer from Texas-El Paso, and returning backup Brad Tredway have looked sharp in practice. And the defense, led by lineman Jacob Houston, linebacker Matt Logue and safety Brett Shelton, all second-team all-Big Sky picks last season, looks like a strength.
Mooshagian said he expects perhaps five true freshmen to make significant contributions, down from the 15 or so he relied on last season.
Can the Hornets improve by a win or two?
"I'm expecting to be better than that," Mooshagian said. "Like I told the kids, you've got to dream big ... I think this group here is special.
"There's a different feeling around here. You don't have 64 guys stay here over the summer if you don't have something.
"I certainly believe ... that we're turning the corner."
Getting around the bend this season won't be easy. The Hornets open at No. 19 Cal on Saturday, then stay on the road for games at Cal Poly on Sept. 10 and Portland State on Sept. 17 before opening their home schedule with the annual Causeway Classic against UC Davis on Sept. 24.
"I'm more concerned with having the first three on the road than who the opponents are," said Mooshagian, who owns an 0-11 road record in two seasons at Sac State.
"We've got to learn to win on the road."
And win in the Big Sky. Conference coaches and media both picked the Hornets to tie for seventh with Weber State in the eight-team league.
To move forward, Mooshagian said he's emphasizing "the three most important 'F' words" - focus, fight and finish.
While Mooshagian seeks continued improvement, athletic director Terry Wanless said he sees plenty of signs of progress.
Wanless said he's pleased with the development of the football program's structure, things like quality depth, balance between offense and defense and between classes. And he says he likes what he sees in recruiting.
"Building relationships with high school coaches, that is so critical to the recruiting process," Wanless said. "They've done a good job of that, getting out into the community, not just Sacramento, but across the state.
"Until the program has a chance to grow in these other areas, it's very difficult to get to the wins and the immediacy of the situation."
Wanless, who coached football for 15 seasons at Towson in Maryland, said he understands what it takes to rebuild a program.
"We still have a lot of shortcomings in terms of facilities to attract kids," he said. "The future is, I think, very bright."
The present, though, remains a huge challenge. Those Hornets who've been around awhile hope this is the year things truly change.
"I think we can be real good this year," said Logue, a senior from Bear River High School. "Defensively, I think we'll be real good. I think we'll keep us in the games no matter what.
"For me, I just want to win. I've been here, I think I've won nine games in three years, maybe 10."
Tredway, the senior quarterback, isn't afraid to dream big.
"I don't know why we can't compete, I mean compete for the title, for the playoffs," he said. "Why not us?"
If that happens, Mooshagian will have more ammunition for his next recruiting trip.
"The foundation has been laid," Mooshagian said. "I always tell the kids they're on the ground floor, going up the elevator. The penthouse isn't that far."
Five keys for Sac State
1 Keep an eye on the quarterback - With school career passing leader Ryan Leadingham gone, the Hornets have a gaping hole to fill. Strong-armed UTEP transfer Chris Hurd has been impressive in practice but is waiting for a waiver from the NCAA to become eligible. Returning backup Brad Tredway shares the top spot on the depth chart with Hurd.
2 Is Mole the man? - Ryan Mole showed great promise last season, rushing for 858 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman to earn Big Sky Conference co-Newcomer of the Year honors. With no marquee names on offense, a big season from Mole would take pressure off the new quarterback starter and give the Hornets someone to build around. But he'll need that offensive line to perform.
3 Look for a leader - Linebacker Matt Logue was selected team captain last spring for a good reason. The second-team all-Big Sky pick anchors a defense that should be a bright spot. If Logue can supply leadership and big plays, this defense will keep the Hornets in many games.
4 A shining secondary? - With three starters returning, Sacramento State's defensive backfield should provide plenty of resistance. Senior cornerback Brandon Smith and sophomore safeties Brett Shelton and Brent Webber enjoyed some success last season. Five other players with experience return, giving the Hornets a deep group.
5 A tough road to travel - The Hornets face a demanding schedule, playing their first three games on the road, starting with a date Saturday at No. 19 Cal. They won't have much time to recover from that contest, with trips to Cal Poly and Portland State following the Bears and setting up the home opener with UC Davis. Is there a victory in that stretch?