Going to a national championship game has a way of changing the expectations for a football program.
Wayne State University found that out when it made it all the way to the Division II national title game in 2011, where it eventually lost to Pittsburg State.
After winning a program-best 12 games (12-4) and gaining national attention with its impressive run in 2011, the Warriors followed that up by going 5-5 last season, which was their first in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference North Division.
According to coach Paul Winters, his players were “disappointed” in how last season played out, and he is aiming for bigger and better things for the Warriors in their upcoming campaign, which is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. Sept. 5 in a road game against Carson-Newman in Jefferson City, Tenn.
Going after a conference championship, winning all home games and making it back to the postseason are a few of the goals Winters cited for his team, and he offered some ideas as to how Wayne State can best put itself in position to do just that.
“Play great defense, be a smart team and stay healthy,” he said.
You can count red-shirt senior running back and kick returner Jessie Johnson (Monroe High School) as one who realizes that the standard for Wayne State football has been raised with the success of the 2011 season, and he would like to see his team put itself in position to have another successful campaign.
“We’re extremely motivated,” Johnson said. “You want it to end differently — win it all. Focusing one game at a time. Just get there, and everything will take care of itself. We got the players to do it; we got the coaching staff. We’ve got everything lined up. Just need to go take care of business.”
Winters said the Warriors have “good players at every position,” including running back Toney Davis (Muskegon) and wide receiver Dominique Maybanks (Muskegon).
Carl Roscoe (Kelloggsville) is Wayne State’s starting quarterback, and as the one who will be directing the Warriors’ offense, Winters will be looking for him to help lead the way.
“He’s a talented young man,” Winters said. “He’s a big, strong kid. I expect him to lead us — putting us in the right position.”
While taking aim at a conference championship is one of Winters’ primary goals for the season, he also understands that the path toward trying to accomplish it is not likely to be an easy one. And while Winters does expect his team to see some formidable competition in the GLIAC North, he also has a high opinion of his players.
“Everybody in the league is good,” he said. “I think we’ve got good quality young men who work real hard and have competed at a high level in the past. We got some new guys that are ready to compete, also.”
While Wayne State may have received a big boost to its program as a result of its national title appearance in 2011, the kind of success the Warriors enjoyed can also lead to closer scrutiny from other teams.
“I think one lesson they learned is everybody’s looking at you now, so you better be ready to play," Winters said.
Being watched more closely is a pretty good indicator that a program has accomplished something worthy enough of garnering more attention, and as Winters prepares to enter his 10th season as Wayne State’s coach, he expressed optimism about the state of the Warriors’ football program.
“I think we’re in good shape,” he said. “I think we have competition at every position. We have a group of guys that care, give back to the community and get good grades. I think the program is in excellent shape.”
In the American Football Coaches Association preseason Division II poll released Aug. 19, Wayne State could be found in the “others receiving votes” portion of the poll.
Wayne State’s first home game is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 14 against Ashland.