The 31st season of Urbana University football kicks off Saturday as the Blue Knights host Mountain East Conference foe Glenville State inside Urbana Stadium. Kickoff is set for noon, as new UU head coach Tyler Haines goes for his first career win. A Piqua native, Haines became the youngest head football coach among NCAA Division II schools at age 31 after being hired by UU Director of Athletics Larry Cox in June.
Haines fully acknowledges the amount of work that needs to take place to elevate the program back to the top of the MEC. He also knows that plenty of talent still exists inside UU’s locker room.
“We understand where we’re at as a program, but at the same time we feel that we’ll be more competitive than the polls suggest,” Haines said. “We have a lot of solid talent returning and we’re focused on improving each day.”
The Blue Knights were picked last in the MEC preseason poll entering year number three in the league. The UU program is coming off a disappointing 3-8 (2-8) season, but as fans look closer they’ll find that the Blue Knights were quite competitive in 2014. UU dropped three games by less than a touchdown and ranked second in the MEC with the third-highest passing yards per game total in school history (286.2).
Just two years removed from a second-place finish in the MEC, the Blue Knights are aiming to get back near the top. When Haines was asked about his team’s goals, he reiterated that his squad is focused on daily improvement.
“Our goals are very narrow in a way that we just focus on trying to improve every single day, every single rep and doing the little things the right way,” Haines said. “We don’t bring up any single opponent or win totals, we are just concentrating on ‘winning the day.’”
Fortunately, UU returns plenty of experience with eight returners on defense and nine on offense; however, the Blue Knights must remain healthy. The team’s depth chart absorbed some losses following the coaching switch, forcing Haines and company to recruit all the way up to the start of camp.
“We’re a young team, so depth is always the issue,” Haines said. “We’re a little bit shallow on the offensive and defensive line and we’ll be counting on some freshmen to become reliable backups. However, that lack of depth is also an incredible opportunity for those guys to show what they can do when called upon.”
“Our guys are hungry and excited,” Haines continued. “They’ve done everything we’ve asked and we just want to go out there and put on a show, work hard and win the football game.”
SCOUTING GLENVILLE STATE
Glenville State is coached by David Hutchison who holds an overall record of 22-22 in his fifth year. The Pioneers return nearly their entire offense with 10 starters from a 5-6 (5-5 MEC) team last year. Running back Rahmann Lee, who needs just 185 yards to break the school’s all-time career mark in rushing yardage, returns along with starting QB Sean Steele (144-240-5 for 2,146 yards and 19 TDs). On defense, the Pioneers feature only four returning starters. GSC is playing its fourth consecutive opener on the road and has lost the previous three.
The last two meetings with the Pioneers have been decided by three points. GSC led 31-7 in last year’s game before UU rattled off 21 straight points. The Blue Knights could not complete the comeback after succumbing to six turnovers (five fumbles, one interception). UU won two years ago in a low-scoring bout by a final score of 12-9. UU has held GSC’s Rahmann Lee to under 100 yards rushing in each of the last two meetings. UU wide receiver Karim Jones had 13 catches for 175 yards and a TD in last year’s game. Linebacker D’Gary Wallace had 11 tackles and an interception for the Blue Knights.