Normally Weber State football coach Dave Arslanian doesn't get first-game jitters. He doesn't pace the floor late at night wringing his hands. He doesn't grind his teeth in his sleep or gulp extra strength pain relievers or drink Maalox out of the bottle.
But this year will be different. Because this year could be the last for Wildcat football.Arslanian's concerns are understandable. His past year has been as enjoyable as an IRS audit. After finishing 7-4 overall and tying for fifth in the Big Sky Conference last year, the Wildcats spent most of the offseason defending their position and searching for support.
Faced with a budget deficit, the Wildcats now are charged with drawing 14,000 fans per game and raising $350,000 in reserved ticket sales this year. If attendance is only around 5,000 - the same as last year - a planning committee at Weber State has recommended Wildcat football be discontinued after 31 years in business.
"I never get nervous going into the season. I always feel I have my team ready," says Arslanian. "But this is a whole different deal. I'm nervous. But I'm not nervous about our team being ready. I'm nervous nobody's gonna show up. I'm nervous nobody's going to be there to see it."
In the last year, Weber generated far more media publicity than it normally does. The problem was that most of it was negative. Ongoing stories about money woes were enough to convince much of the public that the Wildcat program was drawing its final breath. All that was left was the phone call to Dr. Kervorkian.
"A lot of my friends at BYU were saying, `Why would you go to Weber? Didn't they drop their football program?' " says Wildcat H-back Terence Saluone.
A junior, Saluone risked more than some in coming to Weber, mainly because he already had a solid position at a secure program. A three-sport star at Provo High, he spent two seasons at BYU before transferring to Weber.
A part-time starter for the Cougars last year, Saluone didn't agree with the BYU coaches and transferred to Weber, for two reasons: They pass the ball and they had already recruited him out of high school.
Transferring from a nationally renowned program to I-AA Weber State has its adjustments. Looking at Weber's schedule last week, Saluone noticed seven games had asterisks beside them.
"Are those our television games?" he said.
Uh, no, someone explained. Those are the conference games. Weber's only television appearances this year are a couple of contests on regional cable TV (PSN). Rather than playing to 65,000 fans at Cougar Stadium - and appearing this year on ABC, NBC and ESPN - Saluone may find himself playing in front of 5,000 fans in Ogden.
"People say, `Hey, the fans, the extra little things, why would you leave?' " says Saluone. "But I want to play football."
With all the dire predictions, one would think the Wildcats would have trouble finding anyone to play for their team. But Weber fills a peculiar niche, taking mostly local players, many of whom aren't good enough to play at the I-A schools in the state. Nearly half Arslanian's team (39) is from Utah. Twenty-two of the Wildcats' come from areas between Tremonton and Kaysville.
"Who recruits those players?" says Arslanian. "Who fills that niche?"
Weber State opens the season next Saturday in Ogden against Western Montana, followed on consecutive weeks by games against Montana Tech and Montana State. That run constitutes 60 percent of their home games for the season. Thus, the Wildcats will know early if they'll meet their attendance goals.
"In our minds, we think we've established a long-term plan," says Arslanian. "It's not year-to-year. But now we need those things to materialize."
In the meantime, pass the Maalox.