After more than three weeks of practicing, running, scrimmaging and sweating buckets of, uh, sweat, the Weber State football team is more than ready to face somebody not wearing a purple and white uniform.
That opportunity will finally come when the Wildcats open their 2000 season by hosting Western State (Colo.) Thursday at 7 p.m. at Stewart Stadium. It's the first chance Weber State has to get what the coaches and players have been waiting for through a long offseason — a win.
"The most important thing for us this year is getting the W's," said quarterback Cole Cooper. Besides the obvious, a quick win would heal some wounds for the Wildcats, who enter this year on a six-game losing skid after suffering through their worst season in a decade.
Barring a catastrophe, that losing streak should end against the Division II Mountaineers. This will be the fourth time the two teams have met in the past five years. Weber State has won the last seven meetings in the series, the last three by an average score of 33-6.
"We beat them pretty good last year, but they are still a quality football team," said defensive tackle Jason Miller. "It's a bad idea to overlook anybody."
Especially when you've lost six straight games.
Miller and his defensive teammates will have the assignment of controlling Mountaineer quarterback Matt Smiley, which they did pretty well last year.
The Wildcat "D" limited the signal caller to just 119 yards passing on 14-of-31 attempts. A more experienced defense could give Smiley even more problems this time around.
"We've got a lot of guys back and as a group we are starting to click. That experience of playing together (last year) is going to be huge," said Miller. "I'm excited to see what we can do."
Offensively, Weber will be showing its fans more of a no-back offense, putting more quick-decisionmaking pressure on Cooper.
Weber coach Jerry Graybeal announced Tuesday that redshirt freshman Jordan Miller will get the start at running back, but JC transfer Johnnie Gray would still see plenty of playing time.
While Graybeal wants to see his offense and defense perform well, his biggest concerns for the first game of the year are the little things.
"I don't want to see a bunch of illegal procedures. I don't want to see a bunch of offsides. I don't want to see 10 guys on the field. I don't want to see 12 guys on the field. Those are the things that as a coach you always worry about in that first game," Graybeal said. "You always want it to be nice and crisp and exact."
Injuries at the tight end position won't be too much of a concern for the first game thanks to Weber's depth. Starter Ryan Prince injured his knee in last week's scrimmage but will play as much as he is able. Primary backup Mark Larsen will miss the game with an ankle injury suffered late last week in practice. That means junior Joe Blomquist and freshman Josh Rebholz will both get playing time.
NOTES: Last year's leading receiver, Jon Jefferson, will be in action for the Wildcats Thursday. The senior sat out most of fall camp but became academically eligible to play in the last week . . . One player who will miss the game because of ineligibility is defensive lineman Nickie Feigner, a transfer from the University of Washington . . . The Wildcats have won four straight season openers.