OGDEN — The signs are everywhere at Weber State football practices that senior safety Beau Hadley is the new quarterback of the Wildcats' defense.
He makes all the pre-snap adjustments on coverages and ensures his defensive teammates are lined up where they're supposed to be. He encourages his teammates as a vocal leader. He stays after practices to put in extra work.
As a senior returning starter, Hadley acknowledges it's his time to be the leader of the Wildcats' defense.
"It's kind of one of those things where I feel like it's my responsibility," Hadley said. "I think now as a senior and as a returning starter, I need to make sure we're all on the same page and make sure we're ready to play."
Hadley, who began his career at Weber State as a receiver, was a big-time contributor as a junior but didn't need to be a vocal leader because there were older players and stronger personalities on the team's defense last season. Hadley was second in the Big Sky with 129 total tackles and tied for the conference lead with five forced fumbles.
But attend a Weber State practice now, and you'll see that the person wearing practice jersey No. 15 is in charge of the defense.
"Beau is the leader of the defense," said coach Ron McBride said.
Hadley said he thinks Weber State's defense can be better than it was in 2008, although it's hard to tell at this point in fall camp. The Wildcats will find out soon enough when they play at Wyoming in their season-opener on Sept. 5.
"We haven't played anyone besides ourselves, which is getting old," said Hadley, who was an Academic All-American last season. "I think the main thing about our defense is we're really good when we fly around. We're a little bit faster. We're not as big, but hopefully we can make up for it with our speed. When we play team defense — when everyone is getting to the ball — we're really good."
HIGGINS EARNS FREEDOM: There were times during the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs last year when quarterback Cameron Higgins would have liked to check out of certain plays.
Now, he'll have that luxury.
McBride said after practice on Monday that his triggerman will enjoy more freedom to make audibles at the line of scrimmage this season. Higgins has to follow certain guidelines, but for the most part will be able to make changes as he sees fit. McBride said he's earned that responsibility.
"He knows what to look for," McBride said. "When they (defenses) line up a certain way, he knows what he can go to. Watch the guy practice and he's unbelievable. He's like a machine."
There were instances against Montana and Cal Poly in the playoffs last season when Higgins wishes he had gotten his offense out of bad plays. But you learn from your mistakes, Higgins said, and he's looking forward to having more on his shoulders this season.
"I think I can see defenses a lot better (than last year)," Higgins said. "I can get us in the right play and right protection."
McBride said that hasn't happened by accident.
"During two-a-days when the coaches were gone home he was still watching film," McBride said. "He's prepared. Let's put it that way."
MORE PRESEASON LOVE FOR 'CATS: Weber State was included in the first FCS Coaches' top 25 poll, which was released on Monday. The Wildcats are ranked No. 9, two spots lower than they're ranked in The Sports Network's national FCS preseason poll.
It's just the latest honor for Weber State this preseason, which has also seen players make it on national awards watch lists. Expectations have certainly changed for the college football team in Ogden.
"People expect us to win now," McBride said. "The 6-5 and the 5-6 (records) and all that, that's no longer an acceptable deal. I expect more, too."