OGDEN — Prior to the fall of 2008, it was only realistic to think of Weber State contending for a national championship in club sports such as rodeo and hockey.

But in football? Not quite.

The perennially mediocre football program had hardly contended for Big Sky championships, so there was no need to even dream of national titles in Ogden. But after earning a share of the conference title in 2008 and advancing to the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals, the Wildcats have lofty goals in 2009.

With returning All-American candidates in quarterback Cameron Higgins, running back Trevyn Smith, receiver Tim Toone, cornerback Josh Morris and safety Beau Hadley, Weber State is capable of shooting for both Big Sky and FCS championships this season.

"I feel like we can make it happen," Morris said. "I feel like everybody's hungry. Everybody wants it. Everybody knows what they want to do. That makes it easier on yourself because you know the person next to you wants it just as much as you do or more."

Weber State's talent level isn't in question this season as Higgins looks to direct what should be an explosive offense. The Wildcats are loaded with Smith, who could be the first four-time Big Sky rushing champion in conference history, Toone, receiver Mike Phillips and tight end Cody Nakamura.

Defensively, Morris and Hadley lead the secondary while Kevin Linehan and Ryan Eastman will anchor the defensive line. Taylor Sedillo is the team's top returning linebacker.

Those players experienced what was arguably Weber State's most successful football season in school history in 2008. They're proud of their accomplishments, but far from satisfied. A home loss to Eastern Washington in their regular season finale forced the Wildcats to hit the road for their FCS playoff games, and the loss to Montana in the quarterfinals still makes Weber State wonder what if.

"The main thing is focusing on that next game," Hadley said. "You can mess things up if you don't take care of business at first like we did last year, and it put us in a tougher position. The most important thing to do is focus on one game at a time, one play at a time."

Weber State will have to do that with a more challenging schedule this season. The Wildcats open with games against Mountain West Conference opponents Wyoming and Colorado State. They have tough road conference games against Eastern Washington and at Montana in what will be a highly anticipated showdown on Halloween.

How the Wildcats fare in those conference road games will go a long way in determining if they reach their lofty goals this season. Weber State learned in 2008 that every game counts to the FCS playoff seeding committee, and a slip-up can make a playoff road much more difficult.

But having those types of concerns shows how far the Wildcats have progressed as a football program in such a short time, as aiming to be .500 or in the top half of the conference is no longer acceptable for Weber State.

"We want to shoot for the stars, and for us we feel like it's (winning a national championship) not just way out there," Hadley said. "It's something that if we take care of things, it really can happen."

The Wildcats are loaded with weapons on offense, and Bolen, a redshirt freshman, will find ways to contribute. He's listed as a fullback, but he'll also get the chance to line up at tailback and slot receiver. He's got speed, can run with power and has good hands.

"He does a lot of things well," said coach Ron McBride. "He can play it all."

Weber state starting lineup

Offense

QB Cameron Higgins, 6-2, 200, Jr.

RB Trevyn Smith, 5-9, 210, Sr.

FB Jared Cosper, 6-1, 235, Jr.

WR Tim Toone, 5-10, 170, Sr.

WR Mike Phillips, 6-1, 190, Jr.

TE Cody Nakamura, 6-1, 230, Sr.

OT Nestor Cruz, 6-4, 305, Sr.

OT Jared Wilcox, 6-5, 270, Sr.

C Kyle Mutcher, 6-3, 300, Sr.

OG Tim Farabee, 6-5, 285, So.

OG J.C. Oram, 6-4, 280, So.

Defense

DT Ryan Eastman, 6-0, 270, So.

DT Joe Larson, 6-1, 260, Sr.

DE Brighton Barkdull, 6-3, 250, Sr.

DE Kevin Linehan, 6-3, 245, Sr.

LB Taylor Sedillo, 5-11, 235, Jr.

LB Brett Dille, 6-1, 225, Sr.

LB Nick Webb, 6-4, 220, So.

CB Josh Morris, 6-0, 185, Sr.

CB Antwain Stutson, 6-1, 185, So.

S Beau Hadley, 6-0, 195, Sr.

S Jordan Brown, 6-2, 175, Jr.

Special teams

K Jon Williams, 5-10, 185, Jr.

P Mike Snoy, 6-2, 180, Sr.

PR Tim Toone, 5-10, 170, Sr.

KR Bo Bolen, 5-9, 200, Fr.

e-mail: aaragon@desnews.com