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Weber State football has something new: respect

The Weber State Wildcats have entered past college football seasons with standout quarterbacks, solid rushing games and good defenses.

But there's something extremely rare associated with the Wildcats' preparation for the 2009 season: high expectations.

The Wildcats, who officially begin fall camp today, are expected to contend for a second straight Big Sky Conference championship and even the Football Championship Subdivision national title. Weber State has earned respect in its conference and nationally, as the Wildcats were picked to take second behind Montana in the league's preseason polls and seven players were named to The Sports Network's preseason All-American team.

"It's better to have some respect for your program," coach Ron McBride said during a conference call with all of the Big Sky's coaches on Wednesday. "When you're traditionally ranked last or whatever, that's not a lot of respect. At least we have some respect now. The players have earned it. I appreciate it."

On paper, there are plenty of reasons to respect the Wildcats.

Walter Payton Award candidates quarterback Cameron Higgins and running back Trevyn Smith are back to lead a prolific offense. Also back to help on offense are receiver Tim Toone, tight end Cody Nakamura and offensive linemen Kyle Mutcher and J.C. Oram.

Defensively, the Wildcats have to replace their starting linebackers and some quality depth on their defensive line. The secondary, however, should be solid with Josh Morris and Beau Hadley back. Ryan Eastman and Kevin Linehan are back to lead the defensive line.

With so many standouts wearing purple for another season, it's easy to see why the Wildcats are highly touted going into 2009. But McBride said the preseason accolades don't mean much.

"It doesn't mean anything," McBride said. "It just means people know who we are. It just matters what you do at the end of the season."

Weber State will practice in just helmets today and Saturday, and in helmets and shoulder pads on Monday and Tuesday. The Wildcats will wear full gear on Wednesday and have the first of three scrimmages on Aug. 15.

The Wildcats will have to try to win another conference championship with plenty of new faces on their coaching staff. Both coordinators, Kevin Clune and Kevin McGiven, left to join Gary Andersen's staff at Utah State along with former defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a. Tom Freeman is the new offensive coordinator, Jake Cookus and Colton Swan are the co-defensive coordinators and Matt Hammer was promoted to assistant head coach.

e-mail: aaragon@desnews.com