OGDEN — It's a pretty tough way for a guy to begin his collegiate head coaching career, but the Jody Sears era will get under way Saturday evening when Weber State's football team opens its 2012 campaign with a road game against Fresno State and its own first-year head coach, Tim DeRuyter.
Sears, who was named the Wildcats' interim head coach in late-April following John L. Smith's abrupt departure, will face back-to-back road games against a pair of Football Bowl Championship foes — Fresno State on Saturday night, followed by BYU next Saturday — so he will certainly receive his head coaching baptism by fire.
"Yeah, it's a tough way to open the season," said Weber State senior quarterback and co-captain Mike Hoke, who's healthy again following offseason surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder. "But it prepares you well for the rest of the season because these will be two of the biggest, strongest and fastest teams we're going to see. So once we get to conference, I think it will help us out a lot."
Indeed, to say that the deck is stacked against Weber State in these first two games would definitely be an understatement.
After all, in its previous 50 seasons as a four-year school, Weber State has won just three times in 49 games against FBS teams, with two wins over Nevada (1992-93) and one over Utah State (1978). The Wildcats have lost 23 consecutive games to FBS opponents; they are 0-3 against Fresno State, and they are 1-5 in their last six season-openers. What's more, when opening the season on the road, the Wildcats are 4-18 all-time and have lost 10 straight. The last time Weber State won a season-opener on the road was back in 1990 at Southern Utah.
But the Wildcats certainly don't sound intimidated by the task that lies before them.
"Our new defense is fun, it's fast, and we like to hit people," said senior defensive end and co-captain Trevor Pletcher. "Fresno has a new coaching staff so they're going to be running a little bit of different stuff, so we've been studying a lot of their personnel and what certain players are good at."
Coach Sears and his staff will benefit from having 14 returning starters back from last year's squad which wound up 5-6 overall, including a 5-3 mark in Big Sky Conference play. Eleven of those players earned either first-team, second-team or honorable mention All-Big Sky honors.
And Sears is convinced that, for the Wildcats to be successful, they must focus on themselves, not on their opponents.
"We know what kind of talent they have," Sears said of former WAC member Fresno State, which begins its first season in the Mountain West Conference. "… They're going to have good skill; they're going to have good players. I know that, that's a fact. I don't think anybody would argue that.
"It's the first game, and it's been my experience in the past that for first game, whatever it is, the focus has got to be on yourself, on your preparation and having your kids ready and in shape."
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Weber State at Fresno St.
Tonight, 8 p.m. MDT
Bulldog Stadium, Fresno, Calif.
TV: None Radio: 1280 AM