OGDEN Three years into a rebuilding project, Ron McBride finally feels like he's working on the finish carpentry instead of getting ready to flip the house.
First he had to blow out a few walls, reinforce the foundation and, obviously, add a few studs to the frame.
The result, at least to this point, has been a little less than parade-of-homes worthy. But with another year in the books, the Weber State football coach thinks all that's needed now is the final attention to detail on what may be his last season as a head coach.
"I think we're close," McBride, who has a three-year record of 15-18 with the Wildcats. "Physically, we can match up with anybody in the conference. We just have to take care of the mental part of the game."
That was illustrated perfectly in the recently completed season.
Weber State had all the parts, they just weren't assembled until it was almost too late. Losing four games in a row to start the season each to an opponent ranked in the top 25 polls left the 'Cats without much confidence but plenty of talent.
As it was, McBride said, the fourth loss was actually the turning point. That 18-10 defeat at then-No. 1 Montana went into the books as another loss, but WSU held the lead most of the game before falling in the fourth quarter.
"From that point on, we were a pretty substantial football team," McBride said. "We really came together after that."
Part of the problem in Weber State's late arrival was the schedule. The bigger part, though, was a young offensive team with little experience.
Sophomore Jimmy Barnes arrived from Alabama, but injuries helped him be ineffective in three starts. Redshirt freshman Cameron Higgins took over in the Montana game and held the starting job the rest of the year.
Running back Trevyn Smith was the leading rusher in the Big Sky for the second consecutive season, but he, too, was a sophomore and injuries limited his participation early in the season. Receivers Tim Toone (sophomore) and Bryant Eteuati (junior) had strong years but, like the rest of the team, needed a few weeks to gel with the gameplan.
Once the roster spots were established and injuries healed, Weber State was every bit the tough team McBride thought he had when the season started. Winners of five of six games down the stretch before the season-ending loss, the Wildcats moved the ball easily and scored points in bunches. During one stretch, WSU scored 173 points in three games including a record-setting 73-68 win at Portland State.
The good news is virtually every offensive weapon WSU employed will be back next year. Only offensive linemen David Hale and Dmitri Tsoumpas both all-conference selections will be missing.
Higgins was the conference newcomer of the year. Eteuati was the conference special teams player of the year and the top all-purpose yardage player in the nation. Smith, if he stays healthy, will be Weber State's career rushing leader by the time his junior season is over, and the six leading receivers are all returning.
"Our skill guys are the best in the conference," McBride said. "We'll be just fine there but maybe need to get another speed guy at receiver and another backup at quarterback."
Defensively, Weber State was the best in the Big Sky most of the season. They allowed way too many points over a two-week stretch for McBride to be satisfied.
Leaders Ty Sparrow, Brad Stewart and Derek Johnson are leaving and McBride said he'll try to replace those with younger players or a JC transfer at the right spot. But overall he feels the Wildcats will be in good shape next year.
McBride is entering the final year of his contract with Weber State. When asked, he said he's not worried about the future or if he'll stay at WSU past the upcoming season.
"That's the farthest thing from my mind," he said. "I'm busy with recruiting, and tests, and graduation and making sure everyone we have is on the right path. I'm not going to think too much about anything other than that."
With all the pieces in place, McBride says his rebuilding project is almost finished. All that waits is to open the doors and see what happens.If he feels he's reached the goals he set for himself when agreeing to coach the Wildcats, he may indeed put the tools away and step into retirement. Then again, there may be an addition or two he'd like to tackle.
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