OGDEN At this time last year, Weber State quarterback Cameron Higgins was third on the team's depth chart while a transfer from Alabama was getting all the hype.
Running back Trevyn Smith was coming off a season in which he led the Big Sky in rushing but still felt like he had something to prove. Bryant Eteuati had shown he was a dangerous kick returner but had yet to show that he could consistently produce at receiver.
A year later, Higgins, Smith and Eteuati lead an offense that should strike fear into their 2008 opponents and one that is a reason why expectations are Big Sky high for the Wildcats this season.
"I just want to prove to everyone that this is the next generation of Weber State football," Smith said. "We're coming to play as a team and we're coming to win."
Scoring points shouldn't be a problem during the Wildcats' bid for a conference championship. It all starts with Higgins, who broke into Weber State's lineup in its fourth game of the 2007 season. He nearly directed an upset of conference powerhouse Montana in his first start and seemingly got better each week.
Higgins went 5-3 as a starter and had a passing efficiency rating of 143.2 last season. In Weber State's wild 73-68 win over Portland State, he accounted for 440 all-purpose yards, threw for four touchdowns and rushed for three more. He earned the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year award.
Higgins, who redshirted his first year at Weber State and is now a sophomore, didn't sit back and rest on his laurels in the offseason.
"He improved a lot in the spring and he's better now than he was in the spring," said coach Ron McBride. "He's really a different person. He's a lot more mature. He takes the game a lot more serious than he did before. He's become more responsible. He's a different 'Cat right now."
Higgins is more of a leader than what his sophomore status might lead you to believe. He talks about striving to have a perfect practice with no misfired passes or reads. He says he'll gladly step out of the spotlight if it means more victories for the Wildcats.
"I want to win the Big Sky," Higgins said. "I don't care how we do it. If I hand the ball off 100 times a game and we're winning, I'm happy."
Smith would be fine with that scenario. He's a bruising back who has rushed for 2,443 yards in two seasons at Weber State. But he's another player who will give up individual accolades to have his team enjoy more team success this season.
"Coach Mac got here four years ago and he recruited this class," Smith said. "Most of us are juniors this year. This class that he recruited is finally getting to the point where we're a lot stronger than we've been here. I just want to help my team go undefeated and succeed. I'm doing everything I can to play my very best every day."
Eteuati caught 13 passes in his first two seasons at Weber State. Already a first-team all-conference pick as a return specialist, Eteuati had a breakout season at receiver last season. He caught 53 passes for 720 yards and caught four touchdown passes.
"He's been good since he got here," McBride said. "Now he's better at understanding coverage. He has a better understanding of the passing game than he did, say, two years ago."
There are other players who are expected to contribute for Weber State's charged-up offense. Fullback Marcus Mailei is a returning all-conference player and is in the best shape of his life. Players such as receivers Tim Toone, Joe Collins and Mike Phillips, as well as receiver/tight end Cody Nakamura, should also help the Wildcats be among the most productive offenses in the Big Sky.
"We've got a number of weapons," Higgins said. "We're stacked at every position."
On paper, there's plenty of reason for optimism regarding Weber State's chances to contend in the Big Sky this season. But because the program hasn't won a Big Sky championship since sharing it with Idaho in 1987, the Wildcats know others will take a wait-and-see approach with them."You always expect to win the title, you know," McBride said. "These players expect a lot. But you have to make plays on Saturdays to prove what your expectations are, and that's the bottom line."
E-mail: [email protected]