All the small things
As the 2013 college football season approaches, most teams have big dreams and big goals. Not so for first year head coach Carroll McCray and his Gardner-Webb Bulldogs. They are thinking small.
“I’d love to sit here and tell you that we can sit back and look at the big picture, but we can’t,” McCray said. “We went 3-8 last year and are trying to rebuild. We have to have tunnel vision and focus on winning the day. Maybe in the next few years we will have advanced to the point where we can look further ahead, but not right now.”
McCray points to last season as an example of where little things cost GWU several victories.
“The team told me they were right there in the fourth quarter last year, but they couldn’t finish," McCray said. "They did not do the small things that it takes to win football games. They were better than the opponent, but Gardner-Webb beat Gardner-Webb. When a team can self-evaluate and tell you what they need to work on, that’s a great sign.”
GWU all-conference linebacker Tanner Burch agrees.
“Everybody knows what our record was last year and that we didn’t finish games,” Burch said. “Our focus now is just to win the day whether it’s on the field or in the classroom. If you don’t win Monday through Friday, you aren’t going to win on Saturday. I’m just excited to get out on the field and put last year behind us.”
McCray shares Burch’s excitement.
“If you don’t get excited, you are in wrong the business,” he said. “There are very few things in life worth doing if you can’t get excited about it. I’m excited as a coach, but I’m more excited for the players. Now they are working together instead of pulling against each other. I’m excited to see how that looks on the field.”
Once the Runnin’ Bulldogs do step on the field, they look to have a prolific offense and a stingy defense.
Lucas Beatty, the Big South’s leading passer in 2012, is back under center and has a pair of all-conference receivers at his disposal in Kenny Cook and Seth Cranfill.
On defense, GWU’s front seven boasts three all conference members in Tanner Burch, Matt Goods and Preston Pemasa. Having talent on both sides of the ball has developed a deep sense of trust between teammates.
“As an offense, it’s good to know that we don’t have to score a lot of points, because Tanner and those guys are going to shut them down,” Cook said.
Burch has similar sentiments.
“If we make a mistake on defense, we know that the offense will be right there to pick us up, go down the field, and score. That takes a lot of the pressure off," Burch said.
Even with the potentially high-powered passing game, McCray is seeking a more balanced attack in 2013.
“Last year, I think we threw because we had to, due to bad situations,” he said. “This year we are still going to throw the ball, but only because we want to, not because we have to. To do that, we need to develop a strong, deep running game. We aren’t going to put a redshirt on anybody. Everybody has to be ready to play.”
That depth is more vital on special teams, an admitted weak point for GWU in 2012.
“Special teams are a real concern,” said McCray. “We lost an all-conference punter and place kicker and we need to work on making stops on returns. That goes back to doing the little things. You will probably see our best players like Tanner on special teams, too. That’s why we need to develop more depth, so we can give those guys a break.”
If Gardner-Webb can get the expected production from its offense and defense, while shoring up the special teams, players and pundits agree that 2013 could be a big year in Boiling Springs.
The Bulldogs were picked third in the preseason poll, but Burch believes they can finish higher.
“Our goal is to win the Big South and make the playoffs,” he said. “I know we are supposed to be focused on one day at a time, but sometimes it’s hard. I think the playoffs are in the back of everyone’s mind, but if we don’t focus on the small things and win every day, we aren’t going to go anywhere.”
GWU opens the 2013 season as they welcome the Furman Paladins to Spangler Stadium Aug. 31. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
2013 Preseason Poll (first-place votes) -- Points
1. Coastal Carolina (9) -- 84
2. Liberty (6) -- 80
3. Gardner-Webb -- 58
4. Charleston Southern -- 39
T-5. VMI -- 27
T-5. Presbyterian -- 27