For something completely different for the Stetson football team, the Hatters travel out of state this weekend for the first time since 1956 for Saturday’s contest against Butler in Indianapolis. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. at the Butler Bowl.
After three home games and a road game in Melbourne that required just a simple day-of-game bus ride, the Hatters will have a more involved process this week. Moving a football team’s travelling party of nearly 100 isn’t easy. The team’s equipment left Thursday morning on a truck. The Hatters themselves leave Friday afternoon, headed first for Orlando Sanford International Airport and then a charter flight to Indianapolis.
The team will stay in a hotel together for the first time, taking up several floors of its north Indianapolis home away from home plus many of the hotel’s function rooms between team meals and meeting spaces.
The process, somewhat unique amongst college sports teams due to the sheer numbers involved, is second-nature routine to most of the team’s coaches and staff from previous stops in their careers, but it’s just another new wrinkle thrown at a squad of freshmen as they prepare to face one of the Pioneer Football League’s defending champions for the second week in a row. Head coach Roger Hughes is excited to be able to get the Hatters on the road and into a more concentrated environment.
“There’s a lot of firsts on this trip and I’m anxious to see how we respond to it,” Hughes said. “In many ways, going on the road actually lowers the distractions. (Unlike many Division I teams), we don’t stay in a hotel the night before a game when we’re here so the focus should be better with all of the Friday night distractions taken away.”
Meanwhile, the half of the team that stays in DeLand will hardly have the day off. It’s considered a competition day for all by NCAA standards so the remainder will get a good workout in Saturday morning before adjourning to watch the live stream online or listen to Stetson’s radio call. It’s all a part of team-building, even when separated, and hopefully getting everyone better prepared to contribute down the road.
“We tried to take everyone to Florida Tech, so this is the first time in two years where we have to make decisions where people get a ‘no’ put on them and they don’t get to go and experience what the team’s experiencing,” Hughes lamented. “The travel has a two-fold effect. One is logistics. You have to have it worked out. But, number two, hopefully for those who don’t make the trip, it’s motivating to do the things and ask the questions of what skills do I need to acquire so that I can make the next trip. I hope that’s how they utilize this, as a motivation to get going.”
Awaiting Stetson in the Hoosier State will be another formidable foe as the Hatters’ PFL baptism by fire continues. A week ago, two-time defending champion San Diego welcomed Stetson to the league. This week it is the 2012 co-champion Bulldogs who were picked second in the preseason coaches poll, just a single point behind the Toreros.
Butler enters the game with a deceptive 2-2 record that includes a road loss at No. 6 South Dakota State and also a close one at home against a solid Dartmouth side out of the Ivy League. Last week, Butler opened PFL play at Jacksonville and trailed 27-14 with four minutes left in the third quarter. The Bulldogs scored 31 unanswered points over the game’s final 19 minutes to cruise to a 45-27 victory. Tailback Trae Heeter was named the PFL’s Player of the Week after rushing for 222 yards and a pair of scores in the game. Quarterback Matt Lancaster was the 2012 PFL Offensive Player of the Year and leads a balanced attack alongside Heeter.
“They’re the defending champs of the league and they’re on their home field,” Hughes said of Butler’s position of strength on Saturday. “Their defensive line could be one of the best we’ll face. They have two on the defensive line that may have a chance to play on Sundays. That’s going to be a major challenge since those are mismatches for us. Their linebackers are very aggressive. They pressure. They blitz. We’re going to see a lot of different fronts.
“Offensively, they’re big up front and they have a really good running back. We’ll have to be more aggressive at the line of scrimmage so more single teams can occur instead of double teams on our guys. On the back end of the defense, we’re going to have to be sure tacklers.”
Last week was not Stetson’s finest hour, a 59-0 loss at home to league-favorite San Diego. That experience could be viewed as a necessary lesson for a young team. To be exposed to that level of play gives the Hatters an understanding of what they will have to mature into to compete for a league titles when the current roster of freshmen are more physically and competitively mature juniors and seniors.
While Stetson may not have matched San Diego on the stat sheet, something not unexpected, it was not for a lack of effort, which pleased the Hatters’ head coach.
“I like the fact that we kept playing hard,” Hughes said. “We weren’t always playing right and we weren’t always playing well, but I thought the effort was there. It’s encouraging. There were a lot of times they could have folded their tent and they didn’t. One of the special teams that people ‘take off’ is the PAT block. They scored. You feel bad and you really don’t feel like rushing (an easy) kick. Our guys, on the last two of the game, were rushing just as hard. I take that as an encouragement that while the score reflected the superior nature of San Diego’s team, we weren’t willing to give up.”
One advantage of the lopsided score against San Diego was that the Hatters were able to get some needed seasoning for many of the players on its second and third teams. There are only so many snaps in any game and a roster full of freshman who all require the experience that brings.
A total of 68 different Hatters played during the San Diego game, second this year only to the 81 who saw action in the two-day 31-3 season opening win against Warner. Backup quarterback Jonathan Jerozal had a chance to lead the offense for an extended period and led the Hatters with 51 passing yards, completing 6-of-10 passes with one of them being intercepted.
Nine different Stetson players had at least one rushing carry against the Toreros. Dre Long led the team with just eight carries in an even distribution of the ground game. Although the Hatters completed just 12 passes on the day, seven different receivers made a catch with only Chris Crawford (three), Devon Garnett (three) and Nick LaSala (two) grabbing more than one pass.
Four different Hatters had a chance to return a kickoff in the game, led by Terrance Burt’s three for 57 yards. The defensive stats also reflected the wide array of participants. Donald Payne was his usual dominant self, leading the Hatters with 12 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for a loss. However, out of the 24 Stetson players who were credited with a tackle, he was the only one to make more than five. Of Stetson’s two sacks on the day, one came from non-starter Patrick Cone. The only Hatter with multiple-TFLs was reserve safety Bobby Jakubek with his two, both solo.
“I think our guys were a little bit intimidated for the first conference game with the defending champs coming in,” Hughes said in hindsight. “We didn’t do anything during the game to boost our own confidence. We didn’t make any stops on defense. Offensively, we didn’t generate any points early. All of those things, mentally, keep you in the game as a young team. Those are things that we’re going to have to learn to fight through.
“When you’re dealing with all freshmen, sometimes what you expect is not what you get. The more games we play, the better we are going to be at dealing with adversity. One of the beauties of coaching freshmen is that they don’t know what they don’t know. There’s enthusiasm and they understand that this is going to be a learning process.”
The next step in the learning process of becoming a Division I football program doesn’t even have to wait for Saturday. It will come on Friday when the team learns how to travel and discovers a new hotel-based routine. Hopefully, the solitude of a hotel north of Indiana’s capital city will help focus the Hatters on the field and lead to a good showing on Saturday against Butler.
Following the trip north, the Hatters will return to Spec Martin Stadium next weekend when they host Dayton. Tickets for that game, as well as the other two remaining home games, are available through the Stetson Athletics Ticket Office by calling 386-738-HATS or visiting GoHatters.com/tix.