Weber State University’s football program has been riding high in recent years under head coach Jay Hills’s leadership. The Wildcats have had a winning record every year since Hill’s second season as head coach in 2015.
The last three seasons have seen the team win 10 games and the Big Sky Conference title, both being school records, before moving on to the FCS Playoffs. This success established them as a perennial force not only in the Big Sky, but on the national stage.
The last game action Weber State saw was in the FCS semifinals against James Madison University, where the Wildcats were eliminated, but not until they had gone further than any other Wildcat team in history, while finishing ranked third in the FCS, another school record.
With last season being the peak of Wildcat football success, the team has put together a tremendous run as an overall unit.
With the next season not scheduled until spring due to the pandemic, the Wildcats are prowling the practice field continuing what the team has dubbed “fall ball.”
“This fall ball is giving us the opportunity to kind of set our chart and decide which players are best positioned to do well, and those are things we’re evaluating through our practices,” associate head coach Brent Myers said.
Weber State’s been a defensive powerhouse the last few seasons, registering the number one ranked total defense in the conference last season.
However, the offense hasn’t taken off in the same way. Weber State finished the year the eighth ranked scoring offense in the Big Sky. But change has come, with new faces arriving at key offensive positions.
Starting with new coordinator Matt Hammer, although Hammer is no stranger to the sideline at Stewart stadium.
He served as the linebackers coach last season, and this will be his second stint as offensive coordinator. He coached in the same role from 2009-12 under former head coach Ron McBride.
“This is nothing new at all for him, and he’s really good and does an excellent job,” Myers said. “We really like what he’s put together from an offensive philosophy standpoint.”
Finding a quarterback is one of the team’s main goals, and the team has a few options they could turn to this season.
Quarterbacks Bronson Barron and Kaden Jenks may see the field in 2020.
Barron is a returned LDS missionary, while Jenks saw game action for the Wildcats last season. Jenks was the starter when the Wildcats took on nationally ranked Northern Iowa. Jenks tossed two touchdowns, and threw for 219 yards in the 29-17 victory.
A new quarterback to the Wildcat roster this season is Randall Johnson. He transferred from Middle Tennessee State, where he played little in 2019 as a redshirt.
Before he arrived in Murfreesboro, he played at Reedley College in southern California.
While at Reedley in 2018, he was named the Golden Coast Conference Offensive Player of the Year after tossing 28 touchdowns.
He also led the Blue Raiders in rushing with 797 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“We’ve put quite a bit of offense in, while exploring what we believe our strengths are and we’ve got some established players we already know are really good,” Myers said.
All-conference players have populated the roster on the offensive side of the ball. In 2019, running back Josh Davis, fullback Clay Moss and offensive lineman Ty Whitworth were all named to the All-Big Sky first team offense.
The running game was the strength of the team’s offense last season. Weber State amassed 2,650 yards on the ground last fall, Davis running for 1,176 yards of that total.
“I feel like we’re very physical, and we were able to run the ball and take over games, and when you run the ball, you’re a tough team to beat,” All-Big Sky senior wide receiver Rashid Shaheed said.
The physicality and ability to run the football rolls through the offensive line and Josh Davis. Who carried on his electrifying play at running back last fall.
Including a record breaking game in Ogden against Northern Arizona, where he set the Wildcat record for rushing yards with 328, while also scoring a touchdown each quarter, leading the Wildcats to a 51-28 victory.
The passing game is still the team’s focus of improvement during practices this fall. The Wildcats passing offense sputtered behind the running game in 2019.
Shaheed said he believes the improved passing game will pay off as they have multiple playmakers at the wide receiver position—Devon Cooley, Ty Macpherson and David Ames.
Devon Cooley was Weber State’s leading receiver in 2019. He hauled in 59 receptions for 733 yards and five touchdowns.
“The way our offense is looking right now, it’s looking a lot more explosive, a lot of big plays are happening, we’re all super excited about it, and I think our offense will take a huge step,” Shaheed said.
The Wildcats have been able to scrimmage twice through their fall ball practices.
“Practice has been super fun. We come out everyday with a lot of energy. We’re learning and when it’s time to scrimmage, the intensity’s turned up,” said Shaheed.
However, despite the improvement throughout practice, it’s not been lost on the players that this season is different from years past.
“With the long break, it was hard. It took some time to get back into the flow of things, but I think we’ve done a great job of controlling that and learning the offense,” Shaheed said.
The new incoming freshmen players are experiencing a different transition than usual due to the pandemic, which resulted in a bit of a learning curve.
‘It’s been a little difficult for the younger guys, they haven’t had as much time as us to learn, but they’ve done a good job handling it,” Shaheed said.
Weber State’s season is set to begin in the spring. The team hopes to continue improving, while reaching monumental stepping stones in the quest toward their ultimate goal of a national championship.