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Indiana State football determined in spruced-up digs
Sycamores open practice for 2009 season
TERRE HAUTE — A new field surface, new locker rooms, a badly-needed replacement of the lights at Memorial Stadium … bells and whistles that were long overdue for the Indiana State football program and are important steps for the viability of the program.
But really, all anyone really wants to know is when ISU is finally going to win a game? Least of all, the Sycamores themselves.
ISU began practice for its 2009 season Friday morning, less than three weeks away from its Aug. 27 opening game against Quincy.
“There’s a lot of new excitement, there’s a lot of change and that’s what we want to make this season about … change,” ISU running back Darrius Gates said. “We need to start winning and it’s up to us to do it.”
ISU has the nation’s longest losing streak at 26 and is 1-50 since October 2004. Those ugly numbers have defined ISU football for a half-decade.
Though head coach Trent Miles enters the second year of a massive rebuilding project — and still has a whopping 67 underclassmen on the roster — the Sycamores’ optimism that they can break through and win seems grounded less in hope and more in hard work and the shock experience the team’s young players went through in an 0-12 2008 season.
It was a campaign that was ugly early, but it got better as it went along. ISU was competitive in all four of its November games — including contests at North Dakota State and at home to national FCS runner-up Northern Iowa — and lost to Missouri State in overtime in the finale after the Bears tied the game on the last play of regulation.
“Last year we were very young. We were in certain situations last year where inexperience hurt us where we should have come out with wins last year. I think we learned from those mistakes in those close bal games. There’s no woulda or coulda, we need to get it done,” Gates said.
Miles he said throughout the offseason that participation in voluntary activities was as high as its been in several years. He noticed it again Friday when every Sycamore got to practice well before the 7:15 p.m. start time.
“These kids have all been excited, they’re bright-eyed. I could’ve started 30 minutes early and everyone would have been out there, which shows there’s an eagerness to this group,” Miles said. “They want to get that monkey off their back. They want to win, they’re tired of being embarrassed feeling that’s just gut-wrenching. It’s time for it to end and they know that.”
As for ISU’s facility upgrades, Memorial Stadium looked transformed.
Gone was the frayed AstroPlay surface, which had not been properly installed when it was put down in 2001. Among other things, it had ripped seams that were visible from press box level last season and which might have played a part in some of ISU’s injuries, notably to linebacker Aaron Archie, who blew out his knee last August before the season.
In its place is brand-new FieldTurf, which covers a larger surface area of the stadium than the old surface did to enable the women’s soccer team will play home games at Memorial Stadium starting this season.
The locker room improvements, which will be finished in two phases ending next fall, promise digs that are luxurious by the standard ISU has in its current locker room.
The main locker room has space for 100 lockers as well as meeting space for team-wide get-togethers. The old ISU locker room will be converted into the visitors’ locker room and the women’s soccer locker room will be added on the north end of the current facility in phase two of the project.
Replacement of the lights was overdue. In Memorial Stadium’s two night games last year (an ISU game and the Terre Haute North-Terre Haute South game), more than 50 percent of the lights were out, making it borderline dangerous to play games there after dark.
The project will cost approximately $1.8 million with football and women’s soccer both getting much-needed facility upgrades after its completed.
Perhaps the biggest current benefit of the spruced up stadium is psychological. ISU coaches don’t have to fret about facilities or whether the program is in danger of being dropped. ISU’s players know the hard work they’re putting in is being appreciated by the higher ups
“It’s nice to know that when you come out here, you’ve got people that care about what you’re doing and want to support you. It means a lot and it helps you concentrate on your own game to get better,” ISU safety Alex Sewall said.
A benefit that isn’t missed on Miles.
“It’s huge. It’s like growing up, you felt a lot better when your parents were in the stands, right? It feels a lot better with an excellent administration that is making the experience for the student-athlete the best it can be. If they’re putting out the effort and commitment, it’s a lot easier for [the players] to say to themselves, ‘I’d better put out the effort and commitment.’
“That’s the way society is. If you want something out of somebody, you’d better show support and you get it in return usually.”
ISU continues practice at 7:15 a.m. today and will not have a day off until Aug. 21.
By Todd Golden