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Drake veteran players trying to reach one final goal
The theme for the 2011 Drake football team’s season is “tupande kileleni,” a Swahili term that translates to “let’s climb to the summit.” A group of players have already endured quite a journey.
Nine fifth-year seniors who are key contributors began to wrap up their career of constant changes as Bulldogs when the team opened practice at Drake Stadium on Sunday.
“It has been such a journey and such a climb for each of us and it is such a fitting theme,” fifth-year senior running back Pat Cashmore said.
The journey started before the players even suited up at Drake.
The group of players were recruited by former Bulldogs coach Rob Ash, who spent 18 years at the helm before accepting a job at Montana State shortly before the 2007 season.
Steve Loney led the team to a 6-5 mark in his one season in 2007. Then, in 2008, current coach Chris Creighton came on board.
“We could have left,” kicker Billy Janssen said. “We could have gone to other places. We could have quit, but we decided to stick it out, and I feel like that made us stronger as a group.”
Drake heads into the upcoming season as one of the most experienced teams in the Pioneer Football League. The Bulldogs return seven starters on defense and 10 on offense, including Cashmore, who rushed for a team-high 357 yards and six touchdowns last season.
Janssen, who had a team-high 44 points, successfully booted all 35 of his PATs last season to become the second player in school history to connect on all of his attempts.
It’s a path neither player expected when they committed to playing for Ash.
“It seems like forever ago,” Janssen.
More recently, the team took a trip to Arusha, Tanzania, three months ago for the inaugural Global Kilimanjaro Bowl. It was on that trip when the team climbed the 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro, helping inspire the theme for its upcoming season.
“We feel like as a class we’re about to reach our summit and reach our potential,” Janssen said.
Coming off a 7-4 record in 2010, the Bulldogs feel they are poised to make another journey — this time to the top of the league standings.
It’s something Creighton said he anticipated when he took over and began redshirting many players.
“That’s not a quick-fix solution,” Creighton said. “That is definitely kind of a long-term mature program. We’re going to start to be able to see some of the fruit and the benefits of doing that.”
And maybe reach that summit.
“I definitely want the summit to be the PFL championship,” Cashmore said.
Written By TOMMY BIRCH, Des Moines Register