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Wofford hoping for more than just NCAA playoffs
Running back Eric Breitenstein has been at Wofford long enough to brush off his head coach’s caution and talk of the players’ goals for a national championship.
When the Terriers star and Southern Conference preseason offensive player of the year was asked the team’s goals, coach Mike Ayers warned, “Be careful.”
Breitenstein chuckled and plowed on through, like he’s done on the field of his Wofford career. Breitenstein said he and his teammates have won plenty of games and reached the NCAA playoffs in four of the past five years. That’s not good enough for Breitenstein this last time around.
“We’ve played really well here,” Breitenstein said. “We just haven’t gotten it done. We need to go further. I’m tired of just making it. It’s not enough just to make it any more. We’ve got to take that next step and win a national championship.”
It will take another big year from Breitenstein, who’s rushed for 3,113 yards and 41 touchdowns the past two seasons. He’s taken on a larger leadership role this offseason and said his teammates are on the same page about bringing Wofford a national title.
“We believe we have the team to do it,” Breitenstein said. “In the past, we’ve been right there. I think if we honestly play our game, we’ll be fine.”
First, though, Wofford will have to get through the always difficult Southern Conference. The Terriers, picked to finish second by league coaches and third by SoCon media, must travel to play defending league champion Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, which won a share of six straight conference titles until the streak ended last season.
Ayers, starting his 25th season at Wofford, likes his teams focus, even if he’d prefer they remain in the moment instead of looking down the road.
“I think what we try to do is give them the road map,” Ayers said. “Hopefully, the message is received and you see every guy pulling the rope.
“Our philosophy is a day at a time, whatever you put your hand in, do the best you can do,” the coach said. “If you take care of today, down the road, things are going to work out.”
Breitenstein will lead the Terrier’s run-first and run-a-lot offense. Wofford averaged just nine passes and three punts a game in 2011. The team also returns junior runner Donovan Johnson, who rushed for 967 yards and nine TDs last year.
The team will have a new starter at quarterback with Mitch Allen’s departure. Allen was Wofford’s third-leading rusher last season.
Junior Brian Kass has the starting job heading into fall camp for an offense that ranked seventh nationally with more than 444 yards per game last season.
Wofford’s defense will have to find replacements for three linemen: Ameet Pall, Eric Eberhardt and Alex Goltry all made the all-Southern Conference team. The Terriers, though, have four linebackers and three defensive backs returning from a group that was second in Southern Conference defense.
Ayers said the gap between Wofford’s level of success and a national title is small. He analyzed every aspect of the program and put together a plan designed to tighten things up.
“Piece by piece by piece, you try and see where we’re at,” he said. “We feel we’ve made progress all the way through. With the guys that we have, we know the areas we’ve got to hit hard.”
Ayers said history tells him if his starters stay healthy and productive, the Terriers will again be in the mix for the Southern Conference title and the FCS playoffs.
Breitenstein says they can achieve more.
“We’ve got a core group of guys that want it be our best year yet,” he said.
By PETE IACOBELLI, Daily Reporter