WU football looks to capitalize on historic season

The Ichabods are coming off their best season in Washburn’s school history.

The Bods tallied two single season firsts with a 52-49 win over Abilene Christian in the first round of the Division II NCAA playoffs. The win gave Washburn its first 10 win season while also giving them their first playoff win.

But these accomplishments were overshadowed by a disappointing loss to eventual Division II national champions Pittsburgh State in the playoffs.

“We felt like we had a really good season last year but we didn’t finish like we wanted to.” said Washburn head football coach Craig Schurig. “The big message is ‘hey you gotta finish, especially when you’re tired’.”

The Ichabods nabbed a big road win against Pitt State during the regular season, but lost to the Gorillas in the playoffs failing to finish the season strong, a message the coaches are truly instilling in the players.  If a player stops short at the end of a cone drill, a receiver slows down before the end of his route, or someone doesn’t touch the line during post-practice conditioning, they are called out.  Individual accountability and stronger fundamentals seem to be the theme, especially since the Ichabods need to shore up some areas on both sides of the ball. 

The offense faces a huge task as Schurig, who also plays the role of quarterbacks coach, must find a replacement for three year starter Dane Simoneau. Simoneau was much more than just a manager of the offense, accounting for 4,089 yards in the air on 280-482 passing with 38 touchdowns, both school records. With Simoneau’s departure, Schurig will now have to decide between two quarterbacks who both have the ability to win the starting job.

Sophomore quarterbacks Joel Piper and Mitch Buhler are in a heated competition for the starting role and have been pushing each other to get to that next level.  As of right now, Schurig is holding off on his decision to name one of them number one on the depth chart and instead wants to see both of them improve through healthy competition.  Schurig does however, believe he will have his number one by the first game. 

“When we start against Kearney [University of Nebraska-Kearney],” said Schurig. “We’ll know who is starting the game, but we will also have a series or two for the other guy.”

It will be crucial to have a quarterback comfortable in the system before game one.  Right out of the gate the Ichabods will have stiff competitive play from one of four new members to join the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association conference in Nebraska-Kearney.  The conference, which now totals fifteen teams, tabbed Washburn to finish fourth in the league while Nebraska-Kearney is not far behind at No. 6 in the preseason coaches poll.

Defensively, the Ichabods are anchored by a solid linebacking corp in senior Jahmil Taylor and junior Bryce Atagi.  Factor in another solid backer, Willie Williams and the three players totaled almost 300 tackles. The Ichabods return eight starters on defense and with plenty of experience and depth defensively, they have the ability to shut down opposing offenses.

Despite needing a new signal caller, Schurig has definitely set the bar high for his team this year.  He believes they can meet his expectations but only if they continue to fight to get better everyday.   

“Every chance you get…conquer that.  Whether it’s practice time or a game, keep playing and try to conquer that moment.”