UIW Football head coach Eric Morris was open and honest about his team’s challenges at the team’s annual media day a few weeks ago and it seems his squad is up to meeting those challenges.
“Being able to sustain success is one of the hardest things to do as a coach,” he said. “I think we have to trust the process of what got us here, obviously the target is going to be on our back.”
In his first season at the helm of the Cardinals, Morris took UIW from a 1-10 overall record in the 2017 season to a 6-5 overall record and the program’s first conference championship in 2018. Off the field, he helped his players in the classroom, seeing their GPA’s raise from a 2.2 to 3.2.
The driving force behind the Cardinals success in 2018 was the play of sophomore quarterback Jon Copeland, who was named the Southland Conference Player of the Year. He led UIW to the FCS Playoffs but his season was cut short following an ACL tear. Now, Copeland is healthy and ready to get back on the field.
“I’m feeling good and I’m ready to start the season,” he said. “I think its easier [coming into fall camp] this year. We know the plays and the calls, now it’s about going out there and executing.”
If the Cardinals are going to sustain their success, they will need to find the right combination on both sides of the ball and that won’t be easy. Gone is running back Ra’Quanne Dickens, who ran for 1,117 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2018. Luckily for UIW, they have a solid replacement for him in Ameer King, who ran for 400 yards on 5.5 yards per carry.
The biggest advantage the Cardinals will have is Copeland, who threw for 2,984 yards and 22 touchdowns in his freshman season. His only poor stat was his interceptions with 13 but his second season should see him more comfortable playing at the college level.
Defensively, the team will be looking to improve in a big way. UIW allowed 34.1 points per game, which ranked 93rd in the FCS. If they can get that number down to 26 or 24 points per game, the Cardinals should be near the top of the conference again. Along with improved defense comes improving discipline. Defensive coordinator Justin Deason said he is excited for what’s to come.
“We’re not here to have just a conference championship,” he said. “We want bigger and better things. On and off the field, they have been succeeding. It is going to be an exciting year. We’re ready to prove the world wrong.”
Despite UIW’s success in 2018, they still have their critics. They are ranked third in the Southland Conference football preseason poll as voted on by league head coaches and sports information directors. Nicholls are the early favorites to be conference champions again behind Central Arkansas.
The Cardinals will open the season against their cross town rivals, the UTSA Roadrunners, but once again many are predicting UTSA to easily get the win. That leaves a bad taste in the mouth of UIW linebacker Mar’kel Cooks and the rest of his teammates, who are ready to silence their critics.
“We don’t get any respect,” he said. “Nobody respects us at all. We’re going to work hard every day because that’s what it takes to win a championship. We’re like a big family. We put everything inside of us and quiet the outsiders. I feel that helps a lot.”