Air Force senior wide receiver/kick returner Jonathan Warzeka was named the Mountain West Preseason Special Teams Player of the Year by the league's media members on Tuesday. In 2010, Warzeka led the MW in kickoff return average (28.7) and averaged a whopping 31.2 yards per catch for the Falcons.
"I've tried to tell Coach (Troy) Calhoun to put me at quarterback a couple of times, but it hasn't worked out just yet," said Warzeka, who was a standout high school quarterback. "I've also tried to get him to let me play defense, but that's not working out too well, either."
Not So Fast
Newcomer Boise State was picked by MW media members to win the league in 2011, but head coach Chris Petersen isn't about to be lulled into developing a false sense of security.
"There's more to it than meets the eye," Petersen said. "In 2001, we were new to the (Western Athletic Conference) and things didn't exactly go the way we planned. A lot of that has to do with the new coaches, the new schemes, the new venues and the motivations that everybody has in the new league that you're walking into. A lot of times, you don't know what those motivations are.
"Hopefully, we've learned our lesson about paying close attention to every detail about every team we're going to play and take nothing for granted. We can't leave any stone unturned in our preparation."
A defensive end could prove to be one of Colorado State's primary offensive weapons this fall.
Sophomore Crockett Gillmore, who entered spring drills as a defensive end, will open fall camp at tight end. And if Crockett's performance during spring was any indication, his return to the defensive side of the ball isn't soon forthcoming.
The first 1,000-yard receiver in school history at Bushland High in Bushland, Texas, the 6-foot-6 Gillmore has turned heads since moving to offense. As a senior, he caught a Bushland High-record 22 touchdown passes and had at least one touchdown catch in 13 consecutive games from 2008-09.
"You hate to sing a guy's praises prior to him doing much, but he played a little bit as a true freshman defensive lineman and had a sack in his very first ballgame," said coach Steve Fairchild. "He's a very, very talented kid. To me, he looks like he has the talent to play at the next level, but as we speak right now, you just don't know."
No Time to Waste
For the first time since 2008 and the third time in its MW tenure, New Mexico will open the season against a league opponent win it hosts Colorado State on Sept. 3. The Lobos, who fell to TCU 26-3 in their opener three years ago, kicked off the 2005 season with a 24-22 win over UNLV.
"It's probably not the ideal way to start, but the good thing is that it will be the first time during my tenure as head coach that we'll have a home opener," said coach Mike Locksley. "It's my expectation that we'll have a big crowd because that's a huge game for us. If there was one game last season where we thought a team imposed its will on us it was against Colorado State. It's important for us to get off to a fast start against a Conference opponent and puts a lot of pressure on our fall camp."
A Smooth Transition
When Brady Hoke exited for Michigan after guiding San Diego State to its best finish since 1977 and its first bowl game since 1998 last season, SDSU athletic director Jim Sterk turned his attentions to the winningest head coach in MW history, defensive coordinator Rocky Long.
And in the eyes of senior standout quarterback Ryan Lindley, the Aztecs couldn't have been happier --- or more relieved --- with the hire.
"It's tough to lose your head coach, especially when you've taken steps to move up and had some success," Lindley said of Long, who spent 11 seasons at New Mexico before joining Hoke's staff in 2009. "I think at first we were a little shocked and a little confused, and then you get a little worried. You start wondering about what's going to happen next, and it's a real tribute to the athletic department for bringing Coach Long in so quickly. That really deterred any confusion or worry about what was going to happen next. They knew Coach Long was the one for the job and we knew that as players, too."
Don't Be Deceived
While many are anticipating the showdown between TCU and Boise State at Bronco Stadium on Nov. 12 will determine the Mountain West champion, Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson is opting for blinders.
Patterson, whose team beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last season to finish 13-0 and No. 2 in the country, believes the MW could be rife with potential pitfalls.
"It's not all about Boise," Patterson said. "You can talk about a Colorado State team that I think is vastly improved. You can talk about an Air Force team that always plays very well early in the season and is a senior-oriented team. You can talk about a San Diego State team that has a week off before playing us and has a great senior quarterback (Ryan Lindley). All you have to do is look down through the Conference. We're going to have to be good on the road, and some of our most successful seasons have come from our ability to do just that."
Meanwhile, TCU senior linebacker Tank Carder, named the MW Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, added yet another honor to a lengthy list of accolades when he won a bowling competition between MW football players at the Red Rock Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Carder rolled a high game of 148.
Brick by Brick
With one of the most difficult schedules in the country last year, coach Bobby Hauck's first season at UNLV was hardly bereft of frustration. The Rebels, confronted with a dearth of inexperience, could find themselves battling a similar liability in 2011.
"We have a ways to go," said Hauck, "that's just a fact of life. I'd love to be able to sit here and say that we're really close and that there's a chance that we could win all of our games this year, but if you look at our schedule this year, as was the case with our schedule last year, there aren't too many games we're going to be favored in.
"But I'm seeing progress daily. The key for us is keeping both our current recruits and our players engaged in the fact that as long as we keep working, things are going to change here. We've also got to keep our fan base involved and excited about what we're doing. We want to line up and feel good about our chances every Saturday and we're doing everything humanly possible to make that happen."
Room to Grow
With Wyoming coach Dave Christensen facing the prospect of identifying a starting quarterback from among three freshmen, the team's veteran defense could play a crucial role in 2011. Still, Cowboys senior Brian Hendricks, who ranks among several outstanding linebackers in the MW this season, believes the offense will flourish sooner than some may think.
"Seeing some of those guys during summer workouts, they're going to be fine," Hendricks said. "They're young, but they're a very hard-working, athletic group that can get the job done. We have some young players who are going to be very successful in a couple of years."