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The Countdown Begins

August 7, 2009

The countdown has officially begun for Coach Roger Waialae and the West Liberty University football team.NEW_WL_WITH_TEXT_BLACK_JPG

“22 days,” smiled the fifth-year head man after he and his staff had put nearly 100 Hilltoppers through their paces Friday afternoon at Russek Field.

That’s the number of days remaining until West Liberty kicks off the 2009 season against a highly-touted Edinboro (Pa.) squad on the Fighting Scots’  home field. With Edinboro ranked as high as No. 5 (The Sporting News) in the NCAA Division II pre-season polls and the Hilltoppers coming off their fourth straight winning season, the game carries regional and national implications.

The coaches can’t spend the next three weeks preparing specifically for Edinboro – win or lose, West Liberty will have 10 games remaining after the Aug. 29 opener – but there’s something about coming out of the gate against the No. 5 team in the country that sharpens the focus just a bit.

Not that Waialae thinks his players need any help in that area.

“One thing our guys are really good at is paying attention to the task immediately in front of them,” Waialae said. “They all know we play Edinboro on the 29th because we talk to them about it every day but I’ll bet there aren’t more than three of them that know who we play the week after that. We just take things one game at a time.”

There was the normal last-minute shuffling that is so common at the NCAA Division II level but, for the most part, all the players who were expected to return from last year’s team are back on campus. The final newcomer – one of the junior-college transfers from California –  flew into Pittsburgh Friday afternoon after completing his summer-school work and made it to Russek Field before the end of practice.

An excellent recruiting class divided fairly equally between high school seniors and collegiate transfers – with an emphasis on offensive and defensive linemen – has made an obvious difference in the team’s appearance. West Liberty will clearly be much bigger in the trenches this fall and Waialae also believes the Hilltoppers have upgraded their speed and athleticism.

“I feel pretty good after watching us practice,” Waialae said. “We are a better football team today than we were in the spring and we were a better football team in the spring than we were last fall.

“The newcomers are making our returning players better and that’s the way it’s supposed to work. I told the guys that until we win the national championship, we’re going to go out and recruit like we’re going to replace everybody every year.”

The Hilltoppers worked out in helmets and shorts for about two hours on Friday. They’ll add shoulder pads for Sunday’s practice before breaking out the full gear on Tuesday for the first two-a-day session of the summer.

When the “Hilltopper Huddle” returns to the sidelines on Monday, we’re hoping to start a series of daily video interviews with players and coaches. In the meantime, we’ll try to get some action photos posted from the early practice sessions. Thanks for your interest in West Liberty football. Check back with us often for the latest in Hilltopper athletics.

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