July 24, 2014
By Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
DETROIT, Mich. – Mid-American Conference Football Media Day is all about optimism, positives and upside.
And while Central Michigan was picked to finish fourth in the MAC West Division in a poll of league media members, that did little to dampen the pointed enthusiasm of senior defensive lineman Leterrius Walton.
“We’re looking to win a MAC championship this season,” said Walton, who has shed 20 pounds – down to 300 – from his 6-foot-5 frame. “I feel like it’s a big difference this year. We are very, very confident about the season. We’re all on the same page.
“We’re putting everything we’ve got into this season because we know how to do it, we know how to go about everything.”
The Chippewas finished 6-6 last season, 5-3 (tied for third) in the West. In 2012, they were 7-6 – and won the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl – after finishing with three wins in each of the previous two seasons.
The Chippewas return 18 starters, a few of whom – specifically quarterback Cooper Rush, running back Saylor Lavallii, and offensive lineman Ramadan Ahmeti -- were battlefield promotions a year ago due to injuries in the season-opener at Michigan.
And while every college football team annually loses top-liners to injury, the Chippewas in 2013 seemed particularly hard hit.
The silver lining? Those green players who were thrust into starting roles a year ago now have a season’s worth of experience under their belt.
“Going through what we went through last year, it was a great experience that we can draw upon,” said Dan Enos, who is entering his fifth season as the Chippewas’ coach. “When there are injuries like that it gives other guys opportunities to play.
“Ultimately we’ve got a good football team on paper and we need to take the steps to get the team to week one healthy and raring to go.”
The Chippewas open the season with a non-league game on Thursday, Aug. 28, at Kelly/Shorts Stadium against Chattanooga. The conference opener is at Toledo on Saturday, Sept. 27.
Walton is one of 21 seniors who came to Mount Pleasant along with Enos and have endured the inevitable growing pains. He said the maturation of the program and players therein is evident at every turn.
“Last year’s Western game,” Walton said, recalling the thrilling 27-22 victory over the Broncos as an example of how far the Chippewas have come under Enos. “We had a lot of ups and downs in that game with lots of turnovers, the defense blowing plays. But no matter what happened in that game, we bounced back and we kept fighting and fighting because we knew we were doing it for the guys next to us.
“(In years past) there would have been a lot of guys looking around, trying to find someone to figure it out for them rather than getting out there and doing it.”
That win sparked a three-game win streak to close the season, a turn of events – along with the number of experienced returnees and the growth of the program – that Enos, Walton and the rest of the Chippewas hope spurs CMU to great heights in 2014.
“Nothing less than a MAC championship,” senior wide receiver Titus Davis said at Media Day. “The last couple years we’ve been taking it another step forward. This year we have more depth, players we can put on the field and trust, that’s a big part of it.
“We feel like we have a team of guys who are ready to contribute and help us win every time we step on the field.”
Davis was the lone Chippewa to make the All-MAC First Team in 2013 when he made 61 catches for 1,109 yards and scored eight touchdowns. He was named to the Biletnikoff Watch List for the second straight year.
“Those were good numbers, but I’m not satisfied and I know I can do better,” he said. “I’m looking to improve significantly.”