Heading in to day four of camp, Western Illinois is far ahead of schedule then they was a year ago. They welcome back 16 total starters to this Leatherneck squad, including a bundle of players who earned playing time last year. In a conference that runs deep, second-year head coach Bob Nielson believes his team is ready to be a legitimate contender.
Bob Nielson: "We're going in to the season believing we can be competitive right now. Obviously that means we have to get better every week. We have to have a lot of things happen the right way. We've got to stay healthy. Every team in the country is saying that. Of course every team in the country is saying they can win a conference championship right now, too. It's just that some put it together, some don't."
After struggling offensively in 2013, this group returns four starters on the offensive line, along with running back J.C. Baker and quarterback Trent Norvell.
Norvell: "The offense has a lot more to prove then the defense I guess you could say. But, you know, just that we've all been here and we've had a spring with each other. The guys that came in during the summer time. Just the fact that we get to grow with each other and keep going forward throughout each practice. We've got a lot to prove."
Baker: "My offensive line does a tremendous job every single day. Last year they did a tremendous job. I feel as though, if I miss a hole or we're not getting the yard, that's on us. They offensive line is going to take care of their business. We've got guys coming back this year and are hungry. They want to prove to us that we can have more then one-thousand yard rushers. We have to protect Trent to make sure he can get the ball to the correct receivers. The offensive line has done their job since day one."
Defensively, Western returns eight starters to a unit that finished second in the Missouri Valley.
Kevin Kintzel: "We're going to do big things this year. We're definitely going to compete for the Missouri Valley conference title. We're flying under everyones radar right now."
Martinez Davis: "This was the best summer I've every had here, it was just so structured. We were all on the field together. You see a lot of people putting in extra work. Me as a player, that's what you want to see out of your teammates."
Kintzel: "When people flip on the film or schedule for us, I want them to be like Wow, this is a completely different Western team. Offense is bringing it. Defense is doing what we do a little bit better. So, until the week that they play us, I don't want them to know about us because we are going to come and bring the one-two punch with the offense and defense and finish it with the special teams."