Jayne Claire Vincent, Campus Carrier asst. sports editor
The Vikings football team began their 2022 season with a win. They defeated Maryville last weekend and are returning to Valhalla this Saturday, Sept. 10th for the first home game of the season.
Last season was very uncharacteristic for Berry football with the team losing their winning streak of five straight conference championships. However, the team is now anxious and ready to get back on the field.
Head Football Coach Tony Kuczenski said that the preseason is the best he’s seen because of the leadership that the players are showing.
“We are blessed with a lot of strong leaders on the team and a lot of guys that have been here for a lot of the championships won,” Kuczenski said. “They understand what the standard and what the culture needs to be.”
The team is eager to play since most of the players have been prepping for this season since January.
“The football season doesn’t start when we report in August, really the 2022 season began in January when we came back for the second semester and started getting in the weight room,” said Kuczenski.
Senior Brock Skinner, outside linebacker, also believes that there is a significant difference from this year to last.
“One problem last year was that we didn’t have a lot of unity on the team, there was a lot of division,” Skinner said. “At the start of spring in January we had a meeting, just the players, which basically laid the groundwork for how we were going to change, how we were going to become more of a family and bring everyone together. Especially in today’s day and age when there’s a lot of adversity. We really emphasized that if we were going to win football games we were going to have to play as a team, as a family, as brothers”.
Skinner is very impressed by this year’s incoming class and looks forward to playing with them on the field. He believes they will add a lot of value to the team. This is one of the smoothest transitions that Skinner has ever been a part of. Since all the players are very talented and mature, they have quickly picked up onto defensive schemes, offensive schemes and continue to be in the weight room or study hall on time.
There is also a notable difference in comradery this year than last. Junior Deiondre Wilson, wide receiver, feels as though there is more joy and willingness to work together as a whole.
“I feel like we’ve been kind of revamped,” said Wilson.
The revamping of the team has a lot to do with the recent coaches that have been brought in. They have worked diligently to recruit new players and have been working hard at pushing the team to be on another level setting higher standards for the players.
“We’ve had a lot of transition of our staff over the last couple of years because having a successful program leads to other schools wanting to hire your coaches,” said Kuczenski. “We’ve had to replace 5 to 9 coaches, but I think we now have the right mix on our staff”.
The team now has three football alums as coaching staff, all of whom understand what the culture of the team should look like since they played for Berry recently.
“We recruited with a chip on our shoulder, we’re going to be coaching with a chip on our shoulder and I think in 2022 we’re going to be playing with a chip on our shoulder,” said Kuczenski.
The recent SAA ranking has Berry placed in third for the conference championship, but the team could not care less. Neither the coaches nor the players care at all about preseason rankings, they are more concerned about post season rankings since that’s when the games will have all been played.
Fifth year player Jake Weitkamp, outside linebacker, is excited to get back to playing at Valhalla on Saturdays and looks forward to the season ahead.
“I don’t care what anyone else thinks about us, what matters is what we know and what we think about ourselves, and we are going to prove that on the field this year,” said Weitkamp. “We know what we are capable of, and we’ve reestablished what it means to be Berry football”.
The previous season was a wakeup call for the team. Kuczenski believes that natural complacency set in. Since they had won the conference championship for so many years in a row, they almost expected to automatically take the win.
However, compared to last year, the team is driven to reclaim their title as conference champions.
“I’ve said this numerous times, to be elite takes way more than just counting,” Kuczenski said. “It takes toughness, it takes the right timing, the right type of chemistry and I think we’re on the right track to getting that back, so far, it’s been fun to coach this fall.”
The roster this season is the second largest that Berry football has ever had. There are 61 incoming freshmen on top of the 68 returning players and five fifth-year seniors coming back.
“Everyone is carrying higher rosters than they normally do,” Kuczenski said, “Talking with some of my colleagues it’s not just at the D3 level but at D2 and D1 it seems like everyone is carrying higher rosters. We want to make sure we can officially run our program. With some of the injuries that have happened and some of the things that have kept some of the players off the field we wanted to make sure we weren’t short at any position,”.
Even though it has been challenging for the staff to have such a large roster there are things that they have put in place to ensure that the players get to know one another. The way the team has practiced has not been easy due to the large number of players but so far, the plans they have in place have been successful.
“I think as long as you’re recruiting the right people and have the right people in place then the success kind of follows,” said Kuczenski.