Editor’s Note: Above image of Pete Fredenburg provided by the UMHB Athletics Department
BELTON, Texas- All great programs, such as Alabama football, Duke men’s basketball, UConn women’s basketball, and of course the most successful college football program of all-time, UMHB, share one thing in common. Though the majority of its games might be decided by halftime, success is not measured on the scoreboard. It is measured in how close you came to perfection on that particular day.
As UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg and multiple players spoke with the media earlier this week, it was evident that even in a 41-0 rout of Belhaven on Saturday, the Crusaders did not feel they played anywhere close to their best. It sounds odd to say that, especially considering it was the team’s first game in 427 days, a new quarterback was under center, and rain was falling. Yet, it is that quality alone that keeps the Cru striving for more. The team never settles for less, which is why even in a huge victory such as the one on Saturday, UMHB headed into the bye week armed with a laundry list of things to work on.
“It seemed like it was a long time since we’d played,” said Fredenburg. “Doing the things, executing our offense and defense, obviously there were so many mistakes and things that we really have to get better [on] during this time together.”
However, Fredenburg’s attitude was not one of negativity. In fact, it was quite the opposite. He took a second to note how impressed he was with the effort of his squad, something no doubt due to the long layoff for the team and excitement to be back on the field, facing an opponent again.
“The thing that stuck out to me was the effort,” said the 23rd year head coach. “The guys played with incredible effort. That helps so much developing the team chemistry.”
The bye week will be of great benefit to the Cru, according to Fredenburg, as the team will have a chance to correct some of the miscues and work out the kinks before the home opener against Louisiana College on February 20.
“I think this week is going to be an enormous positive thing for us because we’re going to spend time developing team chemistry and then also getting those little ‘knick-knack things’ to where they execute better and look better,” noted Fredenburg.
Talking with linebacker Jacob Mueller and wide receiver Kadarius Daniels on Wednesday those ‘knick-knack things’ included lining up, reading opposing offenses and defenses, as well as simply understanding their assignments better.
“Even though we won 41-0, we still know there’s a lot of potential for us,” said Daniels, embodying the attitude of great teams mentioned above. “There’s a lot of room to grow. For the new guys, that is learning the playbook, sharpening, and being well-rounded. What we need to work on is just being honed in on our assignments on gameday.”
“For us, I know that our effort, like getting to the ball, was one of the best things, but when it comes to what we can work on, I think lining up, and making sure that we’re seeing the run-pass option better would be a good thing,” added Mueller.
One of the major storylines following the victory at Belhaven was the tremendous play of quarterback Tommy Bowden, who earned True To The Cru’s Offensive Player of the Week honor. In his first collegiate start, the sophomore scored four touchdowns, two passing and two rushing. The Brownwood native was praised by Fredenburg, though Bowden’s 48 percent completion rate was something the head coach would like to see improve, especially in better weather conditions next Saturday.
“We were disappointed obviously in his completion rate, but there’s a lot of different things that go into that; protection, routes, doing the things that they were giving us on defense,” said Fredenburg.”I thought Tommy did a great job. He gives such a presence and he is so fast, and he is so dedicated. He is the epitome of everything you would want in a quarterback.”
Bowden’s teammates, on both sides of the ball, agreed with their head coach in his assessment of their new signal caller.
“What I’ve seen from the fall to now is just how his confidence [has improved],” said Daniels. “He has taken ownership, and I think that is the big difference from then to now.”
“I like Tommy a lot because he can run really well, but he’s smart too,” said Mueller. “Seeing him through the fall, I’ve seen the growth in him. He was only a freshman last year, so seeing him develop from being a freshman and not really having much of a voice, to now, he’s starting to develop that voice. I think in the next four games he’ll really start evolving into that leader that he’s going to be for the rest of his career.”
One of the things that Fredenburg later noted in regards to Bowden’s performance was the lack of pass protection, due to a young offensive line without its leader in senior center Steven Sellers. Sellers was a late scratch and did not make the trip to Jackson.
“A lot of the things that broke down was protection,” said Fredenburg. We’re going to work really hard to get [Tommy] time, because he is incredibly talented.”
Bowden definitely showed that, and with rain coming down, receivers finding it hard to run routes, and the football wet on most of the plays, he handled himself and the challenges he faced with poise.
“The thing that worried us a little bit was that the balls were wet,” said Fredenburg. “Belhaven supplied us with our ball boy so I don’t know if they kept our balls as dry as theirs, or if they were motivated to do that.”
Even if the Belhaven ball boys made it tougher for the Cru to throw the ball deep downfield, it did not seem to affect the visitors from Belton.
The Cru defense stepped up in a big way on Saturday, led by linebacker Mikkah Hackett, defensive tackle Sedryk Hernandez, and Defensive Player of the Week, Khevon Shepard, as Belhaven was limited to just 71 yards of total offense.
“I thought Khevon Shepard came and really did an incredible job of leading the defensive front and Sedryk Hernandez played probably his best game since he’s been here,” remarked Fredenburg.”Mikkah Hackett, who has been all over the field in different places, is really developing some skills there [at middle linebacker].”
Perhaps Mueller best summed up the realistic goal of the UMHB defense entering every game this spring, saying, “We want to be one of the great defenses like the ones that went to the national championship before us. By no means did we do as well as we wanted last game, but I think that’s a good starting point, because the goal every game is to shut every team out.”
All things considered, it was a great starting point for a squad that had dealt with adversity, unknowns and inconsistencies over the past several months, according to Fredenburg.
“What’s gratifying to me is to see the development of our players,” said Fredenburg. “All of a sudden guys go from a backup role to all of a sudden having the expectations of leadership and setting the precedent.”