Above photo provided by the UMHB Athletics Department
BELTON, Texas- UMHB head football coach Pete Fredenburg has been coaching at the college level for close to four decades. And still, every time a new season rolls around, the first gameweek of the year has the same kind of magic it has always had.
“When it does I’m going to quit,” Fredenburg said with a chuckle when asked if the magic of the season opener has dulled. “But right now, it’s gameweek and it’s exciting.”
The entire program has reason to be excited entering the season opener against Simpson College on Sept. 4. Past UMHB teams have begun the year ranked No. 1. Past UMHB teams have featured All-American-level talent. But it seems that there has never been a UMHB team with the amount of depth and seasoning that this squad has.
The Crusaders have proven leaders in safety Jefferson Fritz and quarterback Kyle King, both players that Fredenburg said “put an enormous amount of pressure on themselves” to be leaders on and off the field. Fritz, a team captain, enters the year as the UMHB record holder in career interceptions, with 22, and as the leader of a defense that allowed just 14.0 points per game during the spring.
King, who won the starting job during the second half of last season, is a first-year team captain and the expected starter, though UMHB has not released its depth chart at the time of this writing. When asked about his junior signal caller, Fredenburg spoke volumes about King’s poise in the pocket, and leadership abilities within the program.
“Kyle has really developed, in my opinion, into a leader on the field and off the field,” Fredenburg said. “I’m excited to see him rally the team. He is an incredible competitor, stays calm in the pocket, finds open receivers. He’s got an array of guys he can get the ball to. We’re just excited to see what our offense is going to be able to do with the talented people they have.”
The offense will indeed be talented this fall. Fredenburg noted that Aphonso Thomas, a former three-star recruit who began his collegiate career at SMU, is the team’s starter at running back. Thomas, who rushed for 1,568 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior at Van High School in 2015, was on UMHB’s 2020 fall roster, but suffered an achilles injury that sidelined him for the entirety of the spring campaign.
“Aphonso Thomas really excites us,” Fredenburg said. “He’s an incredible athlete. He had achilles tendon surgery over the last year, and we didn’t really get a chance to see [what he could do]. He’s worked incredibly hard to get his strength back, and his ability to drive and run. He, right now, would be the guy we would say is the starter.”
The UMHB running game will also be heavily aided by the presence of sophomore running backs Montana Miller and Kenneth Cormier. Miller had 209 yards rushing and a touchdown during the spring, and Cormier rushed for a team-high 143 yards in the ASC Championship game.
“Kenny Cormier really showed up last year in the Hardin-Simmons game,” Fredenburg noted. “He has really taken off from where he left off last year. He’s a gifted running back with size. He will be an incredible asset to offset Aphonso Thomas.
“Montana is also bigger than he’s been, and runs with a great deal of velocity. It’s going to be very difficult to take the field away from any of those three running backs.”
The Cru, always armed with a stifling defense, will need a high-octane offense in order to excel in the first month of the season, which features top-tier ASC challengers in ETBU and Hardin-Simmons. ETBU comes to Belton on Sept. 11, meaning Saturday’s contest against Simpson College will serve as a crucial test in which UMHB looks find its rhythm.
“It’s critical because it’s the first game,” Fredenburg said when asked about the Simpson College contest. “You can’t win them all if you don’t win the first one. Obviously our guys have a long way to go before we’re a good football team, so it’s critical that we embrace this opportunity to get on the field against a team we really don’t know very much about.”
Fredenburg was not exaggerating. Simpson College played just one recorded game during the 2020-21 season, a 49-14 loss to Central (Iowa), and the Storm declined UMHB’s offer to trade film prior to the contest.
“It’s very hard,” Fredenburg said when asked about preparing to play a team with such limited game film. “The video we have is a livestream video that doesn’t show the innercuts, so it’s difficult to ascertain much. We asked to trade, and he didn’t want to, so we just got the things that were available.”
Even with this challenge, Fredenburg expressed a certain confidence in his team, who appear to have benefited from the five-game spring season.
“I really think that last year is going to [provide] an enormous amount of benefits for us,” Fredenburg said. “We had guys that went through so much. We had six or seven weeks of spring training in the fall then five games in the spring. We had youngsters that were freshmen who had a great opportunity in the fall to develop into seasoned players.”