Above photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru
BELTON, Texas- Bye weeks do not come often for UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg and his team. But this is one of those such weeks, following the Crusaders’ 56-0 victory at Austin College on Saturday.
It marks the midpoint of the 10-game regular season, but rather than see it as a halfway point, Fredenburg is hoping that it marks only the first third of UMHB’s 2021 season.
“I’m not looking ahead and saying this will happen, but what we want is for this to be the first third of our season. There’s a push we need to make in the last five games of the regular season, and then a push we need to make into the playoffs,” Fredenburg said on Monday. “It’s important that we look at it that way so we can stay ahead of the clock as we try to accomplish the goals these guys have set for themselves.”
At 5-0 on the season and a perfect 4-0 in ASC play, the Cru appears poised for a deep postseason run. After struggling to put together a quality first half against seventh-ranked Hardin-Simmons two weeks ago, UMHB came out of the gates quickly at Austin, with 21 first quarter points.
“That was something I was really proud of,” Fredenburg said. “As the game started to get out of hand, we started inserting different players and usually in situations like that, you get sloppy on both sides of the ball. I didn’t think that happened. It gave us a great opportunity to use some young guys.
‘We were working very hard to bring these two freshmen linebackers along, and they got a lot of playing time. We played all three quarterbacks and everybody got a chance to get on the field. Again, to not be sloppy in that kind of environment is a real tribute to your players and coaches.”
But like the majority of UMHB’s victories, there is still work to be done. Special teams has been one area in which Fredenburg seeks improvement. The return game has been minimal, even with the return of 2018 All-American Aaron Sims, as well as KJ Miller and Jefferson Fritz. Kicking-wise, Anthony Avila has missed three PATs this season, which led to Brandon Cunningham handling the PAT duties on Saturday, while Avila was responsible for kickoffs.
As Fredenburg noted Monday, special teams become critical once the postseason rolls around, so getting those units in order as a priority.
“We really have to look and develop some issues with our special teams,” Fredenburg said. “I don’t know how many of you saw the Oklahoma-Kansas State game [on Saturday]. Kansas State tried a surprise onside [kick] but then they had two other opportunities for an onside kick. So you think, down the road, will we have to have an onside kick? Obviously we’ve worked some but we need to work more thoroughly in case we need that opportunity.
“Also, punt blocks. We have great returners, but we haven’t put a great effort into actually lining up and if we have to block a punt, we need to be able to achieve that. All of those things are issues that you give some forethought to. We’re going to spend a lot of time on those issues during this week.”
Fredenburg noted that the practice schedule might vary slightly from a typical gameweek, with the junior varsity and varsity players both seeing significant practice time, and more development on specific areas, but ultimately, he seeks to give the players struggling with injuries a chance to heal before the second half of the regular season.
“This open date will give us an opportunity for our full-time coaches to really spend some time with our JV guys, help them grow,” Fredenburg said. “It also helps us to get some guys who are dinged up off the field for a little bit. We really want to come out of the open week, healthy, in good shape and moving forward. We know that in order to make a big, strong run, we need to stay healthy and keep getting better. That is the goal and function of this week.”
Of course, it might also be one of the only Saturdays in the fall that he has a chance to watch some of the D-I programs compete. When asked about it Monday, Fredenburg mentioned Alabama and Georgia as two programs he enjoys watching. He also follows the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL quite closely, considering his godson is current head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
“I always like to watch good games that pique your interest obviously,” Fredenburg said. “Georgia and Alabama and the people who play the game so hard and continue to be successful. The only NFL team I’m interested in is the Cardinals. I know that people in Texas will be upset with me for not saying the Cowboys, but Kliff Kingsbury is my godson and he’s the head coach, so I watch them as much as I can.”
In the polls
UMHB is now ranked No. 2 by both D3football.com and the American Football Coaches Association while North Central holds the top spot in both rankings. The Crusaders held the AFCA’s No. 1 ranking until last week.
Riley Zayas serves as the managing editor of True To The Cru. He has worked in sports journalism since 2016, having been published by Sports Illustrated Kids, Sports Illustrated, Horns Illustrated, Sports Spectrum and College Baseball Nation. Contact Riley Zayas at firstname.lastname@example.org.