The Eastern Kentucky University football team ended last season with a 7-4 record and just missed out on a playoff berth, but head coach Mark Elder said he is looking to add to the success from last year with his most talented team in years.
“There is a lot of great anticipation for the team this year,” Elder said during the annual football media day. “We have our most talented team we’ve had in my time here and the deepest team and the most a-lined team from a culture standpoint.”
Coming into the fall camp, Elder emphasized the belief his squad came in with, but Elder said his team is preparing for the season with a fresh mindset knowing that they have to prove themselves on the field and earn every win.
“We walked into this camp with a great sense of belief,” Elder said. “Obviously we have accomplished nothing, we are 0-0 and a lot of people like to take what was last year... this team is a different team.”
The Colonels lost 12 seniors from last year’s team. EKU has 36 fresh faces to the program this season.
“This team is a different team than last year’s team,” Elder said. “I know the expectation levels are very high amongst ourselves. The guys have really high expectation levels for each other, for themselves and for us.”
Elder said it’s a day to day process of improving and working hard to become a playoff team. His players are taking each practice and game with the mindset of winning that day, and pushing closer and closer to the end goal which is a 13th game and playoff appearance.
Leadership from his players has been another key takeaway for Elder so far in fall camp.
“Everything that we’ve had from the off season as far as working together where the leadership has really been from the players from the bottom up which we are really looking for when we set the standards and expectations,” the fourth-year head coach said.
Elder feels like this team is something special and a group that can make a lot of noise in the Ohio Valley Conference and possibly in the playoffs.
“We certainly feel like we have all the makings of a tremendous team coming up in the fall,” he said.
The question just about every EKU fan has right now is ‘Who will be the starting Quarterback?’
It’s been a battle between four quarterbacks in the fall camp and Elder is happy to have depth at that position.
“We have a number of guys who are certainly very talented that are capable of leading the team. We are in no means in the situation to name a guy. Each guy has had a day that they have played a little bit better, but I think that all four of the guys that are upperclassmen are playing at a high level of football.”
Redshirt junior Austin Scott, Redshirt sophomore Dakota Allen, Redshirt freshman Parker McKinney and Redshirt junior Conor Blount are battling for the position. Blount is a transfer from Oregon State. He started six of the first seven games of the season, played in nine games for the Beavers and completed 62 percent of his passes (95-of-153) with just two interceptions. He tossed seven touchdown passes and 1,117 yards. The transfer Quarterback was 12-for-19 for 169 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions at No. 5 Ohio State in the season opener last year.
According to Elder, there is no set time table when a starter will be named, but he said a starter will be apparent at some point before the first kick-off and home opener against Valparaiso next Thursday.
Quarterback isn’t the only position Eastern has depth in this season.Elder is pleased to have a long depth chart in the offensive line category and on the defensive side with defensive backs and defensive linemen.
Like every team during fall camp and preparing for the season, the Colonels are working to improve the pieces to look like a final product needed to make a run for the postseason.
“I think it’s going to be a real special year,” senior running back Daryl McCleskey said during media day. “It’s one of those things where a program builds up to this moment where it can be a make or break and I feel like we are on a good track for this to be a very special year and a year to remember.”
McCleskey was second on the team with a career-best 651 rushing yards a season ago. He also led the team’s rushing attack alongside LJ Scott. Scott graduated in the spring and all eyes are now on McCleskey to shine for the Colonels this season.
McCleskey’s best game last season was a 168-yard rushing performance at Bowling Green where he also had three rushing touchdowns. He finished fifth in the Ohio Valley Conference in rushing yards last season and fifth in rushing yards per game with 59.2.
McCleskey’s freshman year was Elder’s first year as head coach and McCleskey has seen improvement around the program. He believes his senior year will be a year to remember for years to come.
“To see the groundwork that we put in, the foundation, the building and coming to something better than we could have imagined is a great feeling,” McCleskey said.
Eastern Kentucky kicks off the 2019 season next Thursday at Roy Kidd Stadium at 7 p.m. against Valparaiso. Follow @SportsEP on Twitter for game updates and more.