BELTON — Following a week spent grooming younger players, resting older ones and fine-tuning a few things, No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor resumes American Southwest Conference play Saturday afternoon at home against Texas Lutheran.
Whether last week’s open date halted the momentum of the Crusaders (5-0, 4-0) remains to be seen, but head coach Pete Fredenburg doesn’t believe any extra motivational tactics will be needed to have his guys ready to face the Bulldogs (1-4, 1-3).
The reason for that is simple. UMHB learned first-hand a few weeks ago — when it had to rally from a 28-7 halftime deficit to beat rival Hardin-Simmons — what can happen when it isn’t firing on all cylinders from the opening kick.
“I don’t think it will be hard to get our guys motivated this week. The thing I addressed with them, and I really think this is true, is that halftime against Hardin-Simmons was kind of an awakening,” said Fredenburg, whose team thrashed Austin College 56-0 in its most recent game Oct. 2. “Getting ready to face Austin College, I don’t think anybody really worried about Austin College beating us. But the great thing about that game was that we played everybody we had on the bench, and it never got sloppy. Everybody was focused in.
“So I really believe, and I hope this is true, the halftime of Hardin-Simmons was an awakening for our football team. It’s a reminder to always get prepared and take care of ourselves.”
The Crusaders average 488 yards and 52 points per game while yielding just 197 yards and 10 points. This week, they face a TLU team that ranks second to last in the ASC in total defense by giving up 447 yards an outing.
Another rout could be in store, but Fredenburg said there are things that are just as important as the final score.
“Our guys need to understand the significance of making sure that we’re not just winning games, but we’re getting better every week,” he said. “This Region 6 concerns me because there’s seven or eight teams in this region that can be really good. When they start evaluating who’s in the playoffs and who’s hosting playoff games, it’s all predicated on strength of schedule. We’re penalized by playing Simpson and Austin College and such.
“We have to be really good. Winning by a lot of points doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it’s important to be sharp and be able to execute.”
One of the primary goals last week was to heal a banged up group of linebackers and expedite the progression of their backups, and neither project was completely finished.
Senior starting weakside linebacker Mikkah Hackett is still hobbled by an aching leg, and two freshman backups are talented but not ready to shoulder a starting role.
As such, senior linebacker Jacob Mueller — the team’s leading tackler — and his backup, sophomore Omari Frazier, will move from the strong side of the formation to the weak side.
“I didn’t really want to move Jacob, but we had to. He and Omari Frazier both have made that transition and done extremely well,” Fredenburg said. “We have freshman guys we’re bringing along slowly, and they are going to be really good players for us. We’re going to continue to push them, but they’re just not ready right now to get in there and play down after down.”
More than a handful of NFL teams have sent scouts to UMHB practices this season, and they all made the trip to Belton to see All-American free safety Jefferson Fritz in action.
It’s the most scouts UMHB has seen on campus since former Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman played for the Crusaders from 2004-07.
“The guy that came from the Bears was there when Jerrell was there, and he really said some interesting things,” Fredenburg said. “He said there’s so many players in the NFL that don’t love the game. They’re playing it and they’re very talented and they’re making a lot of money, but they don’t love the game. He said Jerrell loved the game, loved to play it. Fritz loves it, too.”
Scouts prefer to grade a player’s skill level based on their own opinion, but they rely on college coaches for insight into a player off the field.
“The scouts ask us questions, and it’s always interesting what they want to know,” Fredenburg said. “They ask us about Jefferson’s mom and dad. They ask about his academics, work ethic, whether the other guys like him. They don’t ask things that have anything to do with his playing ability.”
Little change in the poll
There wasn’t much movement in this week’s NCAA Division III coaches poll, with Central moving into the top 10 and Wisconsin-Oshkosh slipping from sixth to 19th.
North Central remains No. 1, followed by UMHB, Wisconsin-Whitewater, Mount Union and St. John’s.
Linfield, Delaware Valley, Hardin-Simmons, Wheaton and Central round out the top 10.