In just two days MSU will kickoff its season in the Gold Rush game against Monmouth University, a team the Bobcats have never played before
"Monmouth is very strong physically and I think you can tell they have an excellent weight program that their guys are very dedicated to in the off-season training," said MSU head coach Rob Ash. "There's not gonna be any freebies and mistakes out there that they're gonna give us. We're gonna to have to earn everything we get."
One area that will certainly be under the microscope is a defense that lost some key seniors in the off-season due to injury. Senior linebacker and second leading tackler on last years squad Na'a Moekaiola was lost for the season following shoulder surgery. Fellow senior Aleksei Grosulak retired in the off-season following numerous injuries throughout his tenure at MSU. The final blow, senior defensive end Preston Gale injuring his MCL during the Bobcats final scrimmage. He will be out until at least mid-season.
"The biggest concern for me of fall camp was Preston Gale going down," said Ash. "That's because of Caleb Schreibeis being gone and thinking we had a fifth year senior guy to just step in. It kind of set us back a little bit in terms of getting ready for this first game."
One area of the defense that will have to take on some of that pressure will be the secondary as the new defensive lineman get set in their positions. I asked senior free safety Steven Bethley if he felt the secondary will have to take on more responsibility this season due to those injuries.
"No, we don't think so," said Bethley. "Losing Preston and then losing the guys that we had last year is a big loss for us but just like every season there's always guys that are willing to step up. In the back-end we're just going to control what we can control and I'm sure our D-line and linebackers will get there and create pressure."
Players certainly having to step up not just on the defensive side of the ball but on the offense as well. Captain and senior receiver Tanner Bleskin feels they can help alleviate some of that pressure.
"I think every time we step on the field as an offense we need to score," said Bleskin. "We have high expectations. Yeah we had guys go down but it's an opportunity for another group of guys to step up and make their own legacy."
"I think the guys who have stepped up have done a great job and they're excited to play," said MSU defensive coordinator Jamie Marshall. "They want to be the guy and they'll have the opportunity Thursday."
The Gold Rush game is close to selling out as only standing room tickets remain and the team is thankful for the community support.
"Every year the excitement has seemed to build," said Bleskin. "I try to compartmentalize. When I'm on campus it's all about school. Sometimes you can't ignore it. Obviously there's a lot of excitement."
"The first game, everybody is excited around this school and around this town," said Bethley. "That's where everybody is on Thursday night and we just want to put on a show for the fans and have fun."