Last year was a tough one for Kentucky State University’s football team.
This year the Thorobreds are ready to show how far they’ve come.
KSU opens its season Sept. 5 at Kentucky Wesleyan under interim head coach Josh Dean, who replaces Wayne Dickens.
Dean served as an assistant coach under the defensive coordinator last season, his first at Kentucky State.
“We hit the ground running, myself and the coaching staff,” said Dean, who was named interim coach in March. “We had six recruits at the time of the transition, and we had 20 signees heading into camp.
“Last year was a tough season for us going 2-8. What we wanted this year is to bring in players and create a situation that helps us take this to another level.”
Last season’s record included a 0-7 mark in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
The Thorobreds are looking for a better outcome this season.
“We took our lumps last year,” Dean said during KSU’s football media day Saturday at Alumni Stadium, “but at the same time we gained valuable experience.”
K-State returns seven offensive and seven defensive starters from last year, including Justin Williams.
Williams, a junior from Pompano Beach, Fla., was named first team offense on the SIAC pre-season team.
“Coach Dean’s focus has been right out of the roof,” Williams said. “The focus level of the team is better.”
Williams played five positions last year and was the team’s leading rusher. This year he’s down to two positions, running back and wide receiver.
“I’m not about a lot of personal goals,” Williams said. “Right now my mindset is the team. Whatever position I have to be in to help the team win, that’s my goal personally. The stats will take care of themselves if I’m doing that.”
Williams will help with KSU’s plan to be a run-oriented offense. The ground game also figures prominently in the team’s defensive plans.
“We’re focusing on defending the run,” Dean said. “We have a good secondary, but stopping the run is important.
“The teams with the most success are consistent with running the ball and stopping the run.”
K-State was picked by the SIAC coaches to finish fourth in the six-team West Division of the conference. Central State joins the SIAC this season as a football-only member and will compete in the West Division.
There are five teams in the East Division.
“It looks winnable,” Williams said of the conference. “The only thing that can stop us is us. Our mindset is there; the focus is there. We just have to go out and take it one day at a time.”
Also earning SIAC pre-season honors for KSU were junior kicker Cade Berryman, named second team offense, and senior defensive lineman Kenny Townsend, named second team defense.
The 20 signees for this year’s team include a mix of freshmen and transfers.
“The biggest challenge for me was communicating with the parents,” Dean said about recruiting as an interim coach. “I don’t sell myself; I sell the program and the university.
“I tell them this is a family-oriented program, a family-oriented university. Once you’re part of the program you’re family, and we’ll treat you as such.”
That’s been a plus for the returning players.
“It’s going really good,” said senior offensive lineman Zach LaGrange, a graduate of North Oldham High School. “One of the best things we had happen is the entire coaching staff wasn’t replaced. It was a change in head coaches, so the relationships we had with the coaching staff are still here.”
The Thorobreds open the season with three straight road games. They don’t play at home until Sept. 28 when they host Stillman College.
Homecoming will be Oct. 12 against Fort Valley State.
This year’s roster includes four players from Frankfort — senior tight end William Leach, a graduate of Trinity High School; senior defensive lineman James Pugh and junior kicker Cam Lee, graduates of Western Hills High School; and junior defensive end Deshon Floyd, a graduate of Frankfort High School.
“It’s actually been really nice,” Floyd said of the Thorobreds’ preparations. “I’m excited to be a part of this, excited to be a part of something that hasn’t been done at KSU in a long time.”
KSU Football Schedule
Sept. 5 at Ky. Wesleyan, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 at Central State, 1:30 p.m.
Sept. 21 at Virginia State, 4 p.m.
Sept. 28 Stillman College, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 Alderson-Broaddus, noon
Oct. 12 Fort Valley, 1:30 p.m. (HC)
Oct. 19 at Miles College, 4 p.m.
Oct. 26 Tuskegee, 1 p.m.
Nov. 2 at Lane College, 2 p.m.
Nov. 9 Morehouse, 1 p.m.