The University of Dayton football program kicks off its season against Illinois State University, at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1, in Normal, Ill.
The game will mark the first time that UD has ever faced the Redbirds. The game is also the first of two straight away games at Football Championship Subdivision scholarship programs for the Flyers, who are a non-scholarship FCS program. It is also the first time since 1977 they have opened the season with two away games.
According to UD head coach Rick Chamberlin, the team is thrilled at the opportunity to play a good football team on the road.
“They’re excited about it,” Chamberlin said. “They feel like they’re pretty good football players, and I agree with them. I think they’re a pretty good football team, and they want to go out and play against the best. That’s one of the reasons they come to Dayton is to be able to play competition like this.”
According to redshirt senior defensive tackle Zach Weber, the team is embracing its underdog role against these big-time opponents.
“We’re ready for the challenge,” Weber said. “We’re the underdog whenever we play big teams like this, and we live for that. It’s fun to beat opponents when we’re the underdog.”
Although, Chamberlin said the key to succeeding in the hostile road environment is to take away Illinois State’s momentum right from the beginning.
“We can’t give Illinois State a chance to gain momentum especially early in the game,” Chamberlin said. “If we give them big plays or big hits early, that’ll just get them going at home with an opening crowd. We must be able to play a nice, sound game at the beginning and not allow the crowd to get into it.”
However, even though the game is on the road, Chamberlin said that the Flyers will be well represented at the game, because one of Dayton’s largest alumni bases is in the Chicago, Illinois area. Chamberlin said that many former players who live in the area will attend the game and cheer on the Flyers in the hostile environment.
Illinois State comes into this season ranked No. 20 in the Football Championship Series preseason coach’s poll. The team finished 7-4 last season, 5-3 in the Missouri Valley Conference and fell short of receiving an at-large bid into the FCS playoffs.
Leading the offense for Illinois State will be the offensive duo of senior quarterback Matt Brown and senior wide receiver Tyrone Walker. Brown is entering his fourth season as the starter after being named to the all-MVC second team last season. Walker also enters his fourth season as a starter and was named all-MVC second team as well last year.
On the defensive side of the ball, according to Chamberlin, there’s not just a single player who stands out but the defense does as a whole.
“They have some seven starters returning on defense,” Chamberlin said. “And they’re a very, very good, very disciplined defense. They won’t do a whole lot of blitzing. They just run to the ball carrier well.”
As for the Flyers, the game marks the debut for coach Chris Ochs in the offensive coordinator role. According to senior tight end Jordan Elmore, the adjustments that are being made are more toward the skill set of the team rather than the opponent, and that there will definitely be a change in the first game.
All in all, according to both Elmore, and Weber, the team is anxious to get the season started and started out right.
“I’m excited about how this team has come together,” Elmore said. “We kind of had a down year last year. Through camp, I’ve seen these guys have pulled together. I’m excited to see how this year will
As for Weber, he’s excited to just play.
“We’re excited for the game, we’re ready to get this season started,” he said.