Western Illinois begins fall camp with ‘open competition at every position’

First-year Western Illinois head football coach Myers Hendrickson said there’s plenty of competition in fall camp for starting jobs. (Photo by KHQA)

By Dan Verdun

Football coaches often talk about wide open position battles this time of year. Perhaps that has never been more true than this fall under first-year head coach and Western Illinois alum Myers Hendrickson.

Graduation and the transfer portal left Hendrickson tasked with rebuilding a team that had just 58 players listed on the roster for April’s annual Bruce Craddock Memorial Spring Game.

“I’m really excited to be back at Western,” the 33-year-old Hendrickson said during Monday’s Missouri Valley Football Conference media days Zoom call. “We’re gearing up for fall.”

Part of that gearing up included adding players to the Leatherneck roster.

“We’ll be at 110 for fall camp,” Hendrickson said following a whirlwind of recruiting both transfers and high school athletes.

“Right now our strength lies in competition, so right now our players know where we stand and there’s open competition at every position,” Hendrickson said. “In fairness to the team and the players, I’m not going to pinpoint any position group here this afternoon.”

“What I tell the team is to look at challenges as opportunity. We’ve got a huge opportunity in front of us,” he said. “You look at where we were at in the winter (when I got hired). I felt like we had a great spring.”

Hendrickson further explained that his staff broke the roster into off-season team-building units.

“We competed in everything that we did — the classroom, community service, weight room competitions. In college football you get the student-athletes on the field for such as small period of time, so I think we really grew that way in our team chemistry and program development.

“That led us into a strong spring ball . . . and then summer. Our players were here and worked really hard.”

The Leathernecks began fall camp Monday in preparation of their season opener Sept. 1 at UT-Martin.

WIU visits the University of Minnesota Sept. 10 and then has its home opener Sept. 17 against Southern Utah, a nonleague opponent from the Big Sky Conference.

The Leathernecks host Northern Iowa to begin the Missouri Valley schedule Sept. 24 at Hanson Field in Macomb.

“It’s such a thin line between what your record is. From being 2-9 or 6-5 it’s just an incredibly thin line,” said Hendrickson, who played for the Leathernecks from 2009-11 when his father Mark was the Western head coach.

A winning track record

Henrickson is accustomed to success. He accumulated a 30-4 record, which included two Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) championship titles, at NAIA Kansas Wesleyan prior to being hired at WIU.

Being a new coach is one thing. Being a new coach with nearly an entirely rebuilt roster is another. Does that put added importance on the fall camp practices?

“Absolutely,” Hendrickson said. “Now our roster has doubled (since spring). So now the challenge to our staff is as we plan every period and every rep of practice to make sure that we improve every single day.

“You only get one practice a day during camp according to the NCAA rules so we have to be precise and very efficient. We have to make every practice count as we get ready for Tennessee Martin.”

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