The Warhawks finished 4-8 in 2008, allowing too many close games to go the other way in a disappointing campaign. Now, a fresh start beckons as the team reports on Wednesday and opens preseason practice on Thursday.
"I believe that this football team has as good an opportunity as any we've had to compete for the Sun Belt Conference championship," ULM coach Charlie Weatherbie said. "This team has got 18 seniors on it, 10 returning starters on defense and eight returning starters on offense. Our kicker and our punter are both back. So, I think we've got a chance to compete for the championship."
Weatherbie has done the math on last year's misfortune and spins it to his advantage. As he has noted often during the off season, ULM was just five points away from three additional wins and bowl eligibility.
"It's important that we win the close football games," Weatherbie said. "That's what happened last year. We lost a couple by one point and we lost one by three. That's the five points that made the difference in us having a seven-win season."
In the past, Weatherbie has stressed the importance of closing the deal. It's an area ULM will emphasize with situational drills as it prepares for the schedule ahead.
"If you look at a 12-game season, there will probably be four of them, if not more that will come down to the last couple of minutes of the game," Weatherbie said. "When it comes to that two-minute situation, whether you are on defense trying to stop somebody or whether you are on offense trying to score, that is the key."
As demonstrated with reclamation projects throughout his career, Weatherbie has often delivered his biggest surprises when counted out. Even with a wealth of talent returning, preseason polls projected ULM seventh in the Sun Belt Conference race.
"The year that we had eight teams, back in ‘05, we were picked sixth and we won the conference," Weatherbie said. "It doesn't matter where you start the conference. What matters is how you play, week in and week out."
While much of the roster is stable, Weatherbie still enters his seventh season at ULM and the final year of his contract with notable changes around him. There are six new assistants, including defensive coordinator Troy Reffett.
The Warhawks will continue developing a 3-3-5 scheme deemed more suitable for the linebacker and secondary talent on hand.
"Schematically when you change, it's a matter of learning the philosophy and the overall scheme, then you go in and learn your different positions and what you're supposed to do in your assignments," Weatherbie said. "This spring was great in installation. This fall as the preseason starts and as we get into the season, I think we'll be honed up in that scheme and ready to go."
The offensive approach remains the same, although Trey Revell takes over as ULM's presumptive starting quarterback. Following three-year starter Kinsmon Lancaster, Revell's development is vital for the Warhawks.
"We're excited about what he did for us last year," Weatherbie said. "We were fortunate enough last year to have an opportunity to beat Troy – the only team in the conference to beat Troy. We did that with Trey Revell, our backup quarterback. He came in and did really well and gave us an opportunity to win that game."
Participation in ULM's off season program has been impressive, players have said this summer. Perhaps, it's another indication that the Warhawks have the right attitude to succeed.
"Being five points away from being in a bowl game last year, being hungry for the opportunity to do that this year, I think is going to make a big difference for this football team," Weatherbie said.