The Bethel College football players will finally get to start hitting someone other than their own teammates when the Threshers host Haskell Indian Nations University at 7 p.m. Saturday at Joe W. Goering Field, Thresher Stadium.
Bethel is in the throws of a 14-game losing streak, 16 games if you take away a forfeit win against Sterling in the 2011 season.
The game marks the debut of BC coach Marty Mathis, who helped lead Marian University of Indianapolis to the NAIA title last season.
"We're getting over the hump," Mathis said. "We're starting to put together a team. We started with 37 (in spring practice last season) and went down to 20 players returning from last season. We have a solid 20 guys. To that, we're adding another 15 transfers, so that gives us 35 upperclassmen. We're getting 60-odd freshmen, and they're still catching up to the other guys. It's been tough, but they're learning from each other. We've got guys at different levels and different parts of the country starting to learn to communicate with each other and with the coaches."
Mathis said the biggest challenge in the pre-season has been to change the culture.
"We need them to start believing in themselves, both on the field and in the classroom," Mathis said. "They're main goal is to get an education, but we also want them to become good players."
Mathis said the defense is a little head of the offense in terms of experience. The team had two intrasquad scrimmages. In the first one, the offense performed better. In the second, he called play about even.
Haskell is coming off a 1-8 season, winning the season finale against Trinity Bible College of North Dakota 39-34. The win snapped a 20-game losing streak. When taking a forfeit win over Waldorf College in consideration, it's been 23 games since the Indians last won on the field.
The Indians' leading rusher from last season is Canku One Star, who had 50 carries for 423 yards and four touchdowns. One Star is listed on this year's roster as a corner back. Chris Dupris had 82 carries for 271 yards and three touchdowns.
Quarterback Dominic Panzy hit 59 of 146 passes last season for 439 yards with three touchdowns and 11 interceptions in five games. Maverick Lang hit 29 of 67 passes in three games for 279 yards with three interceptions and two touchdowns.
Will Wood led the team in receiving yards last year with 135 on 22 catches with a touchdown. Wood is listed as a running back on this year's roster.
"They have some good players," Mathis said. "They have about 80-plus players. They did a good job recruiting. They did win their last game last season, so that gives them some momentum."
Mathis said he didn't get to see any film on Haskell. There were some videos on You-Tube, but the quality wasn't very good. He said Haskell appeared to run a spread offense and a cover-4 and cover-3 defense.
"At Marian, we were in the Mid-States Football Association, the toughest conference in the NAIA," Mathis said. "We saw all different types of formations on offense and defense."
Mathis said the team needs to be ready to play "a six-second game on every play. If you can do that, you can beat anybody in college football."
Mathis named Bo Pratt the starting quarterback for Saturday. He said there are three running backs who are competing for the top spot.
Other players Mathis said other players who have stood out in pre-season include defensive back Shakee Bellamy, linebacker Josh Kaufman, and defensive linemen Garrett Garcia and Leland Brown.
"I'm just happy to have this opportunity to be a part of this effort to turn things around," Mathis said.