When asked to give one word or phrase to describe the upcoming 2021 football season for Fort Lewis College, junior wide receiver Dylan Holt said, “Make them believe.”
“We're a team that no one is looking at,” Holt said Wednesday during the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference's football media day.
Frankie Ayon, a junior transfer from Reedley College, echoed his teammate’s message.
“Find a way or make a way,” Ayon said. "We have to find a way to win games.”
“Those are our battle cries,” head coach Darrius Smith said. “We are determined to make things different at Fort Lewis.”
Smith took over the Skyhawks program just before the pandemic shut down the sports world in 2020.
In 2019, the Skyhawks won twice in nine games under coach Brandon Crosby, and in 2018, went 1-9 under Joe Morris. They haven’t had a winning season since 2015, when they went 7-4 under John L. Smith.
Without a season last fall and only an abbreviated two-game season in the spring, Smith will coach his first full season at Fort Lewis this year. The couple of games the Skyhawks played last year, however, allowed the players to showcase their abilities and let the coach see what they could do on offense and defense.
Now, Smith wants to build on that.
"I want Fort Lewis to be recognized in the conference and be recognized in the nation," Smith said. "We need to develop standards for the program, rise and accept them."
To get there, Smith has capitalized on time off the gridiron. Without a schedule full of games, the team's opponent became academics. He started tutoring sessions for the football unit, encouraging players who excel in the classroom to help their teammates.
"That helps develop the same type of chemistry (as football) since you have to rely on each other," the coach said.
This fall, the team will have a full slate of opponents. Fort Lewis begins its season – 11 games on 11 consecutive Saturdays – at home Sept. 4 against New Mexico Highlands University. The Skyhawks will then play at Tarleton State University, host Colorado School of Mines, play at Western Colorado University, host Black Hills State University, play at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, host Colorado Mesa University, play at Chadron State College, host Colorado State University-Pueblo and then play at Adams State University and Dixie State University.
The thing Holt said he was most looking forward to about returning to the field is, to "get together with the guys, win some games and compete."
"We want to get on the winning side of things," Ayon said. "We'll keep grinding, keep building and build that chemistry so we can win some games."
At quarterback, Smith called it a "five-man competition right now" and then compared the position to the rest of the team.
"I want challenges and guys who won't back down from challenges," Smith said. "I'm going to put the best 11 on the field on both sides of the ball to help us win games."