CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- First-year West Virginia State coach Jon Anderson came to Institute after 11 seasons as an assistant at the University of Sioux Falls, where he knew nothing but success - a 134-26 record, including back-to-back NAIA national championships in 2008-09.
Now he's learning how the other half lives, but he's hopeful that things will change for the better.
Anderson, the defensive coordinator in his last three years at Sioux Falls, faces an uphill climb with the Yellow Jackets, who are 0-2 overall and 0-1 in their inaugural season in the Mountain East Conference. State plays its home opener at 1 p.m. today at Lakin Field against West Liberty (1-1, 1-0), and Anderson knows success will not come overnight.
"We're not where we want to be but I'm encouraged by the progress that I'm seeing," Anderson said. "Anytime you can see continued growth, I know we're heading in the right direction."
State has been outscored 67-16 in road losses to Lock Haven (31-13) and Concord (36-3), running its overall losing streak to eight in a row, with the last win coming Sept. 28, 2012, a 21-13 road victory at Seton Hill. Among those losses was a convincing 52-19 setback last year at West Liberty.
The Hilltoppers opened their MEC campaign with a 16-13 home win over Glenville State last Saturday. Rod White, a senior from Baltimore, earned MEC co-defensive player of the week honors after picking off two Pioneer passes in the red zone, including one in the fourth quarter.
State sophomore defensive back Will Merritt had a huge game in the Jackets' loss to Concord with 13 tackles (11 solo), two interceptions and a fumble recovery - three of the five turnovers secured by the Jackets defense.
"That's a huge priority for us," Anderson said. "We want to be a physical football team.
"The makeup of our team right now is we want to play good on defense and be opportunistic on offense, but we need to come up with some big plays. We need to put it in the end zone."
UC on the road again
The University of Charleston hits the road for the third straight week, taking on Virginia-Wise in the Golden Eagles' MEC opener at 2 p.m. today in Wise, Va.
UC (0-2) has had a daunting early-season schedule with losses at Shaw University (44-14) and Division I FCS school Southern Illinois (31-10). Wise is likewise 0-2, including a 37-7 loss at West Virginia Wesleyan last Saturday in its MEC opener.
Through his team's first two games, UC coach Pat Kirkland has alternated Maurice Leak and John Knox at quarterback and plans to continue that practice today against the Cavaliers.
"We're gonna play both," Kirkland said. "Both guys bring something different to the offense, so we'll see how it works out."
Leak, a senior, is the more experienced of the two but is coming back from knee surgery after getting injured mid-season last year. He's been used mostly in passing situations so far this year, completed 20 of 36 throws for 100 yards.