Quarterback Mike Nebrich and the Fordham Rams have a chance to do something special this year. As if last year wasn't special enough.
The Rams won 12 games in 2013 and made it to the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs. They got a taste of the postseason.
This year, they want the full meal.
The FCS national championship will take place on Jan. 10 in Frisco, Texas. There's no reason to believe that Fordham can't get there.
The Rams were the unanimous pick to win the Patriot League and are ranked in both major national polls—No. 11 in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 and No. 12 in the FCS Coaches Poll.
Nebrich, who put up eye-popping numbers a year ago, will be a key to it all.
"We're a very confident team, but we know that we're not going to sneak up on anybody this year," Nebrich, a senior, said at Fordham's media day on Monday. "We've gone into every practice with the mentality that we need to get better every single day or else we're not going to have the season that we know we're capable of."
Nebrich said that while the Rams' success last year may have surprised people on the outside, everyone inside the program knew they were a good football team. This season, they want to be even better.
"Last year, we had the mindset that we were going to sneak up on some teams," Nebrich said. "We knew how good we were going to be. That's why we came out of nowhere in a lot of people's minds.
"We've always believed in ourselves. We've always known that we're a good football team. All the preseason accolades and hype hasn't affected us. We've just been doing what we do each and every day. We've been doing the exact same thing with the exact same mindset every single day since Coach Moorhead got here."
Joe Moorhead took over the program prior to the 2012 season. In his first year, the Rams finished 6-5. Then last year happened, and as a result, the lights are shining a little brighter on Jack Coffey Field.
On a team of stars—13 Rams received preseason awards at the Patriot League's media day in July—Nebrich's shines brightest.
Maybe that's because he's the quarterback. More likely than that, it's because of what he did last year, when he threw for 4,380 yards and 35 touchdowns while completing 73.5 percent of his passes. Oh, and he also rushed for 513 yards and nine touchdowns.
Nebrich was named the 2014 Patriot League Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, and he's a candidate for the Walter Payton Award, given to the top player in the FCS.
What can he do to top what he's already accomplished? How about a national championship? That's the goal. Last year was just the beginning.
"It means more for the program and the school," Nebrich said about the team's success last season and the expectations for this year. "Three years ago, we were 1-10, and nobody had any respect for us as a football program.
"Coach Moorhead has turned the program around. He instilled some things in the players that we've used to go forward. Everything we've learned from him, we've put onto the field. People are really starting to respect us as a football team now. We have to respond to it and not get complacent. If we do that, we'll continue some good things here."
The Rams are a senior-laden team that will benefit from having so many players from last year's playoff team returning this season. All but two of the Rams' 17 All-Patriot League players from a year ago are back.
"It carries over a lot," Nebrich said. "With all the starters coming back, there's a lot of game experience there. When you have guys that have been in big games, that experience really helps you going forward into a season, teaching the young guys exactly what it takes to win football games.
"The biggest thing for us is having that experience. Getting later into the year, we know exactly what we need to do and why we fell short last year."
That may have been the most impressive takeaway from media day on Monday. Everyone who spoke was focused on the upcoming season. Last year was great and all, but this year could be special. This year could be the year that the Rams compete for the national championship. Preseason awards and prognostications are nice, but a national championship is the reason they play football in the first place.
"I don't think it adds any pressure," Nebrich said about the preseason talk. "Our ultimate goal is to make it into the playoffs and win the national championship. Whether that comes by an at-large bid or winning the Patriot League, we're going to be the best we can be week in and week out. Ultimately, the goal is being in Frisco, Texas, in January."
Nebrich's individual numbers last year were off-the-charts good, as were the numbers put up by the offense he led. Fordham averaged 37.6 points per game and scored more than 50 points on four different occasions en route to a 12-2 record.
Nebrich said it can be better.
"The numbers speak for themselves," he said. "We were a good offense last year, but we weren't the best. We have work to do there. We have work to do on defense, too.
"We weren't the best in anything last year. I think that's really propelled our guys to push each other on both sides of the ball to get that upper edge and hopefully be the best on both sides."
Adding to the excitement heading into this season is the fact that Fordham is once again eligible to compete for the Patriot League title. Because the Rams broke from league tradition and started awarding scholarships in 2010, they have been ineligible for the league title for the past four seasons.
"Last year, we went into the year knowing we weren't eligible for the title and knowing we had to be almost perfect to even have a chance to make it into the playoffs," Nebrich said. "Going into this year, knowing all we have to do is win the Patriot League to make it into the playoffs, it's not a safety net, but it puts a little less on our shoulders knowing we don't have to be perfect every single week. If we lose a game early, we know that's not the end of our season."
Of course, the goal is to win them all, something the Rams are capable of doing.
"It's a pretty special feeling," Nebrich said about the team's potential. "We certainly have the tools, we have the coaching staff, we have everything we need in place to make a deep run in the playoffs.
"The biggest thing is staying healthy and not getting complacent. This team has done a great job so far dealing with the preseason hype. If we play our best game every day, it's going to be tough to beat us."
Quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.
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