The ring that every Towson football player received after winning the first Colonial Athletic Association title in program history has a simple, but contextually confusing message on it.
"Six seconds is the average time of a football play," Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. "If you win and play your [butt] off for six seconds, heart and soul, odds are you have a good chance to win that play. If you do that over and over again, all of a sudden things start to build."
Achieving goals in small steps continues to be relevant for a program that won three times as many games in 2011 than it did in 2010 and 2009 combined. Even with their recent success, the common theme from the Tigers at CAA Media Day at M&T Bank Stadium was to remain focused on the little things, even as the team enters 2012 in an unprecedented position — the favorite to win the conference championship.
"We have the main goal, but it's like this: if you want to see what's behind that wall, you have to knock down what is in front of that wall first," senior defensive end Frank Beltre said. "It's a domino effect. We have to knock down the first domino before we can knock down the big domino at the end."
Those expectations might have been easier to manage in 2011, when Towson was coming off a one-win season and was predicted to finish dead last in the conference preseason polls. Instead, the Tigers went 7-1 in the CAA and 9-3 overall, making the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the first time ever and surprising the entire country.
During last year's media day, nobody expected anything from Towson, which served as easy motivation for the team. This time around, the Tigers were voted by coaches and sports information directors to finish first in the conference preseason polls — a previously unknown feeling for every player on the team.
"When everybody tells you that you stink, it's pretty easy to be motivated on a goal," Ambrose said. "When everybody starts telling you how great you are, it's pretty easy to sit back and be lackadaisical and think you already made it.
"That's been the greatest challenge in all of the things that we've done, to change the focus and make sure the foundation of what we have done stays strong."
This upcoming year will be Ambrose's fourth at his alma mater after a previous stint as offensive coordinator at Connecticut, and he made it very clear at media day that building up his team wasn't just a one-year process. He had to change the culture around the program from the ground up, needing to alter attitudes and expectations before he could improve the win-loss record. It wasn't just his team that needed a fresh start — it was the entire university.
"To have a good football program, it takes a team of not just the football players," Ambrose said. "It's the staff, the administration, it's the students, it's the community, hell, it's the janitors. Everybody has to be focused on working on their goal together.
"When you do that, it's a powerful, powerful thing."
Ambrose knew his idea of change was working when attendance was rising even as the team continued to lose. Towson's attendance has gone up every year since Ambrose's return, to the point where the school set a record atJohnny UnitasStadium last season.
When Beltre talks of winning the FCS national championship this year, it doesn't seem that far-fetched. It's lofty, but not unrealistic. Still, even a year ago, he would have been laughed at.
All part of the plan for the rising program focused on the smallest possible steps.
"Everybody wants to win the national championship, but there's a lot of stuff that has to go into getting that done," Ambrose said. "We have a lot of work to do, but it starts with the next six seconds."
Notes: Beltre, senior defensive back Jordan Dangerfield and sophomore running back Terrance West (Northwestern) were selected to the preseason All-CAA team. West, the CAA Rookie of the Year in 2011, was also named the conference's preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
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