Ready or not, Haskell Indian Nations University's football team will take a giant step today.
When the Fightin' Indians, for years in the junior college ranks, tangle with Principia College in Elsah, Ill., it will be HINU's first test against a four-year school.
"I don't know how we'll do, but we're eager to find out," Haskell coach Gary Tanner said.
Kickoff is 2 p.m. at 1,000-seat Clark Field on the Principia campus. The school is located north of St. Louis on the Mississippi River.
Haskell tuned up for its first battle with a four-year varsity program by playing four games against junior varsity teams. The Indians defeated MidAmerica Nazarene and Westminster, but bowed to Baker and Ottawa.
Last summer, Haskell officials decided to move into NAIA transitional status although its football team would have no seniors and only six juniors. Now the list of juniors has been cut in half because of injuries.
Running back Darren Rhodd and defensive lineman Shannon Ross suffered hamstring injuries in last Sunday's 33-30 win over Westminster at Haskell Stadium.
Also, outside linebacker Burgess Navarro is expected to miss another week with the achilles injury he suffered in the Ottawa game two weeks ago.
All three will be replaced by freshmen which, of course, is a concern to Tanner. However, he's more interested in establishing a running game. So far, HINU's only offensive threat has been sophomore wide receiver Sonny Duncan who has five TD receptions in the last two games.
"We're trying to put in some new things to help our offense a little bit," Tanner said.
Principia opened its season with a 38-8 smashing of Southwest Assemblies of God, a small Texas school that Haskell will meet on Oct. 23 in Tulsa, Okla. Then the Panthers suffered back-to-back losses to Concordia, Ill., (27-20) and Bethel, Tenn. (35-14).
Principia's head coach is Rod Humeniuk, a long-time college and NFL assistant who was the Chiefs' offensive line coach in 1983-84.
"They're not a powerhouse," Tanner said of the Christian Science-affiliated school, "but they do have a lot of seniors, so we'll see some older kids."
Tanner hopes that experience won't overcome the Panthers' lack of size.
"They're not massive. They're not that big," Tanner said. "They're average size and that should help us."
Haskell's team party left Friday morning and spent the night in St. Louis. The Indians will return after the game. It's a schedule the Indians will follow again in November when they return to Principia to fill a hole in the Panthers' schedule.
Tanner said he normally wouldn't play the same team twice on the road, but Principia promised to come to Lawrence in 2000 and 2001 if the Indians would plug the Panthers' schedule gap this year.
"Principia is also basically paying for that second trip," Tanner said.
HINU's homecoming game is scheduled at 1:30 p.m. next Saturday at Haskell Stadium. It will be against Peru (Neb.) State's junior varsity.
-- Chuck Woodling's phone message number is 832-7147. His e-mail address is email@example.com.