Call them buses. Call them motor coaches. Either way, football players at Haskell Indian Nations University will have had their fill of them after this weekend.
After spending most of Friday on the road, the Fightin’ Indians will open the season at 1 p.m. today against Trinity Bible College in Ellendale, N.D.
By the time the HINU contingent arrives back in Lawrence early Sunday morning, players and coaches will have spent about 21 hours in transit.
Obviously, a victory would soothe the discomfort of the long journey and, on the plus side, teams rarely lose when they play Trinity Bible, a long-time punching bag.
Then again, the Lions actually produced some offense while compiling a 1-9 record last season and HINU coach Eric Brock isn’t expecting replays of the Indians’ last two trips to Ellendale — a 60-0 romp in 2003 and a 50-0 rout in 2005.
“I’ve seen tape from last year and they seem highly improved,” Brock said. “They aren’t the Trinity teams I remember playing.”
With Brock as coach, Haskell and Trinity have met four times and HINU won all four by a combined score of 235-0. The last meeting was that 50-0 whitewash in ’05.
A shutout today would certainly give a boost to a Haskell defense that led the NAIA in points surrendered last season. The Indians boasted a capable offense during that 2-9 campaign, but the defense was porous.
Brock hopes this year’s defensive platoon will be more competitive. He has moved Greg Nilges, last year’s leading tackler, from free safety to linebacker and inserted juco transfer Kyle McHenry in that rover slot.
Brock has also moved a couple of returning offensive players — running back Gary Thorne and wide receiver Gerry Fierro — to the secondary.
On offense, all of last year’s skill players return, headed by quarterback Ryan Alden who threw for nearly 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns as a freshman last season.
“He’s been more consistent,” Brock said of the 6-foot-3, 210-pound soph from Walla Walla, Wash. “He’s really stepped up in a leadership role, too. Last year, he was a quiet freshmen. This year, he’s leading sprints, patting guys on the rear and being more vocal.”
Alden’s primary targets will be wide receiver Casey Wilson, who led the Tribe with 58 catches and eight touchdowns, and H-Back Quentin Haynes, who had 40 receptions.
Wilson, Brock said, may also seen some duty at quarterback in Wildcat-formation situations. A junior from Forney, Texas, Wilson is one of the Indians’ fastest players.
Wilson and Haynes, a junior from Montrose, Colo., will also be on special teams, Wilson as the punter and Haynes as the place-kicker.
Brock still has some question marks on the offensive line, but says Seneca Gore, a transfer from Missouri State, has been solid at the important left tackle position.
After today, the Indians won’t have to travel again for three weeks. The next two games will be at home — Sept. 5 against McPherson and Sept. 12 against Rhodes.