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Truman Mustangs look to overcome sophomore jinx

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After a successful 6-3 record during their first year in the Championship/Bowl Division, the Truman Mustangs come into the 08/09 season, looking to overcome a sophomore jinx and prove to the league that last year was not a fluke.

In only his second year as coach of the team, John James-Shepherd is looking to switch things up, moving away from the running game that made Truman a one-dimensional team last year, and into a more diversified attack, he feels will be necessary to beat a new crop of opponents.

“We’re not going to be the surprise team we were last year,” James-Shepherd said. “But we will be legitimate contenders.”

Unfortunately for the Mustangs, Truman comes into the year with some new inexperienced players, having graduated 17 seniors from the roster, including Malik Williams, who rushed for 762 yards in 69 carries.

“We have some youth at the offensive line,” James-Shepherd said. “We’re going to have to overcome growing pains in the beginning, but that was the strength of this team last year. The whole team came into a new system and they learned it right away. They gelled and came together. If we’re going to win this year, that’s exactly what we are going to have to do again.”

Differences this year include a dedicated quarterback, a position Truman lacked last season, which resulted in an overuse of the rushing game.

“That worked for four games,” James-Shepherd said. “Then, teams switched up their defense and we had to come up with new ways to beat them. On some cases, I think we were flat out lucky and a lot of plays just went our way. A lot of times, my team just showed a lot of tenacity on the field. It led to a winning season.”

This year, senior Keith Saunders is looking to lead the offensive charge as quarterback. “He’s good under pressure and not easily rattled,” said his coach. “He’s very game savvy.”

With a quarterback giving Truman more offensive options, James-Shepherd will not abandon what brought his team to the dance, stating that the Mustangs will be a “rushing team that passes.” Expect Dwayne Williams, a 5’3” student who plays big and rushed for 237 yards in 42 carries last year, to be the workhorse for the team.

And their defense, led by a strong defensive line, will keep other teams at bay. Look for Eric Goins, who made 6 tackles last season, to take it to the next level this year as the linebacker.

“We won’t really know what to expect from our defense until we get out there,” says their coach. “They definitely have the potential to do some real damage. We’ll see.”

Truman will find out when they open their season at Beach Channel, a team that lost only six players this year, on Saturday, September 6, at noon. It is the first of several new opponents Truman will face this year. In fact, Truman does not have one Bronx opponent on its schedule.

“We’re not familiar with so many of our opponents,” James-Shepherd admits. “And we cannot even exchange tapes with Beach Channel, so we’re going to play them blind. But, if we continue to play our best football, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the playoffs this year. That’s everyone’s goal.”

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