RENSSELAER |The easy part is over for A.J. Ricker, the new Saint Joseph's College football coach. As the 18th coach in school history, the former University of Missouri offensive lineman will be pressed to take the Pumas to the next level.
"He's already demanding a lot from us," said Portage's Sam Gonzales, a sophomore defensive end. "He's set the bar high. We won conference, but we had a losing record.
"He doesn't want to settle for that. He doesn't want us to be complacent. We want to make the playoffs."
Sophomore offensive guard Cody Blue, of Crown Point, echoed Gonzales.
"We have a lot of talent," he said. "We know we have to work hard and get stronger. We won conference, and we want to win that again."
"They hit the nail right on the head," Ricker said. "We were 5-6 and won our conference, and it was kind of bittersweet. Obviously, we want to play after our regular season. You have to have a winning record to be able to do that."
Ricker took over last week for Lou Esposito, who accepted an assistant's job at Western Michigan University, and it has been a whirlwind year for the young coach. A year ago he was hired as the offensive line coach and then became the offensive coordinator.
"I would always say to myself, 'If I was head coach, what would I do?'" Ricker said. "Now, that's what I'm going to get to do, and it's a great opportunity.
"Where we go from here is up to the players and obviously the staff."
Ricker said he wants to instill a more discipline in the Pumas, eliminating costly penalties and turnovers.
"Last year too much we beat ourselves," he said. "I want the players to buy into it and believe it. And if you do that, then the X's and O's will fall into place."
Gonzales and Blue are excited about the direction of the program.
"We all like Ricker and we have a ton of respect for him," Gonzales said. "We know he's going to do a great job at Saint Joe."
"He's got a great work ethic, and he loves to win," Blue said. "That's what it's all about when it comes down to it."
Ricker said the Pumas will continue to run the ball first, but he won't be afraid to open it up and throw the ball more from the pro set offense"
"We want to control the controllables," he said. "That's something we can instill in our players. Before we talk about the defense and the offense, we have to be more disciplined."
Saint Joseph's College recent seasons
2009: 5-6, 4-0*
2008: 5-5, 2-2
2007: 4-7, 3-2
2006: 8-3, 4-1*
* Won Great Lakes Football Conference title