VALPARAISO – On Saturdays, the Valparaiso University football team starts activities with a group meeting where coach Landon Fox reminds them what day it is.
No, the Crusaders don't need pocket calendars. They don't have short-term memory loss. Each day of the week comes with a different theme, and the team discusses it before delving into practice, weights or film study.
Among the themes are Effort Monday, Discipline Friday and Grateful Saturday. For Fox, who took over this spring after Dave Cecchini left for Bucknell, it helps keep players focused and puts football in perspective.
“That's what my passion is: to teach,” Fox said. “When they have experiences that they're going through during their life, they can reflect back to football. That's why they're playing the game. I know they don't think like that from 18 to 22, but when they look back, that's one of the main reasons they played: To be part of a team and have those experiences that they can pull on as they get older.”
Fox has a background in physical education and said that helps him focus on the process of building a program rather than wins and losses.
By making each day different, Fox said he hopes to eliminate players' “mental clutter,” allowing them to temporarily forget the everyday stressors that burden college students.
“It just lets you reflect,” senior defensive back Jamari Booker said. “Saturday, most times, is gonna be game day. It just lets you reflect and be happy that you're able to play football.”
Fox needs distractions at a minimum as Valparaiso transitions to new coordinators on both sides of the ball. The schemes aren't overly different, but Baker said offenses in particular tend to require lots of adjustment when a different coordinator takes over.
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Chris Limbach is the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and senior running back Kyle Cartales said the Crusaders still run a spread-type offense like under Cecchini. Slight differences exist, but there are plenty of similar concepts.
“With this specific subset of it, we've got a lot of moving parts pre-snap,” Cartales said. “It has been an easy transition from that offense to this offense.”
Cecchini brought a background on offense and often worked with that unit in practice, but senior linebacker Austin Petrie said Fox — the former defensive coordinator at Dayton — has been more balanced. Valparaiso has stuck with a 4-3 base defense.
The biggest difference? Fox's defense simplifies players' responsibilities. With Brian Dougherty as defensive coordinator, Petrie said “there isn't a lot to think about.” Depending on what the offense does, defenders may only have two possible responsibilities.
“There are a couple of different plays that we've got, and from there we've got little tweaks that we do,” Booker said. “We're not running anything extraordinary or anything too hard. With all the moving parts on offense — with all the trades and motion, things like that — we're able to flow with it. You're not too lost on what's going on.”
It appears that red-shirt junior Chris Duncan will start at quarterback at Eastern Kentucky as Jimmy Seewald continues to recover from a shoulder injury, but that's not set in stone. Regardless of who's back in the shotgun, Valparaiso hopes to show last year's injury-riddled 2-9 season obscured program-wide improvement.
Fox and his staff will get their first look at the Crusaders in a legitimate game environment. That's big, as Fox doesn't particularly care about last season. It's all about 2019.
“I didn't want to come in with a bunch of preconceived notions,” Fox said. “What they've been able to do since we've been here is what we've wanted to focus on, because that's what we know.”