- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Georgetown football coach Kevin Kelly stood at the southwestern gate of Multi-Sport Field and tried to explain how his team had won more games last season (eight) than it had in its previous four seasons combined (seven). Better players, he said. Three years in a new scheme, he said.

The players taking the practice field behind him offered their explanation.

One sprinted full-speed through the gate toward the middle of the turf. Another yelled “let’s go” repeatedly and nodded his head. Even those who did nothing had that unmistakable aura of confidence, a swagger that had long eluded Georgetown before last season.

“I think our expectation is to win every game,” quarterback Isaiah Kempf said. “Obviously, take it week by week, but I think when you have an 11-game schedule, that’s kind of what your expectations have to be.”

The Hoyas will open their season Saturday at Davidson on the heels of their most successful season since 1999. They won eight games in 2011 — the most since joining the Patriot League in 2001 — before losing to Lehigh in the conference championship game.

Contrast that success with the 5-38 record of Kelly’s first four seasons with the program, and it’s clear that something has changed.

“We worked harder in the offseason, in the weight room, in our agility drills during the course of the winter. Our practices have never been better, preseason has been terrific,” Kelly said. “You got their attention because they believe in what they’re doing, and they believe in the coaches and they believe in each other.”

Talented players such as Kempf and preseason All-America cornerback Jeremy Moore have helped Kelly’s efforts, but the real changes at Georgetown have been more cultural than anything else.

In the midst of one- and two-win seasons in years past, players would simply try to get through each day. The Patriot League is not renowned for its football programs, and the Georgetown squad long has been overshadowed by its basketball counterpart. The expectations just weren’t there.

But they are now.

“On a daily basis, you see somebody flying around, somebody trying to make the next big play,” Moore said. “We’re more specific in terms of our roles. Let’s say in the secondary, we’re worried about hashes now compared to just playing a coverage. Little things like that have helped us become a better team.”

The Hoyas will return 10 offensive starters including Kempf, starting running back Nick Campanella and all but two members of their receiving corps. The defense will be spearheaded by Moore and preseason Defensive Player of the Year Robert McCabe.

With 12 seniors on the roster, Kelly has been able to put more pressure on his players. His senior class remembers its 0-11 season in 2009, and those players recognize the steps that have since been taken to improve. They’ve bought in to Kelly’s program.

“[Coach Kelly] has relied more on us, he’s really put everything on the seniors and just said look, this is your team — you need to lead them,” Kempf said. “We feel like this is our team and our year to do some great things.”

A return trip to the Patriot League championship game would be a nice start. Last season, the Hoyas won five consecutive games before falling to Lehigh 34-12 in the final. They haven’t captured a conference championship since winning the MAAC title in 1997.

But to accomplish that feat, Georgetown will have to win with a target on its back. After sneaking up on some teams last season, the Hoyas do not expect to be taken lightly this time around.

“We’re for real,” Kelly said. “This is an established program now.”

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