Arizona Western doesn’t return many players off last year’s football team.

But the few who are back echoed the same sentiment as the Matadors took the field Friday for their first official practice of the season: They’re ready to right last year’s wrongs.

“Last year we didn’t get to do what we wanted to do,” sophomore tight end Raymond Epps said. “So it feels awesome to get back on the field.”

Of course, it wasn’t all the players’ fault. The Matadors learned midseason that they’d have to forfeit five wins due to paperwork issues, turning a 7-2 record into a 2-7 record. Then they closed the season with three straight losses – two to teams they’d beaten earlier in the season – to officially finish 2-10.

None of that mattered Friday.

“I put all that behind us,” said linebacker Antonio Kinard, the reigning defensive player of the year in the Western States Football League. “We’re really looking forward to a great season this year and getting back on the road to a national championship.”

And AWC is confident it has the pieces to make that happen. Coach Tom Minnick said this year’s team is substantially more talented than last year’s team, just based off what he’s seen in summer workouts – a statement Epps and Kinard agreed with.

“We’re younger than last year, but we have a lot more talent than last year,” Kinard said. “We should go pretty far this year.”

“We’ve probably got about 15-18 Division I transfers here, and I think we’ve got about 15 kids with Division I offers right now,” Minnick said. “It looks good on paper, but you have to perform on the practice field and Saturdays to be good.”

Minnick said the team needs to find a quarterback in the coming weeks, saying that no one earned the job during the spring and summer. The Matadors brought in two new quarterbacks this week, making it a five-man competition for camp. But other than a few starting spots up front, Minnick feels good about his team’s depth chart. So the focus of the first few weeks of practice, Minnick said, is making sure the Matadors pick up on the offensive and defensive schemes.

Epps, an Arizona State commit, said he learned a lot from last season that he and his teammates can carry over into this season.

“I feel like I learned that this year we got to play every play like it’s our last,” Epps said. “Last year we weren’t as focused as we needed to be.”

The Matadors open their season at home against New Mexico Military Institute on Aug. 23.


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