FCS football preview: A look at the Weber State Wildcats

Bronson Barron

Bronson Barron (Weber State Athletics)


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Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

OGDEN — Weber State football has enjoyed a lot of success under head coach Jay Hill, and that will not change in 2022.

Although the team finished with a 6-5 record in 2021, Hill was not satisfied with just having a winning season. He believes "getting back to the basics" will help his team return to the dominant level that had his squad win four of the past five Big Sky Conference championships.

"We've got great players," Hill said at the Big Sky Football Kickoff. "If we get our whole team on the field, we can beat anybody and we can compete with anybody. We have got to go out and handle business, which we did not do last year."

The Wildcats face an uphill battle if they hope to return to the top of the Big Sky again — they were recently ranked fourth in the conference preseason poll.

Hill has mentioned two things Weber needs to improve upon from last year if they want to perform to their potential: winning the turnover battle in key games and winning at home.

Before last season, the Wildcats had won 27 of 30 home games. Then in 2021, Weber State ended the year just 1-4 at home. Getting back to a defense of their home territory will be a big focus in 2022.

With the team returning more veteran players and his team back to full health, the following is how the roster shapes up ahead of Weber's season.

Offense

The offense will be playing under a new coordinator in Mickey Mental from Division II's Notre Dame College.

At the quarterback position, the Wildcats have not been particularly impressive in the last couple of seasons. Bronson Barron and Kylan Weisser were the top two passers for the Wildcats last season, with Barron playing in eight of the team's 11 games. The two signal callers will presumably battle for snaps again this season.

The running back group features an impressive group of players that can all perform at a high level, notably seniors Kevin Smith Jr. and Josh Davis — two players who have struggled to stay healthy but have potential for 1,000 all-purpose yards seasons when they see the field.

"We need to find creative ways of getting them all the ball because they are difference-makers," Hill said on the Weber State Athletics podcast. "They are mismatch problems."

Weber State currently lists 15 receivers on their roster for 2022; and headlining the group is Ty MacPherson, who was second on last year's squad with 37 catches and 478 yards. The departure of leading receiver Rasheed Shahid should see some opportunities open up for the other players on the depth chart, but Shahid and MacPherson were the only two major receiving threats in 2022.

No other player had over 20 catches in 2021, but tight end Hayden Meacham tied for the team lead with four receiving touchdowns. After being named to the third team of the All-Big Sky, he could see an increased role this year.

The offensive line is led by two-time first team All-Big Sky selection Noah Atagi. Behind him, the rest of the group looks murky, but there is depth at the position group. One name to look out for is Ethan Atagi, who is Noah's brother.

Defense

Weber State's defense boasted several standout players in 2021, with eight Wildcats earning all-conference honors. Only three of those defensive pieces are returning, though: defensive tackle Doug Schiess and corners Eddie Heckard and Marque Collins.

Scheiss totaled 22 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss from the interior after taking a huge step forward from previous years. Now a junior, Scheiss will again be an impact player for the Wildcats.

Heckard broke up seven passes to go along with 48 tackles and an interception in his junior year, while Collins had five breakups in a more limited role. The two should be the starting corners for Weber State in 2022.

"We are very veteran in the defensive tackle group (and in) the secondary," Hill said. "We need those position groups that are more veteran to play great."

At linebacker, Winston Reid is returning after recording 36 tackles, three tackles for loss and two fumbles forced. He leads a linebacker group that is one of the more inexperienced units on this team.

Safety Braxton Gunther could be a fun player to watch in 2022; he did a little bit of everything last year with 32 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one interception and three pass breakups. Overall, the rest of the defense will see work from a lot of different contributors as younger players hope to step up.

Outlook

Hill is entering his ninth season as the head coach at Weber State; he has proven to be one of the best coaches in the school's history. A lot of this year's success is riding on the play of their veteran players, some of whom have not been able to stay healthy in recent seasons.

Nevertheless, the Wildcats have a chance to return to the top of the Big Sky Conference in 2022. Their schedule has Weber State taking on all of the top seven teams in the Big Sky, so strong performances against those schools would be imperative in moving back up in the rankings.

Whether or not Weber makes it to the FCS playoffs will depend on how well they play against Montana, Montana State and Sacramento State.

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