Jimmies working hard on bounceback season
The Jimmies are trying to go .500 or better for the first time since 2014.
JAMESTOWN — The University of Jamestown football team is confident that the losing ways are behind them heading into the 2022-23 season.
The Jimmies enter the season on an eight-game losing streak, the second longest in program history. Regardless of the struggles, Jimmies head coach Brian Mistro said he is more worried about making sure the team plays well and the players are good people off the field rather than worrying about his job status.
Mistro is heading into his fourth season as the head coach and he said he has gotten more comfortable in the position as the time has passed. Mistro said he truly started to feel comfortable in the 2021 season.
"I was kind of drinking through a fire hose the first couple years," Mistro said. "You throw in a first-year head coach and then the next year you throw in COVID. Last year it kind of felt like the real first year just with all the shenanigans that go on in the first couple years. Last year I felt like I had my feet underneath me a lot better, a better head on my shoulders, and this year now you can always keep getting better as a coach."
As far as on-the-field progress, Mistro said he is seeing the team become a tighter-knit group and need to be babysat less than in previous years.
"Our old guys are coaching our young guys and they are policing themselves," Mistro said. "There hasn't been too many times at all this camp where we've had to coach attitude and effort. Our guys are so much better teammates than they ever have been and I think a lot of that is a testament to their buy-in and what we are doing, sticking around all summer."
Despite the slide, many Jimmies players stayed during the summer to work out and prepare for the season. One of those players is junior wide receiver Steve Justice, who said he sees the summer work paying off in camp. Justice called the first two days of camp the best opening to fall camp during his time in the program. Justice admitted though that nothing prepares him and his teammates for the reality of fall camp like fall camp itself.
Sophomore defensive back Rashawn Benners, who also stayed the summer, said he is ready to show the conference what he improved on during that time.
“I definitely feel like this year, you will see my ball skills,” Benners said. “You’ll see I’m really a ball hawk. Everybody’s gonna know when that ball is in the air, Ray’s gonna go get it.”
The Jimmies open the season against Valley City State University at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25 at Charlotte and Gordon Hansen Stadium.
“We are in a better position to be more competitive in football games and we need to finish those games that we are competitive in and to be honest with you, I think the guys understand that,” Mistro said. “I think the guys know that they’re a lot closer than they have been in the past and the expectation is that they keep getting better every single day. I’m not putting any amount of the world on their shoulders with these guys. I’m telling them, ‘Focus on being the best teammate you can possibly be and do it every single day and you will consistently keep getting better like we have.'”
Justice said he wants to rack up the individual accolades and score lots of touchdowns but only while helping the Jimmies win games.
“All I really care about is our team goals and our team goal is to go 11-0,” Justice said. “Honestly, right now the fire we have as a unit, the fire we have individually, as a position group, as an offense group, as a defensive group, as a team in general, the fire we have right now will take us in that direction.”
During the 2021 season, the Jimmies defense got slashed for 456 yards and 40 points per game.
“If we play together, I think this year we’re going to keep our starters in a lot and rolling,” junior defensive lineman Paul Vandal said. “We should be a lot more conditioned than last year so we can keep our guys in and make the plays we gotta make.”
Last season’s second-leading tackler linebacker Brooks Canfield returns for his junior year, hoping to replicate his 58 tackles again.
“Just focus on my job and execute what coach is asking me to do,” Canfield said. “It’s nothing extraordinary that we have to do, it’s just do our job really and focus.”
Mistro looks for the two breakout candidates on his team to be sophomores wide receiver Isaiah Roebuck and Benners. Both players spent time returning kicks and punts last season with Roebuck having 26 returns for 395 yards, and Benners fielding six kicks for 111 yards. Offensively, Roebuck had 29 receptions for 434 yards and three touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball, Benners had 43 tackles, one sack, two interceptions and three pass breakups. Benners said he was excited Mistro thought of him as a breakout candidate because of the work he has put in and is ready to prove to his coach that he is capable of living up to the hype.
“Personal goals I’ve got, I want to be an all-conference, all-American,” Benners said. “I want to lead the GPAC in interceptions and I want close to 100 tackles honestly. My goals are high for myself.”