“They are both very different challenges,” he said. “Hopefully, the team shows a lot of improvement after the first game.”
Reinhardt kicked off its inaugural season a week ago with a 40-37 loss at Mercer. Today, the Eagles will host their first home game when Lindsey Wilson comes to Ken White Field for a Mid-South Conference matchup.
Entering the first game of the season, Reinhardt (1-0) had a lot of time to prepare, but it also a lot to get done off the field in order to insure that all players were eligible. With the roster set and eligibility largely settled, this week’s preparations have focused more on the field.
Cronic said he hasn’t had as much time to watch as much film on Lindsey Wilson as he would like, but he said there is definitely some excitement about finally playing a game in Waleska.
He said it will certainly be different walking out of the field house and playing a game, rather than practicing, after more than a year of doing just that. Cronic expects to see the stands full and fans cheering.
“I hope we have folks on the bank and folks everywhere,” he said. “I think it will be exciting. That is one thing about the (Mercer) game. It was exciting for the fans to watch. There was a lot of drama, a pretty high level of executing in a lot of ways. It was a really good level of entertainment for your dollar, and I think it could be even higher this week.”
Cronic admits that he doesn’t know much about Lindsey Wilson, which won its opening game last week, 24-17 against Mid-South rival Campbellsville.
With just film from one game to go off of, Cronic could tell the Blue Raiders (1-0) relied heavily on quarterback Branden Cresap, and they operate a spread offense with Matt Powers and Tavis Elzy. Leading rusher Rome Cotton had 91 yards last week.
“The biggest thing is they are big,” Cronic said. “They are big on defense and they run a 4-3 defense. They are juniors and seniors and playing against their experience is going to be a challenge.”
On defense, Reinhardt will look to players such as Jarred Johnson, Blake Barnes, Carlton Hadley, former Etowah High School standout Vashaun Washington and Woodstock product Chas Pierce to keep Lindsey Wilson in check. Tevin McCoy and Phillip Leconte will also contribute.
With Reinhardt’s roster built primarily with true and redshirt freshmen, Cronic knows he will have to find a way to make up for the Eagles’ lack of experience and size. He also cautioned that the coaching staff will have to balance preparing the players with the concern of tiring them out.
“Right now, we are going to err on the side of preparation rather than keeping their legs under them,” Cronic said. “The season is long and arduous as you go down through it, so if we aren’t ready for the pounding it takes and to show the improvement it takes, we have to work. A lot of this is not just for this game, but for the rest of the season. The preparation we do now, will affect us in Week 8 as well as next season.”
One area of strength the Eagles might be able to draw from is special teams.
Punter Blayton Bethune averaged 43 yards on four punts against Mercer. Reinhardt also forced and recovered a fumble on a punt, ran a kickoff back for a touchdown and successfully executed a 2-point conversion.
The only hiccup provided by special teams was a missed extra-point attempt following the Eagles’ first touchdown.
“We are trying to work and fix the hiccups,” Cronic said. “But I thought the punt team and the kickoff return team were outstanding. I think we have to consider ourselves having won the kicking game (against Mercer). We almost blocked a couple of point-after attempts, and that field goal at the end, so you have to give us credit there.”
As for the health of his players, Cronic said they are in the same position they were in a week ago. The Eagles suffered no new injuries, but none of the players who were hurt during camp are quite ready to return.
Among those injured in camp were running backs P.J. Greene and Ian McIntosh, tight end and former Woodstock High School standout Shane McCleskey and wide receiver Nathan Lingo. Linebacker Tyler Martin will also miss another game with an ankle injury.
There are also ongoing eligibility issues with a couple of players. Reinhardt has appealed the decision made by the NAIA concerning a pair of defensive linemen.
“It won’t be a lot different than the last game,” Cronic said.