GREENVILLE, S.C. (WJHL) – Just over a month remains until the ETSU Bucs return to the gridiron, and second-year head coach George Quarles and members of the team said they hope to turn things around this season after a tough fall last year.
The Southern Conference (SoCon) Media Kickoff was held in Greenville, South Carolina Thursday. Quarles was one of nine SoCon coaches in attendance.
After posting a 3-8 overall record in his inaugural season with the Bucs, Quarles pointed to a lack of buy-in from last season’s team.
“It was a tough year,” Quarles said. “It kind of shakes you a little bit and [you] kind of question yourself. You go back and you say, ‘Where did this go wrong?’ And I can point to a lot of things that went wrong, but the bottom line is we just never got total buy-in from our team, and whether that was my fault or whoever’s fault, we just never got everybody going in the same direction.”
With only one conference victory in the 2022-23 season, players told members of the media that the Bucs hope to leave the past where it is and are looking forward to their return.
“We’re really excited for the upcoming season,” said junior tight end Noah West. “Want to get rid of the memories of last season, kind of wash that bad taste out of our mouths. [We] put in a lot of hard work and preparation in the off-season, and I think we’re really excited to see what that’s going to come to this fall.”
The Bucs are certainly going to have a different feel this season, as the quarterback position is still up for grabs. Tyler Riddell had been the go-to Blue and Gold QB for years, but Quarles said the role has to improve from last season, and it remains open as the team goes into fall practice.
West said Riddell and other returning players will have to compete for their positions within the team, which he sees as a sign of a strong squad.
Quarles told members of the media he will also be more involved in play-calling this season.
“It’s just something I want to do, and I’ve done it before, and I feel pretty comfortable about it,” Quarles said.
Players also blamed last season’s record on a lack of unity, which was tied to the transition from the Randy Sanders era to the Quarles era. Junior defensive back Sheldon Arnold II told News Channel 11 that challenge is behind them, and the team is ready to move forward as one.
“I would say it’s a complete culture change as far as in the locker room,” Arnold said. “A lot of guys that were distractions last year are not here and the same this year. With that being a factor that’s eliminated, we’ve come closer as a group. Everybody’s going in the right direction. Everybody’s thinking the same way.”
Preseason SoCon polls were not kind to the Bucs, with both the media and coaches polls placing ETSU in the 6th spot — a stinging placement for a team that won the conference and defeated an SEC opponent in 2021.
“The preseason poll is what it is,” West said. “The preseason poll is based off of last year and what teams think that we’ve done, and we know who we are and what we’ve done in the off-season to show that in the fall.”