Few moments in Elon University athletic history have drawn as much excitement as the 2009 Southern Conference “de facto football championship game” between the Phoenix and the Appalachian State Mountaineers at Rhodes Stadium. Though Elon came up short of a conference title in that 2009 season, the year, along with an eight-win 2008 campaign, was the high mark of Elon’s football membership in the Southern Conference.
In May 2013, it was announced that Elon would be moving its entire athletic program to the Colonial Athletic Association beginning with the 2014-15 school year. This meant the “SoCon farewell tour” was underway for 2013.
Needless to say, the tour has had its bumps for Elon football. With one game remaining against Samford University Nov. 23, Elon sits at 2-9 overall, 1-6 in SoCon play.
“We do have talent on the team, but I think at this point we just don’t have enough,” said head coach Jason Swepson. “That’s something we’re going to address in recruiting.”
Elon has competed in games in 2013, dropping four games by 10 or fewer points. On two occasions, Elon has blown double-digit halftime leads. Each time, Swepson is quick to point out how his team is “a year away in the weight room” from being legitimate contenders.
The problem is, the caliber of the 2013 Southern Conference is a far cry from the CAA any year. SoCon members have won a total of five non-conference games this season, and no team has lost fewer than two conference games in 2013. Those close to the league predict the SoCon might not send more than one team to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs come the end of November.
“The league was down this year,” said senior safety Chandler Wrightenberry. “You’ve got Appalachian State and Georgia Southern [University] leaving, so their minds were on other things. Same with us. But the past four years playing in the SoCon, the SoCon was one of the best conferences in the nation.”
Swepson pointed out Elon’s record has suffered in the last two seasons, and the reasons are visible on film and are not mysteries.
“If you look at just wins and losses, we’ve struggled,” he said. “I felt like this year we were playing right there with everyone for about 30 to 40 minutes.”
Swepson went on to add that his team is in need of “perfection” on offense.
“It’s tough to do in football,” he said. “We only lost three guys on offense from last year. [Redshirt freshman wide receiver] Justin Osborne’s going to be a playmaker. He’s just got to get a little more confidence. [Freshman] Demitri Allison, he’s a playmaker out there at the wide receiver position. It’s all there. We just have to be getting those guys another year in the weight room.”
While Swepson argues the team is in need of more work in the weight room, his players do not believe they are getting beat physically.
“I don’t think we’re being physically outmatched,” said junior wide reciever Kierre Brown. “Size-wise, we’re a little undersized, but as far as athletic ability goes, we’re a lot more athletic than most teams. It’s more heart than being physically outplayed, so everyone has to play harder at the end of the day.”
Junior quarterback Mike Quinn agreed with both Swepson and Brown, saying the Phoenix is on the cusp of success as the team enters the CAA.
“Some of the teams do look bigger than us,” Quinn said. “With this new weight coach [Ted Perlak], we have something special with him. Our weight coach is going to get us ready to be in the CAA.”
In comparison to the SoCon, the CAA has routinely had as many as five teams ranked in the top 25 of the FCS each week. Two CAA teams — Towson University and the University of Maine — have defeated Football Bowl Subdivision teams this year, and the CAA has sent three teams to National Championship games in the last five years.
“CAA is tough,” Quinn said. “There’s a bunch of good teams in the CAA. It’s definitely a tough conference that we’ve got to be prepared for. ”
With eight starters returning on offense, Brown said he believes this offseason is the perfect chance to bury what went wrong this season and re-invent Elon.
“We’re ready to attack the CAA,” Brown said. “We’re ready to finish this season up, hit the offseason hard and come back next season in a new attitude. New Elon, new conference, new face, new everything.”