For Louisiana College football coach Dennis Dunn, there is only one more step to go in the rebuilding of Wildcats football: a spot in the Division II playoffs with a shot at a national championship.
Starting his sixth season at the Pineville school, Dunn has built the program from cracking the .500 barrier to the cusp of a playoff spot after going 7-3 overall and 5-3 in the American Southwest Conference in 2010.
Not bad for a school that just revived football in 2000.
“This could be the year that the Wildcats could be a force to be reckoned with,” Dunn said. “From where we were five years ago, we are ready to take it to the next level.”
The Wildcats will return 18 starters (nine on each side of the ball), and although star quarterback Ben McLaughlin is gone, Dunn doesn’t see any room for backsliding.
“Losing McLaughlin leaves a void offensively,” he said. “But the return of the entire offensive line, (receiver) Darnell Williams and three running backs that are as good as any in conference puts us right where we want to be.”
The quarterback position should be in goods hands, according to Dunn, with junior Jamie Bunting set to take over after spending two years backing up McLaughlin.
“He’s the heir apparent,” Dunn said of Bunting. “He’ll have competition with transfers coming in, but he’s the guy we will depend on.
“He’s familiar with scheme, so there’s no learning curve, but we’re not going to ask him to win games for us.”
Williams was named the preseason Special Teams Player of the Year in the conference and Dunn expects him to be a force in that area.
“Darnell is a dangerous return guy,” Dunn said. “I am sure teams will kick away from him, but we feel good about our other return guys as well.”
Defense should be a strong suit this season, with all-conference linebacker Nate Janzen back for his junior season. Janzen led the ASC in tackles last season with 129.
Sophomore defensive lineman Peter Ford (2010 ASC Freshman of the Year) and defensive back Reggie Calhoun also anchor LC’s defense.
“Those guys having the experience they’ve had the last two years, they are at a place they know they can win,” Dunn said of his veteran defenders.”
As far as a serious playoff push goes, Dunn said he felt the Wildcats were at that point last year, but just missed out.
Last season, LC trailed eventual conference champion Mary Hardin-Baylor, which finished 8-0 in conference play, 42-38 with 42 seconds and had the ball on the Crusaders’ 3-yard line. But on fourth down, McLaughlin threw an interception in the end zone that crushed the Wildcats’ hopes.
Dunn said losses like that showed his team what they need to do to take that next step.
“The kids know they have paid a price,” he said. “It’s time to push on through the envelope and get this thing done.”