CAMBRIDGE, MA – For the first time in school history, the Mount Ida College Mustangs football team is heading to the NCAA Div. III tournament.
The Mustangs earned an automatic bid following last weekend’s victory against Castleton State in New Hampshire.
This week, Mount Ida will face Wesley College, a squad that defeated the Mustangs 13 years ago.
Following the final New England Football Writers’ luncheon on Wednesday, Noontime Sports caught up with head coach Michael Landers to chat about their first round matchup, as well as the season, too.
Before the season began, did you think that earning a spot in the NCAA tournament was attainable?
“I think it was a goal of ours to win the conference championship and then go onto the NCAA’s. I don’t think we doubted that at all, but what we did was set that as a long-term goal for us and we set up a bunch of short term goals of how to hunt that down, and obviously our philosophy has been 1-0 every single week. And we haven’t looked at the big picture, but now we’re at the big picture. Although, I think it’s still apropos for us to try to go 1-0 today, try go 1-0 tomorrow, try to go 1-0 this week. We said to the kids four years ago, [and again] we started with 17 kids on the team four and a half years ago that those who stay will be champions. And now they’ve won that conference championship, but we’ve got another week to play. It was a long-term goal for us, but we don’t really concentrate on the long game, we’re trying to concentrate on the short game very week.”
Your team has been apart of some rather close games this season. How have those particular contests helped the Mustangs progress?
“I think your character is defined in moments in adversity and our guys have shown time and time again that they are a team of great character. It’s pretty obvious if you look at our track record, as far as games are concerned. Last minutes, difficult situations and this is a unique group of kids and after that UMass Dartmouth game, we sat down and we talked about [how this squad] isn’t the most talented team we’ve ever had, but they have the intangibles, so that means if you’re willing to work really hard and go 1-0 every day, you can do something special, so that’s kind of where we are right now.”
Has the conference championship officially set in? Do you feel your players have been able to move on and focus on the next task?
“This is a different team because we get focused and get on task pretty quickly. We talked [on Tuesday] as a team before practice that there is no more conference championships, and if that’s what you wanted to sit back on then you don’t need to make the trip with us, so we got back to work pretty quickly, and if you’re not working as hard as you can this week, you don’t even get a chance to make the bus.”
Looking at your opponent this week, what have you noticed from the film? What makes Wesley such a tough first round opponent?
“They have tremendous team speed. They have team speed that we haven’t ever seen and we have good team speed, so we’re outgunned and they’re a complete team. They’re a championship caliber team; they go out and play the best competition that they can possibly find. They fly out to California and out to Texas, they play Mount Union and the White Waters and they’ve been to the playoffs before. They’ve gone deep into the playoffs and they’re going to be a challenge for us and I don’t want to say that we have to play perfect football because I don’t think there is such a thing, but we have to play together, we have to play smart and we have to fight for the things that we want.”
Have you or your team experienced any pre-game nerves or jitters?
“Last Wednesday our offensive coordinator had a baby and that’s something you can get nervous about, but this is a football game and this is an opportunity for us to play together for at least one more time, and now it is truly a 1-0 situation and it’s football life or death. You either get to win and play again together or you lose and that’s the end of the season. So, I don’t think it’s something to be nervous about because it is something to get excited about and we’ve always said since [our first day of practice] that anytime we get to play together it’s a reason to be excited. I don’t see nerves playing into this at all because it is just who we are and if we get nervous then we don’t beat Norwich with 30 seconds left.”
Have you faced an opponent this season that compares to Wesley?
“No. They are a different entity for us. They’re something different.”
If you look at the record books, you’ll notice Massachusetts’s teams have struggled in the tournament. Is that something you’ve thought about this week?
“I think a lot of people have conversations about that and I think you can find those conversations just about anyway you look, but if we were to believe those things then why go and play the football game? I think for a team that is seen as a kind of Cinderella team and, as an underdog it really starts as a couple things and they are the following: has your team gone through adversity? Yes, we have, and it starts with believing. I don’t concentrate on those things, I don’t coach those other teams, I haven’t coached those other teams, I haven’t been apart of those things because this is my team. This is the situation that we’re in and we’re getting prepared to go and try and win a football game.”
You’ve mentioned that this is one of your favorite teams you’ve coached. Can you elaborate on that statement?
“We have a tradition that we dance after we win. We go off somewhere and we dance, and it’s getting off the bus and dancing because that was the moment that we talked about with a lot of these guys that hadn’t experienced a lot of success. If you’re willing to work as hard as you can and give effort then just about anything is possible. Watching the joy, the elation that [my team exhibited last weekend was great, but] they did it because it wasn’t about winning a trophy, it wasn’t winning a conference championship, but instead learning about achievement and how to go after your dreams. I think that was it and they did it.”
Finally, once this season has officially concluded, do you feel your young men are ready to take what they learned on the gridiron and apply it toward their future?
“This group definitely knows how to throw rocks. I think they have the blueprint now, I think they believe, I think they have tremendous self-confidence that no matter what they face, they can face it head on with integrity and honor and with great honesty, so I’m confident in these guys.”