Aug 15, 2013
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - When the Saluki football team returned from winter break last January, quarterback Kory Faulkner stood in front of the entire squad and issued a bold challenge.
The fifth-year senior urged them, "You guys come watch me at every workout, count all my reps, look at me -- and if I'm slacking off, you can slack off. I want everybody to work as hard as I do."
As he explained after today's crisp pre-fall practice, "I wanted to make sure no one could look at me and say, 'he didn't work as hard as he could today.'"
The pronouncement became a defining moment for both Faulkner and the 2013 team. With his credibility at stake, he backed it up with six months of relentless workouts, and Faulkner was subsequently voted team captain by his peers.
Of course, Faulkner couldn't lead the team without the backing of sixth-year head coach Dale Lennon. With the offense coming off a sub-par showing during last year's 6-5 season, Lennon could have ditched his two-year starter and picked up a BCS transfer. Lennon stayed firmly in Faulkner's corner.
Recalled Faulkner, "He sat me down after last season and said, 'I believe in you. Everything that was blamed on you wasn't totally your fault. You have to be a leader, we're going to make the players around you better, you just have to trust us, and we're going to trust in you.'"
The Bloomsdale, Mo. native has been primed for this moment by numerous mentors within Saluki football during the past five years. Faulkner is one of seven fifth-year seniors who were redshirts on SIU's last championship team in 2009. He recalls quarterback Chris Dieker and former-quarterback-turned receiver Joe Allaria, "pulling us under their wings and teaching us the right way to do things."
"As soon I had the job after Paul went down, they sat me down and said, 'Hey, we're going to roll with you. We've got your back. Every decision you make, we're going to support you,'" he remembered. "They were two of the best leaders we've had in this program, and just knowing I had their trust allowed my personality to come out a little more."
Faulkner also praised his long-time quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg.
"Coach Hedberg has done a great job with me over the years," he said. "We trust each other, and he knows exactly what to look for and puts me in a lot of good situations."
The list of benefactors goes on. Faulkner said a long conversation with former Saluki great Carl Mauck was a key turning point for him last year. Strength coach Clete McLeod has loaned him books to read about leadership. And of course, there's Lennon and his open-door policy.
"I know if there's anything in the world I need to talk about, Coach Lennon would be the guy I'd go to," Faulkner said. "He's a great guy and fun to talk to, even if you're not talking about football."
The task at hand, though, is winning football games in 2013.
"It was a rough season last year with the offense not performing at its best all the time," said Faulkner. "It's very easy to look at the guys who were in charge of everything -- the quarterback, the offensive staff, Coach (Kalen) DeBoer -- we got a lot of heat about it. We all sat down and knew it was going to take a lot of hard work. With Coach (Bill) O'Boyle coming in, he really has the offensive line in gear now. We have pass protection and holes to run through, so the offense is going to be a lot different than what people saw last year."
With 20 starts under his belt, including a breakthrough 384-yard passing game against SEMO last year, Faulkner feels his command of the offense growing each day.
"When I was a freshman and sophomore, this was fast-fast," he said. "It's almost to the point now that before the snap, there's a really good chance I'm going to know what the defense is going to do. The game slows down with the knowledge that you gain."
The business management major will graduate in December, and with the vast majority of his schoolwork behind him, he's heavily invested in football.
"This is my life right now," he said. "To get this program back in the playoffs, with this group of guys, that would be one of the greatest feelings. I'm making sure that whenever my days are done playing football that I don't look back and have any regrets about what I could have done."
With each passing day of practice, he relishes his role as team leader.
"I wanted to be someone the team could trust," Faulkner said. "The guys look at me in the huddle and they listen. It's everything I could ask for."
Pre-fall camp seems to be zooming by as the team has just one more day of practice on Friday before Saturday's scrimmage. Classes start on Monday, and the team will begin its normal practice schedule on Tuesday afternoon.
Concerning the upcoming scrimmage, Lennon said the team is ready for a full dress rehearsal, including situations such as two-minute offense, red zone and goal line work. The scrimmage will be officiated and include a play clock.
QB Kory Faulkner was sharp again today. Some of his highlights included a seam pass to TE Adam Fuehne, and a beautiful play-action toss to WR John Lantz. Working with the second team, QB Ryan West made a nice throw on a deep crossing route to WR LaSteven McKinney. The play of the day, though, was a bomb from QB Matt Vincent -- a tight, 50-yard spiral -- to WR Kyle Newquist, who completely extended to make a diving catch.
After practice, Lennon surprised the team by announcing he bought them all movie tickets to go see "2 Guns" starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. He praised their effort throughout camp and urged them to enjoy the movie as a break from football.