Howard Payne Yellow Jacket Head Coach Roger Geise is getting excited about Aug. 12, the day prospective football players report for two-a-days.

“If everybody shows up that has told me they were going to, we could have 175 players here,” Geise said. The Howard Payne football locker room is being upgraded with new carpeting, big screen TVs, new lockers and chairs.

“Everybody else in this conference has an onsite football facility, except us,” Geise said. “This locker room is good for recruiting. Everybody has to keep up with the Jones’s in this business.”

Geise said that a new football stadium is not in the near future for the Jackets, so improving the facility in the clubhouse is the next best thing.

In Geise’s first season in 2012 the Jackets went 1-9. Geise is stressing the mental tenacity aspect of building a winning team.

“We had several opportunities to win close games last season,” Geise said. “We are focusing on one goal each game. To win. The biggest thing is we have to learn how to win.”

The Jackets have recruited well in the offseason and Geise is looking for some of them to become game changers.

“We didn’t have those game changers last season,” Geise said. “We need a guy to be able to break it for 80 yards down the field. We have some guys coming in who can throw the ball and some receivers who can stretch the defenses.”

Geise said that the offense can include I-formations, the pistol and some spread type formations for variety. “Our offensive coaches are going to design a set for each group of players according to their strengths,” Geise said.  

Geise is enthusiastic about the quarterbacks coming into two-a-days. “Last season we had Thomas Head, he was good but really didn’t have the ability to stretch the field.”

The Jackets are returning two candidates who will vie for the starting position in camp, sophomore Zach Alvarado and redshirt freshman Richard Young.

“They both looked good in spring ball and they both can throw it down the field,” Geise said.

Geise said he has several freshmen coming in as quarterbacks as well, but he doesn’t foresee them competing for the starting role, but “you never know,” he added.

Defensively, the Jackets return nine players who had significant playing time last season — Donald Preston at nose tackle, Early’s Bo Ross at linebacker, Victor Gonzalez at outside linebacker/defensive back, Maurice Young at cornerback/safety, Tyler Shaffer at defensive end, Des Williams on the defensive line, Austin Mobley at defensive end and Xavier McFalls at safety.

With player conduct off the field a hot button issue, Geise addressed the importance of character in the recruiting process.

“When I go see a kid’s family, there are two issues I address — character and academics,” Geise said. “I spend very little time actually talking about football. I don’t want characters, I want men of character.”

Geise said that with six full time coaches on the staff, it’s almost impossible to track 175 players 24-7, but he has been blessed at Howard Payne with having few, if any, off the field issues.

“Our job is to mentor them and help them become good young men,” Geise said. “When a kid goes away from home for the first time, they are going to make some mistakes.”

Geise said that the success of programs such as Mary Hardin-Baylor is hard to replicate. “They are operating their program as much as they can at the DI level as they can at the DIII level. In Division I, they all operate in the same format. They all have the same amount of scholarships, same type of facilities, same support staff.”

Geise said that the TV exposure of being in the Division III playoffs has helped rival Mary Hardin-Baylor with recruiting and he hopes to be able to replicate their success, one game at a time.

The Yellow Jackets open at home on Sept. 7 against Trinity, a team that beat them last season.

Geise is looking forward to the season with a one game at a time approach that the Jackets need to have to improve their mental toughness.

“When you go 1-9 from the previous year, every game is a tough game,” Geise said. “Until we win some of these close games and gain some confidence, we will approach things one game at a time, with one goal — to win.”

Geise pointed out the fact that the  Jackets have been playing top 25 teams consistently the past couple of seasons. “People don’t understand that we are playing 30-40 percent of our games against top teams,” Geise said.

It all comes down to the mindset of his players, according to Geise.

“There are two things that are involved — change the culture, the mindset. The second is the infrastructure,” Geise said. “Take a high school program for example. Takes the school board, the community. Evaluate the programs that have been good over time, Brownwood, Katy, Highland Park, everyone is on the same page.”

Geise said that the program is making strides and everyone is making a contribution, from the admissions office to the support staff that helps the players academically.

“We are slowly getting things changed here. There are some things we have to change in order to be successful,” Geise said. “Winning cures a lot of things.”