Towson football starts fall camp with FCS playoff hopes in mind

Towson head football coach Rob Ambrose talks about the upcoming season at CAA Media Day. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun video)

The Towson football team doesn't have to search hard for reminders about the 2013 season, when the Tigers advanced to the Football Championship Subdivision national championship game.

There are mementos throughout the facility and on the end zone scoreboard that commemorate the feat. Players from that squad often come back to talk.


But this year's Tigers crave more than the connection to the past. Save for a few redshirt seniors who were young practice players in 2013, Towson's roster doesn't have any playoff experience.

When the team reports to fall camp Sunday, though, the program will begin preparation with hopes of changing that by the end of the season.


"This is the time of year where every football player in America looks at it like their birthday, like it's Christmas," Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. "It's been a great offseason, one of the best offseason we've ever had. To say our guys are excited about the fall is a massive understatement."

After a losing 2016 season, Towson football aims to return to the playoffs.

When defensive back Monty Fenner arrived before the 2014 season, he was intimidated. So was long snapper Will Hayes.

But Fenner said the class was even more "shocked" to go 4-8 that year. The Tigers had lost veteran stars, such as Terrance West, now the Ravens' top running back, and quarterback Peter Athens, and the shortcomings taught the newcomers postseason success — or regular-season success — wasn't a guarantee.

"It's a rebuilding process," Fenner said. "We lost a lot of key players."

Towson had a 7-4 record in 2015, but since their national championship appearance, the Tigers have lost four more games than they've won.

Ambrose has a theory about his program's recent struggles and why, after the team went 4-7 last season, the Colonial Athletic Association's preseason poll ranked Towson 10th out of 12 squads in the conference.

Reserve and scout players during the deep playoff run, Ambrose said, assumed in later years that the Tigers' previous achievements would be enough to promise postseason returns.

"Those were the guys that walked away with a championship ring or a trip to the national championship," Ambrose said, referring to the Tigers' CAA titles in 2011 and 2012, and their loss to North Dakota State in the final in 2013. "Those guys kind of thought when they walk out of the locker room, it's human nature to assume the logos wins games; we just win here.

"They taught these [current] guys a lot of good stuff. But they taught them some bad stuff, too, and the great part about the guys here now is they've decided to learn from that."

Towson and Morgan State will meet for the first time since 2011 on Sept. 2 at Johnny Unitas Stadium in the season opener for both teams, with kickoff at 6 p.m.

Ambrose is also taking a new approach with this year's team.

The Tigers no longer harp on obligations.

"We don't complain about going to practice," Ambrose said. "We talk about opportunities, and every single rep we get is a chance to get better and to well represent this program within the university and nationally. It's just a different mindset."


His players, especially his veterans, have taken heed.

While Fenner redshirted his true freshman year and can return in 2018, Hayes' eligibility ends after the 2017 season.

The two often still exchange texts messages with members of that championship-game squad, adding to the decorations and guest speeches as a way to reflect on the Tigers' history.

So as the team convenes to begin the preseason this weekend, the Tigers intend to make their desire to return to the FCS playoffs clear.

"It's a reminder that we need to get there again," Hayes said. "It's definitely set the bar and what's expected, and we've just got to follow in their footsteps. They've laid out the blueprint."

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