Each of Pittsburg State University’s football championship seasons was special in its own way. That’s a given.
But ask just about anyone involved in the program or any fan who attended a game in 2011 and they’ll wear out superlatives
telling you about the Gorillas’ most recent march to the NCAA Division II National Championship.
Head Coach Tim Beck agrees that 2011 was a year unlike any other and he has something to compare it to. Beck came to PSU in 1985 to play for the Gorillas and was an assistant coach on the team that last took the national title in 1991.
“I think (the 2011 season) was so much different, number one, because the expectations weren’t maybe as high,” Beck said. “In ’91 we came off losing in the semi finals the year before, so the expectations were pretty high.”
That certainly wasn’t the case in 2011. After finishing 5-6 in ’09 and 6-6 in ’10, the Gorillas entered the 2011 season picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the MIAA.
Beck said the 1991 and 2011 teams were different, as well.
“There are some huge differences between that team and our team,” Beck said. “Back then, when you look at the scores, we blew so many people out. But football in the MIAA is a lot different than it was in 1990 and 1991, because of the parity in the conference. There are just so many teams – five, six – that could actually do what we were able to do this year.”
Beck believes the fans’ lower expectations for the team were a primary reason for the excitement that seemed to build with each successive victory.
“I think because the expectations weren’t as high with the community and Gorilla Nation, then when we started to win, the anticipation of the next game just continued to grow throughout the season,” Beck said. “We had people tell us the season was a success after we beat Northwest at Arrowhead. But there was a lot to come.”
With each win, the excitement was growing on the team and among the coaching staff, but Beck said he worked hard to keep everyone grounded and focused on the next challenge ahead.
“We always talk to our players about having short-term memory,” Beck said. “You can’t worry about what happened last play. You can’t worry about what happened last week. We’ve got to focus on the next play and the next challenge. We tried to keep people level headed. After a couple of big wins in the middle of the season, it was important for us to keep them humble and hungry. It was something I talked to our team a lot about. To keep our guys well grounded and to keep them hungry every week was pretty important.”
That was no small task, especially as the Gorillas won some hard-fought games and Carnie Smith Stadium was packed week after week with increasingly delirious fans.
“We had to fight, scratch and crawl through every single game to get a win,” Beck said. “The excitement and the anticipation of the next game just continued to grow and grow. I’ve been to a lot of games at Carnie Smith Stadium, but I think the Delta State game (D-II semifinals on Dec. 10) might have been as electric a game as I’ve ever experienced. It was exciting.”
Beck praised his experienced coaching staff, a supportive university and a terrific fan base. But he said character also had a lot to do with bringing home a national championship.
“The team chemistry was second to none,” Beck said. “That’s a credit to our seniors.”
He also praised the team’s commitment to academics.
“We played every weekend for 14 weeks and we had one of the highest team GPAs ever,” Beck said.
Beck and his staff paused only briefly in the weeks after the national championship game to savor the 2011 success. His focus quickly shifted to the months ahead.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do this spring,” Beck said. “This is where you build mental toughness, is in the spring. We push our kids extremely hard. They’ve got to be accountable for everything they do. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got our guys ready to go because we have less time in the fall than we’ve had before the first game.”
And in that process of getting ready for the 2012 season, returning members of the Gorilla football team are going to hear a familiar refrain.
“It’s really important that we are able to stay hungry and humble,” Beck said.
More from this season:
Pictures from the 2011 season can be purchased here.