Oct. 28, 2009

By Kyle Kensing

There's always next Saturday -- it's a mantra for those teams who leave the football field on the losing end every week. For Indiana State, there were 33 next Saturdays.

Last week the Sycamores downed Western Illinois, 17-14, to end the nation's longest losing streak. It was their first victory since Oct. 21, 2006.

"These kids have worked their tails off for the university and the community," said head coach Trent Miles, explaining the significance of the win. 

And according to Miles, it's just one small step in a much larger process.

"We're not building this program to be happy breaking a streak. We're building this program to be a winning program, and for it to be that way for a long time," he said.

Miles was named head coach in December 2007, amid the program's losing streak. The program endured a tough 2008, its second consecutive winless campaign, and began 2009 0-7. 

But Miles said his players never showed sign of yielding.

"That's the type of young men we have in the program. They never quit. They keep coming out whether it's lose or win, and obviously it's been a lot more lose than win.

"The ones who didn't have that type of attitude or desire aren't here anymore," he said.

Among those who Miles said has shown that winning attitude is sophomore Ryan Roberts. He was integral in the Sycamore's defeat of the Leathernecks, scoring both ISU touchdowns.

"Ryan is a team player, playing out of position by helping us at quarterback right now," he said.

Roberts filled in as ISU's snap taker, and the result was not just a win for the team, but Missouri Valley Conference honors for himself. The conference announced this recognition Sunday.

"I'm just doing what the coaches ask me to do -- learn and just play hard," Roberts said of making the conversion to quarterback.

That mindset culminated in those two important scampers against WIU, both vital to the outcome and both individually significant. The first from 91 yards out set an ISU program record, and the other, a four-yarder, was the decisive score in the fourth quarter.

Roberts concluded the day with 160 yards rushing and multiple touchdowns for the second consecutive week. He leads the team in rushing yards per game at over 47.

"After the game we sang our fight song along with the alumni. We had a bunch of former players there [for ISU Homecoming]. It was great," Roberts said.

The team takes its new streak into action Saturday against the nation's third ranked team, Southern Illinois. The Salukis boast one of the nation's top defenses and a point differential of just below 18 a game, a stark contrast from ISU's minus-24.4.

But Roberts said the Sycamores are approaching this match-up with "a great team" taking that same positive outlook.

"We need to just prepare and come out ready to play mistake-free football," he said.

Win or lose in Saturday's home game, Miles said ISU has reason to be excited about its future beyond 2009. The roster is loaded with youth like Roberts.

"He's a good athlete, but a great person. So, whatever we ask him to do he's going to help the team," Miles said of Roberts. "But we've got a lot of young guys that are that way. Sixty-seven of the 85 guys on our team are true freshman or sophomores."

ISU has plenty to build upon for its future in terms of gridiron success. And while in the present the team "didn't see results on the field until Saturday," as Miles said, it has "seen results in the classroom, in the community and on campus."

The reconstruction of ISU football, Miles said, has included establishing a positive presence beyond Memorial Stadium.

Included in the team's outreach throughout Terre Haute, Ind. are mentorship and reading programs with area children, and volunteering with the United Way and at local hospitals.

Now boasting a tangible result on the field to complement the work off it, ISU is ready to build a new streak - one where "next Saturday" means the next win.

"Things are looking good at Indiana State," Roberts said.