COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Thompson, Citadel have sights set on SoCon title

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The Citadel football program won its second consecutive Southern Conference championship last year, going 8-0 in the process. Not only was the 8-0 mark a first for The Citadel, it was only the seventh time in the SoCon's 84-year football history that it has happened.

The Bulldogs are off to a 3-0 start this season, 1-0 in the conference. Second-year head coach Brent Thompson said his team can't afford to get comfortable with its recent success.

"Our first- and second-year players only know this success," said Thompson, who spoke to the Sumter Touchdown Club last week. "Our older players, they've been around long enough to have experience a losing season.

"They know how hard they have to work to keep that edge."

After an off week last week, The Citadel dives back into Southern Conference play with a road game against Mercer in Macon, Ga., on Saturday. Mercer is 1-3 overall and 0-2 in conference play.

It has been a trying season for the Bulldogs to date despite the 3-0 start.

Before the start of the season, The Citadel lost several starters for various reasons besides the ones it had lost to graduation.

"I started thinking about what I could to take the pressure off of me, temper the expectations down," Thompson said.

Instead of doing that, he gathered his team and told his players they would take a different approach.

"I told them, 'Here's what we're going to do,' Thompson said. 'We're going to have a new theme this year. 'Nobody cares.'

"Every player looked at me, shook their heads and said, 'Yeah, we got it.'"

For the second straight year, The Citadel had its schedule affected by a hurricane. The Bulldogs were supposed to play host to Presbyterian, but the threat of Hurricane Irma forced the game to be moved to Clinton.

The Citadel won the game 48-7, but it didn't return to Charleston after the game. Instead, it practiced in Johnson City, Tenn., where The Citadel would play East Tennessee State the following Saturday, and at Clemson, an opponent later in the season. The players also had to deal with the death of former Bulldog standout Mitchell Jeter.

The Bulldogs went home for a couple of days before heading back to Johnson City, where they pulled out a 31-25 victory.

ETSU led 14-7 at halftime and 17-7 early in the third quarter, but the Bulldogs scored on three straight possessions for a 28-17 lead.

"We didn't necessarily play our best game, but I was proud of the way the team handled itself under the circumstances," Thompson said.