Is this the year everything comes together for Miami RedHawks football?
Ask fifth-year coach Chuck Martin, and you’ll get an affirmative response.
“We feel really good,” Martin told Cox Media Group Ohio on Wednesday, less than two weeks before MAC media days are set to take place in Detroit. “We’ve continued to build this thing the right way.”
Of course optimism is a common thread across the country this time of year, but Martin has extra reason to feel good besides not having lost a game since November.
His 2019 recruiting class not only leads the Mid-American Conference but ranks in the top 50 nationally according to both Rivals and the 247Sports Composite.
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“Everything keeps getting better and better,” Martin said. “We’re just trying to build it the right way and trying to take it another step forward this year, which I think we will.”
The RedHawks slipped from six wins and a bowl bid in 2016 to a 5-7 record last season, a campaign Martin confirmed was frustrating at times.
Picked to finish second in the MAC East, Miami ended up in a third-place tie with Buffalo.
The RedHawks showed their potential with a 10-point win over division champion Akron.
A 17-point win over Central Michigan made for a nice feather in the cap, too, but a handful of close losses — including an excruciating collapse in the Battle for the Bell against Cincinnati — loomed large in Martin’s team ultimately being home for the holidays.
Early 2018 prognostications again have the RedHawks among the potential contenders in the MAC, but can they make the leap on the field?
"We lost some games we certainly should have won,” Martin said. "We lost (quarterback) Gus Ragland in the middle of the conference season, but this is the first time we’ve had a real senior class, and we’ve gained a lot of experience.”
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Having Ragland available all year could go a long way toward Miami’s first winning season since a 10-4 campaign in 2010.
The quarterback from Cincinnati Moeller led a 6-0 finish to the regular season in 2016, and the RedHawks struggled during the three-plus games he missed last year.
He’s proven to be a dynamic player when he’s in the lineup, but Miami has more options should he go down again thanks to the additions of Michigan grad transfer Alex Malzone and freshman AJ Mayer, a three-star prospect from Covington (Ky.) Catholic.
“I think we’re in better shape than we were a year ago,” Martin said. “We’ve got to keep Gus healthy. We’re 9-1 in the MAC the last two years when he plays. We’re 1-5 when he doesn’t play, so everyone knows how important the quarterback is.”
Ragland is one of 19 returning starters, a group that also includes left tackle Jordan Rigg of Springboro and guard Jarrett LaRubbio of Lakota East.
Jordan Rigg of Springboro H.S. is headed to Miami University to play football. He joined other area seniors who signed to play football at the Greater Western Ohio Conference signing ceremony at the Huber Heights Athletic Foundation Center on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF
The defense lost standout cornerback Heath Harding (a Dayton Christian product) but returns eight starters, including six of the front seven.
Martin said the RedHawks will the preseason Aug. 3 with three goals: “Stay healthy, play the game the right way, and have the right mindset going into the fall.”
Aside from keeping Ragland healthy, Miami will likely have to figure out how to win a few more close games.
The RedHawks were 0-5 in games decided by eight points or less last season after going 2-4 in such contests in ’16.
“I just think as you get older and more confident you play in more situations and you get better at ‘em,” Martin said.
“I think that’s a big key for us because we’re going to play a lot of close games. Get used to playing close game because we’re going to be in them.”
Miami football players Heath Harding and Gus Ragland talk about the phenomenon of MAC football.