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Wofford seeks crown of silver for Ayers

The Greenville News 

Ann Green 

Coach Ayers 

Wofford has enjoyed 18 winning seasons in coach Mike Ayers' first 24 years at the school / AP file

SPARTANBURG — In his 25th season as football coach at Wofford College, Mike Ayers probably prefers that any celebration marking the occasion be put on ice until, say, November or later.

Tie it into another Southern Conference championship and/or a spot in the 2012 FCS playoffs.

But the accolades already are arriving.

“I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Ayers -- the way he goes about doing things, the way his teams execute the fundamentals as well as the discipline with which they play and their toughness,” said Furman coach Bruce Fowler. “That program is a direct reflection of the things he’s done.”

Ayers remembers that first year, 1988, when the Terriers went 5-5 after winning one game the previous season.

They would go on to post 18 winning seasons in 24 years, and Wofford fans have come to expect a winning tradition, with nine of thepast 10 seasons ending in the plus column.

The fans especially relish moments such as when Wofford led Clemson late in the third quarter in 2011. Or when the Terriers make a trip into the postseason, as they did last year with a nail-biter of a regular-season finale to secure an at-large bid into the playoffs.

The first-round loss to No. 2-ranked Northern Iowa in which turnovers were a big factor left Ayers looking for answers despite an 8-4 season.

“Anytime you’re bounced out of the playoffs, it’s hard to get over. But the way we lost, it was tough,” said senior linebacker Mike Niam, who has worked on his speed in the offseason and expects big things from himself and his team.

“Whether it’s the first year or the 25th year, each year was and is important,” Ayers said. “When we first got to Wofford, the group was really down. They weren’t used to winning. For the guys returning for their senior year, it was their last chance.

“This year, the 25th year, there’s another group of seniors who have their last go-round. We want to do everything we can to make it the best for them.”

At the end of 2011, Ayers and his staff looked for what it would take to close thegap and take the Terriers to the next level.

“We feel we’ve made progress all the way through. I don’t think we’ve taken a step back,” Ayers said.

Wofford has 17 starters returning, and keeping the Terriers healthy will be important. Their game at South Carolina isn’t until Nov. 17, which is either a blessing or a curse depending on how the playoff picture develops.

“History tells us if we finish with the guys we started with, we either win the Southern Conference championship or go into the playoffs,” Ayers said.

Junior Brian Kass is expected to start at quarterback with the graduation of of three-year starter Mitch Allen.

Wofford also lost three All-SoCon defensive linemen. But the Terriers have a seasoned offensive line and a ton of experience on special teams.

At fullback is All-American and SoCon offensive player of the year Eric Breitenstein, a fifth-year senior who is on the Walter Payton Award watch list.

“He’s always open for a way to get better,” Ayers said. “That’s the sign of a great player.”