On Nov. 21, 2015, the ETSU football team defeated Kentucky Wesleyan College to end the 2015-2016 season with an overall record of 2-9.

A year later, after defeating conference foe Samford, the Bucs ended their second season 5-6, with two conference wins.

“I think that tells how far this program has come in a year,” said Head Coach Carl Torbush.

In their first full conference schedule, the Bucs defeated two conference teams in the 2016-2017 season, including Western Carolina University at Bristol Motor Speedway and Samford in the season finale.

The Bucs only competed against one Southern Conference rival last year, Mercer University. They lost the game 52-0. This year, the Bucs were defeated by Mercer by only eight points in a breathtaking fourth quarter.

“These wins that we’ve had this year have felt better than any wins that I’ve ever had in other sport or any other season,” said quarterback Austin Herink. “It’s just because I think we’ve worked so hard for these wins, and we’ve put so much into this to reap the benefits of it, it feels that much better.”

A big positive for the Bucs is the number of returning players. Despite the contributions they made, the Bucs only lost four seniors: Defensive backs Tavian Lott (D’Lo, Miss.) and Ryan Powers, wide receiver Chad Pritchard (Johnson City, Tenn.) and defensive lineman Royce Turnbull (Charlotte, N.C.)

“When you look at that, you had 114, now you have 110,” Torbush said. “Only 10 of those are going to be seniors next year so we have a bunch of them back for a long time. Great thing about it is we have a bunch of them back, and most of the teams we are getting ready to play next year don’t have them all back.”

Overall, Coach Torbush feels that the Bucs are headed in the right direction.

“You look back at it, I think we are where we need to be right now,” Torbush said. “Who knows if we did it the right way or not, but I do feel like we did. The fact that we built this program with young guys, I know it’s been tough helping that foundation, but because the foundation we built now we have a bunch of guys coming back year in and year out, and that’s one of the exciting things about this football team and where we are headed as a football program.”

The Bucs prepare to continue this growth into next year when they host Limestone College in the new stadium on campus on Sept. 2, 2017.