MACOMB, Ill. (WGEM) -- Eight months after Western Illinois University president Dr. Jack Thomas introduced Bob Nielson as the football program's new head coach, five months after Nielson kicked off his first spring practice, and four weeks since the Leathernecks began fall practice, it's finally game week.
"You spend the entire preseason camp banging on each other and the opportunity to play a game is one of those things that you look forward to," Nielson said.
Senior tight end Nate Bowman says the first game can't soon enough.
"We've been waiting since summer camp to get this first game out of the way," Bowman said.
"We're really getting tired of hitting each other and we're ready to hit some blue and silver (Hampton jersey colors)."
Western opens the season with a visit from Hampton.
Both teams are coming off similar frustrating three win campaigns, and a new year brings new enthusiasm for both.
"I'm anxious. It's pretty hard to sleep at night," Bowman admitted.
"I'm just ready to get out there and see what this year is going to come out to."
Nielson added: "We're excited to play and it will give us a real good gage of where we're at and the next step we need to take."
The Leatherneck offense is trying to rebound from being, statistically, the worst in FCS football last fall averaging only 220 yards and just shy of 10 points a game.
Cincinnati transfer Trent Norvell has been given the reigns at quarterback center and will make his first collegiate start.
"He has a great arm and he has great confidence coming in as a transfer," Bowman said.
"He came (to Macomb) and took us by storm and we're all looking forward to seeing what he can do."
Norvell would like nothing more than to set the tone right from the first snap.
"I just want to get out there, get everything going, start executing our offense, and score touchdowns with my teammates," Norvell said.
On the defensive side Western's task will be to somehow slow down an athletic Hampton squad.
"Our goal is to make the quarterback throw the ball. He likes to scramble out of the pocket and we need to contain him, and make him run the ball," senior defensive end Ryan Demming explained.
"(We need to) make him do something that they don't want him to."
According to Nielson, the defensive strategy is simple.
"You have to not give up the big play and certainly contain the quarterback," he said.
"Being able to put pressure on the quarterback is a big part of that."
Thursday's game time is set for 6 p.m. and it's WGEM Night at Hanson Field. Fans are encouraged to wear white as part of 'White Out' Night.
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