ELKINS, W.Va – The steps to build up a program are not small ones but the first ones are being taken by Elkins head football coach Jimmy Hankins as he enters his second year in charge of the Tigers.

Improvements that many programs would likely take for greanted have made for a much more positive outlook to start the season this year.

“We didn’t have a place to practice. We didn’t have a place to play. We didn’t even have a weight room. We were short on helmets. We were short on footballs,” he said, “We’re starting off with a lot more things in place that should be here when you start a program now than what we had last year so that’s a good thing.”

A big step in the growth of any program is the growth of its numbers and that has shown up for Elkins this year as well as more and more students have come out for the team, adding to a veteran group of returners.

“I think when everybody’s dressed out we’ll have about 33 and right now, out here, we have 24 I’d say and last year we only had like 19 so it’s definitely an upgrade,” senior Javier Rosario said.

Hankins believes that a big part of the growth of the roster goes hand in hand with the excitement around the biggest development on campus this year. The finishing touches are being put on the renovated Wimer Field and interest is at an all-time high.

“It’s kind of hard not to get excited when you see them getting ready to put the turf down and laying concrete and all that stuff. The new bleachers and all that stuff which weren’t here lat year at this time which I think that helps,” he said.

On the field, the strengths for the Tigers lie in the experience this team gained last year. While the results may not have been what they wanted, plenty of guys received valuable reps in big spots and they will only be better for it this season.

“Our entire defense is returning except for I think about two people. Our entire offense is returning I’d say. We do got a lot of returners and we got a few seniors this year,” Rosario said.

For Hankins, the key facets of the team so far look to be in the ground game with a returning stable of running backs and a group up front with the ability to open holes for them.

“We have a lot of people back on our offensive line. We’ve got a little bit of size. A couple of our major ball carriers are back and we just have a lot of experience whereas last year we had none,” he said, “I think we returned eight players last year so it’s a completely different world.”

But for the Tigers, it cannot come down to just the experience this season. Elkins is looking to turn over a new leaf when it comes to the dedication to the program and Hankins has been pleased with the response the players have provided so far.

“The heart that they’ve shown and the effort that they’ve given me, I couldn’t be more happy with that and like I said, I think we had 15 guys that got at least 40 workouts in the offseason which is huge. That’s what its all about. You’ve got to build your program in the offseason,” Hankins said.

Elkins opens the season on the road, facing Liberty on Friday night.