One word seemed to dominant the conversation as Eastern Kentucky University players and coaches spoke with media on Wednesday.


It was repeated over and over.

"We believe that this is going to be a real special year," EKU senior running back Daryl McCleskey Jr. said. "The program has been building up to this moment. We are on the right track for this to be a special year -- one that all of us will remember."

The Colonels certainly have reason to believe they are on the verge of something special.

EKU (7-4) won its final four games of last season and just missed out on a bid to the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.

The Colonels are set to return 18 starters and 47 of the 61 players who were listed on the season-ending depth chart.

Only 20 players who appeared in a game for EKU last season are not back.

"We believe that we can win the OVC Championship," EKU senior running back Jason Lewis said. "This is definitely our year."

The Colonels haven't won an OVC Championship in eight years.

They've haven't made the FCS Playoffs since 2014.

Those goals, however, certainly seem within reach for a team with plenty of talent, depth and experience.

"We (go) into this camp with a great sense of belief," said EKU coach Mark Elder, who is set to enter his fourth season at the school. "There's just a different feel. Obviously, we've accomplished absolutely nothing, yet. But, there is all the makings of what we want this to be."

Getting to this point hasn't been easy.

EKU has one of the most storied FCS football programs in the country -- highlighted by two national championships and 21 playoff appearances.

Most of that success, though, hasn't come recently.

The Colonels haven't won a postseason game since 1994.

EKU was 3-8 in 2016, then posted a 4-7 record in 2017.

It was the first back-to-back losing seasons for the program in more than five decades.

Things started heading in the right direction.

The Colonels were 7-4 and 5-2 in the OVC.

"We put in the groundwork. We laid the foundation," McCleskey said. "It's built into something better than we could have imagined. It's a great feeling being a part of it and knowing we did something special."

Now, the Colonels are ready to take another big step forward.

EKU was picked third in both the OVC media and coaches poll -- behind Jacksonville State and SEMO.

The Colonels are also ranked in a pair of preseason polls (24th -- Hero Sports, 25th -- Lindy's Sports) and are just outside the Top 25 in several others.

Those predictions don't seem to matter much to the EKU coaches and players as they spoke on media day.

They believe they know this team is capable of something special.

"The expectation levels are extremely high amongst ourselves," Elder said. "We'd like to be able to go play a 13th game."

Patrick named First-Team All-American

Eastern Kentucky University defensive lineman Aaron Patrick earned a spot on the Phil Steele Preseason All-America team, the publication announced on Wednesday.

The redshirt senior was a first-team selection.

The 6-foot-4, 245-pound defensive end was a first team All-Ohio Valley Conference pick by coaches and communications directors and First-Team All-OVC by Phil Steele last season. Patrick ranked second in the OVC with 0.68 sacks per game. He finished the season with 53 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, 15 quarterback hurries and one pass break-up.

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