Amid all the preseason excitement about being both the favorite to repeat as Southland Conference football champions and the No. 1 team in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision national rankings, Sam Houston State head coach Willie Fritz reminds his 2012 gridiron squad of one thing.

"We had a great season in 2011. But in the calendar year 2012 we're 0-1," Fritz said, referring to the Bearkats loss to North Dakota State in the national championship game in Frisco in January. "This is a new season with new challenges and we have to be focused on what's ahead, not what happened last year."

This theme is reflected in the Bearkat's slogan for the 2012 season - "FiniSH."

The concept of being focused echoes throughout each interview Sam Houston State football players have given during the preseason.

"We're not sneaking up on anybody this season," Bearkat senior safety Kenneth Jenkins said at Southland Conference Media Day in July. "When you're No. 1, everybody is coming for you. Last year, we were picked No. 4 in the Southland and we ended up winning the conference championship. Every team in the league this year thinks they have a chance to do that."

Sam Houston returns 50 lettermen including 19 starters from the squad that rolled 14-0 through the regular season and the first three NCAA playoff games to earn the spot in the national finals.

"Our motto 'FiniSH' isn't just about getting back and winning in Frisco," Jenkins said. "Finishing is something we have to do every day in practice and every game during the season. We have to be focused on getting the job done each time we step on the field."

All 19 starters were named either as first or second team preseason All-Southland selections and five Bearkats have been named to preseason FCS All-America squads.

"Every year is a new season. We have a lot of great players coming back but we lost 12 quality seniors who provided outstanding leadership for us," Fritz said. "I think we have seniors this year who are capable of filling those roles and we're looking forward to the opportunity."

The coaching staff looks to continue the theme that worked so well on the way to a Southland title and playoff wins over Stoney Brook, Montana State and Montana.

"Our team in 2011 did a great job of focusing on going 1-and-oh each week," Fritz said. "We have to do that again this season. One of our biggest goals will be to become more balanced offensively. Our quarterback Brian Bell is an excellent passer and we need to take more advantage of his abilities.

"We face a lot of challenges this year. Everyone in the league is returning a lot of talented players and the league is going to be tough top to bottom. We have a tough schedule with only three home games at Bower Stadium. Nine of our 14 victories last year came at home. We also play to big FBS bowl teams in Texas A&M and Baylor. We've got to become a better football team if we're to succeed again this year."

Bell, a preseason first team All-Southland selection at quarterback, agrees with his head coach.

"With preseason camp done and our season opener just ahead, we have to focus on Incarnate Word and put everything we have into getting ready for that game," Bell said after the final preseason scrimmage at Bowers Stadium. "We've said it a million times, but it's true. We are just looking to go 1-0 each week - one week at a time."

Sam Houston's first opportunity to go 1-0 comes on Saturday Sept. 8 when the University of Incarnate Word visits Bowers Stadium for a 6 p.m. kickoff.

That Saturday is Bearkat Family Weekend and halftime will feature the third annual Hillcrest Heroes Celebration honoring Huntsville area military, law enforcement and emergency service personnel.

Tickets are available online at or at the SHSU ticket office located in the Ron Mafrige Field House in the south end zone of Bowers Stadium. The ticket office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information call (936) 294-1729.