By Craig Haley, The Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Junior defensive end Frank Beltre is every bit the accidental comedian. He doesn't necessarily try to be funny, but he often leaves the rest of the Towson University football team rolling with laughter.
For instance, the defensive end has been known to line up for a play and bark out, "We've got to make a stop here! It's fourth down, it's fourth down!"
And then a teammate like Marcus Valentine will turn to Beltre and go, "Frank, it's first down."
Without thinking, Beltre will respond, "Yeah, but it will be fourth down soon."
This season, the Tigers are hoping to change any and all the wishful thinking.
They have struggled in their first two seasons under head coach Rob Ambrose - a 2-9 record in 2009 and 1-10 in 2010 - but after last season the 40-year-old Towson alum brought up a word with his players that he said he had not used previously:
When he said it, Ambrose saw in the body language that he had his players' attention.
"Basically the entire offseason was about that, about winning," he said. "I said when I took the job, if we don't start winning some games by year three, then I hope they've got a good furniture budget because I'll probably break a couple things."
Charlie Sheen would find winning to be difficult at Towson. The Tigers weren't even setting the Patriot League on fire - they had one conference record above .500 in seven seasons - before they leaped into CAA Football, the toughest conference in the FCS, in 2004.
Ambrose, who played wide receiver at Towson before he graduated in 1993 and spent nine years as an assistant under Gordy Combs, embraced the opportunity to try to turn around the Tigers' fortunes. He left his offensive coordinator post at Connecticut following the 2008 season to take on the challenge.
Towson has defeated Coastal Carolina in each of Ambrose's first two seasons and enjoyed one CAA victory over Rhode Island in 2009, but that's it with the winning.
Until, perhaps, 2011.
"It's a growth process," Ambrose said. "It's building a foundation, creating a plan, sticking to the plan and following through even when times are tough. Construction projects are never pretty until they're finished. They're always a mess.
"It's been a challenge. The kids believe in it, they believe in following through and being committed and (doing) the little things. The degree of commitment by our players and our administration right now is well above and beyond anything this school has seen in the past."
The Tigers' intensity level was noticeably higher during spring practice. They are returning 47 letter-winners, including eight players on each side of the ball with regular starter's experience, and will play six home games at famed Johnny Unitas Stadium for the first time since 2006. The home schedule includes three straight to open the season: Morgan State (Sept. 3); Villanova (Sept. 10); and Colgate (Sept. 24).
The offense averaged only 15.5 points per game last season, but quarterback Peter Athens, the 2009 starter before he suffered a knee injury, is completely healthy again. Plus, the Tremayne Dameron-led running game will be improved behind a healthier offensive line.
Defensively, leading tacklers Jordan Dangerfield, (below) a hard-hitting strong safety, and Beltre are back to anchor the 4-3 along with defensive tackle Marcus Valentine.
"It's a building process," Ambrose said. "If I was in for the short, quick fix, I'd probably just be gambling on horses and playing poker. This is definitely a builder.
"I've been putting pressure on me since the day I walked in the door. It's one thing to win because it's your job, it's another because it's your alma mater."