CEDAR FALLS - Jake Farley wants to make two words go very far away.
"I'm tired of ... so close," said the senior linebacker for Northern. "So close to this, so close to that. We know what we should have been. We know what we are. We have to go out and prove it now."
The Panthers made it clear during Wednesday's media day discussions - they would love to put some distance between themselves and the 2013 season. UNI, seemingly on the way to a big year, lost three straight overtime games and five in a row overall. Thus, Mark Farley's team missed the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the second consecutive time.
Now, it's 2014. As Mark Farley pointed out during his press conference, it's a different season that will take a course of its own. The players want to make sure, though, that they draw closer to the UNI program that annually fought for the championship of the Missouri Valley Football Conference and stride farther away from the disappointments of the past two seasons.
"As a team, this group of guys - we haven't done anything yet," said quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen, one of many Panthers who dealt with injuries a year ago. "So we have a lot to prove."
Added linebacker Max Busher, "I think definitely we've got a strong tradition here. Last year and the year before that, there were a couple of games that we didn't play to what we thought would represent Panther football. We definitely have something to prove, but we're definitely going to stick with what we know as Panther football."
As for the head coach, Mark Farley is more concerned with knowing who will play, and at what position. He wants a football team that will be ready for the Aug. 30 opener at Iowa, but improve through the regular season finale in the UNI-Dome against Missouri State.
Farley believes this year's Panthers are better equipped to handle the rigors of a challenging non-conference schedule and a league that produced a three-time national champion last year in North Dakota State.
"I think we have a great opportunity with the players we have," said the UNI coach.
The nucleus of UNI football, 2014, consists of 18 seniors. Three of them stand among the best in the country. Running back David Johnson enjoyed a great 2013, rushing for 1,286 yards and catching 38 passes for 393 yards. He earned preseason all-American honors, as did defensive tackle Xavier Williams after he posted a career-high 74 tackles last fall.
Offensive tackle Jack Rummells also received early all-American honors.
There are three upperclassmen are healthy and ready to go at wide receiver - Brett LeMaster, Chad Owens and Kevin Vereen. Sam Rohr, back from an injury-plagued 2013 season, and Braden Lehman lead the tight ends.
The secondary is stocked with starting experience at the safeties in Ray Mitchell, Tate Omli , Tim Kilfoy and Joe Feldspauch. Makinton Dorelant is a returning all-MVFC cornerback, and Deiondre' Hall has played a multitude of positions.
There are some new additions that will give UNI depth. Ray Buchanan, Jr. transferred to the Panther program from Arkansas. Former Cedar Falls running back Barkley Hill trades the black and gold of Iowa for Panther purple and gold.
The newest transfer is Darrian Miller, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound running back who rushed for 881 yards in two years at Kansas.
Farley, while noting that UNI has already lost sophomore linebacker Clint Heaven to a fall camp injury, said, "In this particular season, there's probably more depth than in years past, and when I say that more talented depth."
On the other hand, UNI's coaching staff is looking to build a starting rotation, let alone depth, at a couple of spots. One of those is linebacker.
Farley said Wednesday that Jake Farley "isn't where he needs to be right now" in order to complete his comeback from a broken leg. Jake Farley, a senior and the oldest son of the head coach, listed himself as day-to-day.
"August 30 is circled on my calendar in my room," said Jake Farley, referring to the opening date at Iowa. "That's everything I want to be back for - not just to be back, but to be back where I was last year."