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Ogden • Officially, Weber State quarterback Mike Hoke never took a snap during the short reign of coach John L. Smith.

Hoke, who enters this season fully recovered from shoulder surgery in 2011, was a spectator during spring football.

Yet, his attitude is typical regarding a coaching merry-go-round that could have been a distraction to the Wildcats. Smith was hired to replace the retired Ron McBride.

"At first, it was a little shock," Hoke said of Smith's departure to Arkansas following spring ball, and the promotion of defensive coordinator Jody Sears to head coach.

"Now it seems like it never happened," Hoke said. "It's the same old deal — practice, film, workouts. The same old stuff."

With all of the attention off the field, the Wildcats, picked to finish seventh in the expanded Big Sky Conference, enter the 2012 season a little under the radar.

Much of the coaching staff remained in place, including offensive coordinator Matt Hammer.

And Sears, in his first season as a head coach, inherits a young group that came on strong at the end of last season, finishing 5-3 in the BSC.

"It's been a little bit of a whirlwind," said Sears, who last coached at Washington State. "There are a number of things I have to do on a daily basis, a lot more as a head coach. I guess that's why I got into the profession. That's why I got all those butt chewings when I was a [graduate assistant].

"That's why they were so hard on me."

Weber State, 5-6 overall in 2011, returns 14 starters, 10 of whom earned Big Sky All-Conference honors, including sophomore fullback Tevia Tolutau, who was named to the first team.

Sears entered fall camp with one thought: keep everything as consistent as possible.

"Kids are resilient," he said. "The blueprint has been laid. We're just going to keep moving this thing forward."

Hoke holds the keys to the Wildcats' offense. Despite his shoulder injury in the fifth game of 2011, he still played 10 games and earned honorable mention All-BSC honors.

Playing with an aching arm, the powerfully built 6-foot-2, 235-pound senior finished the year sixth in the league in passing at 208 yards per game. He was seventh in total offense with 2,080 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also rushed for 130 yards and six touchdowns.

"I'm confident in this group we have," Hoke said. "Sears really grinds us, but I think it will pay off."

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