For the Truman State football team, the summer is not a time for rest and relaxation on the beach. The summer is when the team begins to run, lift and get ready for football to give them the best chance they have to win. For the team, August means more than the start of a new semester. It means the start of a new season and an opportunity to win a GLVC title.
During the past two years the Bulldogs have shown that Truman’s reputation does not hinge only on the success in the classroom. The football team proved throughout their season they were unlike any Truman football team in recent years. Last year, the team had statisically the best defense since 1994, as well as a strong kicker with senior Jacob Lamp who helped the team become 3rd in the country for kickoff returns and 2nd in overall punt average.
The team has been chosen in the Great Lakes Valley Conference Preseason Poll as the number two team in the conference. With a strong group of returning players and fresh talent coming in, this season should to be an exciting one for the Bulldogs.
Sophomore defensive back Austin Zoda said he thinks this year’s team is different because of their confidence and competitive edge.
“With this being our second year in the GLVC, we have a better feel for our opponents and know what to expect from them,” Zoda said. “Coming up just a little short of the conference title last year has given us a bitter taste in our mouths and we want to be in the same position this year except finish it out this time around.”
The combination of team leadership, growing talent and enthusiasm from upper and underclassmen is what makes the Bulldogs stand out and might be what leads them to a successful season. Zoda said he and the other Bulldogs hope for another opportunity to make the postseason and win a GLVC title.
Junior offensive lineman Brad Hardin said this year’s focus will be about improvement and reestablishing the team’s philosophy.
“We plan on working hard, raising the intensity in practices as well as our workouts, and changing our approach to each opportunity we have to succeed and finishing strong,” Hardin said. “We have established that in our workouts and will continue to carry out that mindset throughout the season.”
It’s not just the players who are excited to take the field this fall, but the coaching staff as well. Head coach Gregg Nesbitt said he is eager to start his 35th year coaching, which he thinks has the potential to be a turning point for the Bulldogs. While he said many of his methods will remain the same toward practices and games, he thinks it is important not to make assumptions about the way the team will play.
“I learned a long time ago that you don’t assume anything, each year is unique and each team is unique,” Nesbitt said. “We will start from scratch on language and re-learning how to practice and not assume anyone is in shape.”
Nesbitt said he thinks the team will have an advantage this year because of contributions from many returning key players. Along with one of the best kickers in the country, the team has a strong base for defense and many veteran players on offense. Because the team has many experienced players, Nesbitt hopes to incorporate new playsand make use of the team’s offensive talent.
After the graduation of former quarterback Conrad Schottel, perhaps one of the most key changes this year will be new faces in the quarterback position. Sophomore quarter back Devonte Black is ready to contribute to the team’s offense.
“There are a lot of things I want to see us accomplish as a team but most importantly I hope that this season I will be able to make the offense more versatile,” Black said. “We have a lot of good guys already on defense so I want to see our offense take some pressure off of them, put some more points up and really play to our full potential.”
Black is one of three prospective quarterbacks this year. Junior Zach Tobin and freshman Randy Schroeder are stepping up to the position. Nesbitt said he thinks these players could lead the team to victory and looks forward to seeing them play to their full potential.
In addition to a strong coaching staff, the team will have offense and defense leadership from their elected captains. Senior captains Nic Abbate, Connor Nagel and Matthew Bell, with junior captain Nick Reichert, will lead on defense. On offense, the senior captains are Jared Haferbier, Garrett White, Chico Orlando as well as junior Ethan Decker. Hardin described the captains as being the heartbeat behind the team.
“They play a huge role for us, and they are the ones that set the bar for the rest of the team,” Hardin said. “They carry themselves in a manner that represents our program in a positive, uplifting way and they push people to perform at a high level in order to make our team great.”
The captains are great leaders not only for their ability to motivate and push their teammates, but also for their performances on the field. Senior linebacker Matt Bell and senior defensive end Abbate were named first team All-Conference last year. In addition, Nagel and Reichert continuously have dominated on defense. Offensively, all four of the captains have had consistent performances.
The season begins Sept. 6 against Drake University, followed by the home opener against Langston University Sept. 13.
“We are excited to get out on the field and prove ourselves this year,” Black said. “Our offense and defense are both looking good so I think these will be games no one will want to miss.”
Drake University and Langston will be tough competitors because of Drake’s 5-1 home record last year and Langston’s 6-4 record last season, but the Bulldogs are anxious to keep working hard and start out the season with some wins.
“We have a team with a lot of talent and the potential to do great things this year, and we have fun and enjoy playing football,” Zoda said. “Whenever you have a team like we have there are bound to be a bunch of exciting games to watch this year.”