Bulldogs coming back

Quarterback Ben Watson runs the ball down the field. He led the team with 24 total tackles last season. Photo from TMN Archives

This past season was nothing short of strange for the Bulldogs. Amidst a global pandemic, the team had to navigate an extremely shortened three-game regular season where one loss could literally make or break their season.

The GLVC implemented a two-division, round-robin format to determine the participants in the first ever GLVC Championship Game. 

Unfortunately, Lindenwood University felt the burn of COVID-19 and had to forfeit their season. Safety was a top priority for the GLVC, and the season managed to be played out with relative success and minimal issues. 

Truman State University resided in the west division and faced opposition from William Jewell College, Southwest Baptist University and Missouri S&T. Two out of three games were played on the road for the Bulldogs.

Despite having many odds stacked against them, the Bulldogs completed a perfect regular season campaign. Even more impressive, they won all of their games by a double-digit margin. 

Truman achieved their perfect season through a total team effort. From passing to rushing, along with a great defense, the team was firing on all cylinders. 

The Bulldogs had a balanced spread of total offense last season. The team rushed for 733 yards total, passed for 802 yards and finished fifth in total offense in the GLVC. 

On the defensive side, the Bulldogs held the no. 2 spot for rushing defense in the conference. They also sported a top-five passing defense in the GLVC and were top three in sacks. 

The season, unfortunately, ended in heartbreak for the Bulldogs, as they suffered a 29-46 defeat in the GLVC Championship Game against a stout University of Indianapolis team. 

Quarterback Ben Watson runs the ball down the field. He led the team with 24 total tackles last season. Photo from TMN Archives

Although the desired result was not achieved, the team has a lot to hang their hats on going into this upcoming season.

One of the brightest spots of the previous spring season was redshirt-freshman, quarterback Nolan Hair.

Hair put up an impressive 59% completion rate in the spring, throwing for 802 yards and tacking on nine touchdowns with just three interceptions.

If Hair’s efficient and mature play was not impressive enough, the young signal caller earned the GLVC Freshman of the Year award after the season concluded.

The last quarterback to do this for the Bulldogs was Truman legend Jaden Barr, who graduated a season before. 

Head Coach Gregg Nesbitt provided some insight into just how special Nolan Hair was in his limited first season.

“The best thing about Nolan this past spring was his big game ability,” Nesbitt said. “He played his best when we needed his best.”

Nesbitt did admit to a nervous transition between Barr, who could do it all on the offensive side for the Bulldogs.

Despite having some big shoes to fill, Nolan Hair certainly stepped up to the challenge in the biggest way possible. 

Alongside Nolan Hair, the Bulldogs have other key players that are returning to keep an eye on.

Sophomore Cody Schrader was the rugged running back for the team last season, earning a spot on the first team all-GLVC list. 

Schrader rushed for 405 yards and notched seven touchdowns in just four games. With a full schedule ahead of him, the now junior running back will look to be just as pivotal to the team’s success as he was last season.

The Bulldogs are fortunate to return some seniors due to the NCAA implaced COVID waiver policy. This allows for senior players to choose if they want to return for another year of eligibility.  

Senior Jake Ellis will look to be the number one target again for Hair this season, as the tight end led the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in the spring.

Linebacker Tanner Lain carries the ball down the field. After last spring’s
shortened season, fans should expect a packed schedule this fall. Photo
from TMN Archives

Ellis is a big and sturdy tight end who can run routes like a wideout. Look for him to eat up yardage all year on offense. 

Wide receiver and returning senior Dante Ruffin is the primary wide receiver for the Bulldogs, and had stats that were only second to Ellis. 

Ruffin is a great option on first down when the Bulldogs want to get off to a hot start in the drive. He averaged 12.97 yards per catch last season. l

Looking towards the defensive side of the ball, Ben Watson is a big-time tackle maker for the Bulldogs. He led the team with 24 total tackles. 

The upcoming junior earned a first-team all-GLVC nod for his position and will look to be that same defensive force for this team this season. 

Looking towards the defensive line, freshman Collin Bohnenkamp registered a team leading two sacks. He will look to continue to be a pass rushing force in the fall.

Overall, the Bulldogs should have a renewed motivation ahead of them this season. They are returning some excellent talent to the field in their revenge campaign. 

On the offensive side, fans should expect an aerial assault from Hair, as well as a ground-and-pound style with Schrader. High scoring games will be a norm for the Bulldogs.

Defensively, only one Bulldog played their senior season last year. This means that the team is going to be heavily experienced and continue to hold their opponents in check. 

The defense will especially look to continue their dominant rush-defense, and force opponents to throw into the Bulldog’s hungry secondary. 

This season is a revenge tour for the Bulldogs. Amidst continued adversity from the pandemic, a relative sense of normalcy will hopefully be retained with a full schedule ahead.

Bulldog fans should also hold on to the hope of attending some home games this season, as the schedule calls for five of these games.

The season will begin Sept. 4 on the road against Davenport University.