In their first regular season following the shortened pandemic spring season of 2021, the Bulldogs capped the Football program’s best three year run in 50 years last fall with a second straight victory in the America’s Crossroads Bowl. The Bulldogs routed Hillsdale College 34-17 to finish the season with a 9-3 record and a 28-8 record over their previous three seasons.
The Bulldogs boasted the Great Lakes Valley Conference No. two overall defense, anchored by their top ranked rushing defense. On offense, the Bulldogs had the No. five overall group with the rushing attack leading the way, as on defense.
As for individual honors, the 2021 Bulldogs had 18 all-GLVC selections, the second most in school history. In 2022, the Bulldogs will return 12 of those all-GLVC players.
The experience this team boasts will certainly help them this year, but it will not be enough on its own to make them successful, according to head coach Gregg Nesbitt.
“It is always comforting to return quality, experienced players, [but] experience opens up an entirely different set of problems: guarding against complacency,” Nesbitt said. “The goal right now is to simply focus on what we’re doing today and build on that tomorrow.”
“Experience is a strength of this team, but not our greatest strength,” senior defensive tackle Robert Greco said. “Everyone here is a competitor and we push each other on the field every day. Iron sharpens iron.”
Greco said competitiveness is the key to maintaining the success the team has had recently.
On offense, however, maintaining that success will be a tall task. Truman must contend with the loss of the top running back in Div. II football last season, Cody Schrader. After posting 2108 yards and 25 touchdowns, Schrader transferred to Div. I Mizzou.
Nesbitt said he understands the difficulty of replacing a player of Schrader’s caliber, but remains confident in his offense this season.
“We have our work cut out for us, but we will evolve to our strengths,” Nesbitt said, adding that the experienced offensive line will aid that process.
Junior quarterback Nolan Hair is confident in his team as well. Hair broke out last year, completing 62.7% of his passes and tossing 20 touchdowns.
Hair will have several of his top receivers returning from last season such as Matt Hall, an all-GLVC second team tight end, receiver Tate Crane, receiver Zach Zerwig and tight end Chris Kerr, a huge advantage when it comes to familiarity and chemistry.
“The biggest thing we have is that a lot of us have played together for a while so we are used to each other,” Hair said. “Being able to understand how guys run their routes…and where they will be is key. I think the entire offense will break out this year.”
The running attack this year will be led by returning sophomore Jake Tuttle and will also feature true freshmen Jace Reynolds and Gerry Marteen Jr and redshirt freshman Tim Johnson.
On the offensive line, second team all conference linemen Dane Eggert and Nick Biesemeyer as well as all-GLVC honorable mention Justin Watson all return to anchor one of the strongest units on the team.
“[With Schrader gone] the offense isn’t really going to change much,” Hair said. “It’s just like any other year when we have someone graduate or leave.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs are overflowing with returning talent. Nine of last season’s top ten tacklers return as well as four of the top five sack leaders.
Greco said to look out for defensive players Ben Thomas, Ben Miller, Isaiah Estes, Ryan Olivas and Ben Watson on defense this year.
The defense is anchored by their run stuffing. They return all-GLVC first team lineman Greco as well as second team lineman Miller, who led Bulldog linemen with 35 tackles last season.
The linebacking unit will also be strong. Returning sophomore and all-GLVC honorable mention Ulysses Ross leads the group, which also returns all-GLVC second team LB Estes.
The defensive backfield boasts several returning all-GLVC players as well, led by first team DB Watson and second team DB Thomas, who both recorded 86 tackles and three interceptions in 2021. They also return second leading tackler Peyton Carr and sophomore Olivas, who posted 49 tackles and three interceptions last season.
On special teams, all-GLVC second team punter Taylor Cornish returns. The Bulldogs will have to replace the production of graduated second team all-GLVC returner Jaylen Jefferson.
Right now, the Bulldogs look like a strong team in all aspects of the game, Nesbitt said, and other GLVC coaches believe so as well, ranking Truman second on the preseason coaches’ poll.
Greco, with four years of experience, reflected on his time at Truman and summed up the team’s mentality headed into the season.
“The last four years have been a journey. I’ve had the privilege to play with many great players and coaches, and I feel bittersweet about this upcoming season,” Greco said. “I hope to end with an epic conclusion and create more history for the Bulldogs this year.”
“This is a new season. The [success in previous seasons] means nothing,” Greco said. “There’s no room for us to be content with what we have done in the past. The mindset right now is ‘What can we accomplish this season? How much better can we be?’”.
The Bulldogs kick off their season Sep. 3 at Stokes Stadium against Davenport University.