New McPherson College head football coach Paul Mierkiewicz said Saturday’s controlled scrimmage at Hastings College in Nebraska was an eye-opening experience for his youthful team.
“I was very pleased,” said Mierkiewicz, who ironically once was the head coach at Hastings for 10 years that included two trips to the NAIA national playoffs. “Two-thirds of them had never played college football before. At one point I looked out there and we had a quarterback, fullback and running back who’d never taken a college snap.”
The Bulldogs have two weeks of practice under their belts as they prepare for the season opener here Sept. 5 against nationally ranked Doane College as part of the KCAC-GPAC series. There’s scant experience and numbers returning from last year’s team that went 5-6 in Steve Fox’s only year as head coach, so there’s a lot of teaching going on. Mierkiewicz and his staff recruited mightily during the offseason to fill the voids, but the Bulldogs’ numbers are somewhat thin when compared to some of the other schools in the KCAC that have rosters in the 120s or 130s.
“One hundred twenty is too many,” he said. “I’d like 105, which is what I hope we’ll be in the future.”
Mierkiewicz said sometimes a lot of people get caught up in numbers, believing that a small squad has no chance to be successful. He currently isn’t working with his full squad, as like every KCAC school there are some players who are still waiting to get cleared due to transcript technicalities. There’s also some players who are not practicing because of injuries or other reasons.
One advantage to a smaller roster, Mierkiewicz said, is that there’s no wasted time in practice at everybody is getting reps and not standing around. All the players are involved in the action.
Mierkiewicz was pleased that his team was able to score a few times on the Broncos in the controlled scrimmage. Hastings is coming off a 6-4 season and was 5-4 in the GPAC, one of the best football conferences in the country. He also thought the defense played well at times, showing a lot of aggressiveness even though it’s not the biggest unit in terms of physical size.
Perhaps the biggest question mark revolves around the most important position on the field — quarterback. Mierkiewicz is working with three, including two freshmen. He admits improved play from that position will be one of the focuses the next two weeks in practice, as wide receiver is one position where the Bulldogs are strong. Top returning receiver Ste’fon Walker, according to the Bulldog coach, was arguably the best player on the field in Saturday’s scrimmage.
A couple of freshmen, Zach Boyd and Ryan Lasko have stepped in to fill the void of last year’s freshman standout running back Miles Balthazor, who transferred to Kansas Wesleyan and is expected to be one of the KCAC’s top backs.
Much also is expected of DeAvonte Doucet, who basically was the scout team running back last year but has good speed. There’s a chance Perry Joseph, who is a track standout for the Bulldogs, will provide a home run threat at running back, though he could see some time at wide receiver.
I’ve been impressed with Mierkiewicz from several standpoints. He’s a no-nonsense guy who wants to change the culture at Mac. He wants to make his players the best they can be and make them even better citizens. This season might be rather rough for him with such an inexperienced team — you simply don’t win in the KCAC with freshmen — but give him another full year of recruiting and I think he’ll have the program on the right track.