Notes and quotes from KCAC Football Media Day Thursday in Wichita...
• NO WAY TO GO BUT UP FOR BULLDOGS — It probably would have been a shock had McPherson College’s Bulldogs been picked anywhere but last in the coaches and media polls.
The Bulldogs were 0-10 last year, with their most competitive game coming in the season finale against county rival Bethany, a game they led for much of the first half before the Swedes exploded to pull away.
Second-year Mac coach Paul Mierkiewicz, in all honesty, inherited a mess. There were very few seniors on the team last year and even less this year as retention from the previous coaching regimes was virtually non-existent.
Mierkiewicz could have gone the quick-fix route and loaded up on junior college players for immediate success. But all that does is recreate the problem in two years.
Instead, Mierkiewicz — who had a highly successful head coaching run at Hastings College of Nebraska — is sinking or swimming by recruiting the high school ranks. He had as many as 11 freshmen starting in a game last year and the results were predictable. For the most part, it was a junior varsity team going up against the varsity.
It appears there’s been good retention of last year’s freshmen. My guess is the Bulldogs will be fortunate to scrape out a couple of victories because their roster is still dominated by sophomores and freshmen. There are about 10 transfers expected to report and hopefully they’ll be hits and not misses.
• MERK’S THOUGHTS — Mierkiewicz was able to sit back and listen to his coaching brethren expound on their teams’ outlooks.
“I think it (the conference race) is going to come down to who can stay the healthiest and who can get the most solid quarterback play,” he said. “When you look around college football, that seems to determine who enjoys the most success. Each one of these teams is very talented and we all recruit similar guys. So when they talk about recruits, all the names mix together and sound the same.”
Mierkiewicz says if nothing else, the Bulldogs will look more like a football team. The numbers are up from last year when Mac was down to about 40 healthy bodies by the end of the season.
“I know my football team better and the coaches,” he said. “We tried to have a crash course last year in getting to know everybody and trusting each other. You just can’t do that in such a short time. We’ve got a pretty solid core of guys coming back.”
Mierkiewicz has a rebuilding plan and is sticking to it.
“We have only a handful of seniors,” he said. “It’s going to be mostly sophomores and the incoming freshmen. I want to be standing at this podium three and four years down the road talking about conference championships and our seniors.”
Mierkiewicz says two areas he’s hopefully upgraded are the offensive and defensive lines. Last year the Bulldogs basically operated with six offensive and five defensive linemen, most of them freshmen, and it took its toll. He’s brought in a good number of linemen on both sides of the ball.
He’s hoping he’s also brought in some playmakers on offense. He has recruited a couple of experienced transfer running backs and also landed some tall wide receivers. The offense, so restricted last year, will be opened up and played at a faster pace.
Mac opens its season with back-to-back out-of-state road games at Nebraska Wesleyan and Dordt (Iowa) College, respectively. Mac begins KCAC play Sept. 17 hosting Southwestern, which was picked just ahead of it in the preseason polls.
• LANNING STARRING AT OTTAWA — McPherson High graduate Zach Lanning will be in the running for KCAC Defensive Player of the Year.
The fifth-year senior is a 6-3 and 262-pound defensive lineman for the Ottawa Braves who will cause opposing coaches headaches in game preparation.
Ottawa coach Kent Kessinger, a one-time All-American at Bethany College, said he has been blessed to have Lanning in his program.
“I knew he was going to be a good football player and he really showed it to us in his first year,” Kessinger said. “He played as good as some of our older guys in his freshman year. Then he ended up getting hurt and sat out one year. He’s just been so outstanding. He is just so strong and his leverage is great. His ability to get to the football has been tremendous.”
The Braves were 6-3 in the KCAC in 2015, but since 2008 have compiled a 65-10 record in conference play to qualify as the dominant program in that time. That included 9-0 KCAC marks in both 2011 and 2009.
If the Braves win it this year, a big reason will be Lanning.
“He constantly just works,” Kessinger said. “If you’re a guy playing against him, you better pack a lunch because he’s going to come at you every single play. He uses his wrestling background and can root a guy out. We know exactly what he can do. He’s one of the better football players we’ve coached since we’ve been at Ottawa.”
• SWEDES PICKED LOW — It’s been 15 years since the Bethany Swedes last won the KCAC championship.
In the 1990s, under the legendary Ted Kessinger, they were champions seven times alone.
One of Kessinger’s disciples, Paul Hubbard, enters his second year as Swede head coach. Bethany was 3-8 last year, but won two of its last three games to provide a little extra pep in its step going into the offseason.
The Swedes were picked in a tie for seventh in one poll and eighth in the other, so the bar isn’t overly high.
Twelve starters return for Hubbard, but he’ll have to break in a new quarterback. Virgil Bridges and Bo Savage, who shared time, are no longer around, but there are as many as six players in the mix, though none have experience.
A couple of key running backs did not return and rebuilding the offensive line is another concern. The defense would appear to be a strength of the team, especially the secondary where experience abounds.
The Swedes play seven of their 11 games on the road — five of their nine KCAC games and both non-conference games.