Paul Mierkiewicz feels a lot better now than he did at this time last year.
Mierkiewicz begins his second season as McPherson College head football coach and one reason for his optimism is that his Bulldogs look like a real team as the numbers have been increased as well as the talent level.
Last year’s 0-10 season was painful for Mierkiewicz and the Bulldogs, who often had nearly a dozen freshmen on the field.
But with a full year of recruiting and those freshmen now maturing, the outlook for Mac is much more encouraging.
The Bulldogs open their season on Saturday in Lincoln, Neb. with a 3 p.m. game at Nebraska Wesleyan University. Matt Cole will have all the action on 96.7 KBBE-FM, with pre-game at 2:45.
The Bulldogs have been practicing for three weeks and Mierkiewicz said while the team has looked good against itself, it’s time to see what it can do against a real opponent.
“We’ve scrimmaged a couple of times and we’ve put our guys in as many situations as we can,” Mierkiewicz said. “Now it’s time to see what we can do against somebody else.”
The Bulldogs have improved at the quarterback and running back positions with a couple of transfers. Ed Crouch, from Coffeyville Community College, has grabbed hold of the quarterback position while California import Tyrone Campbell provides the Bulldogs with more of a threat running the ball than they had last year.
“When we’re hitting on all cylinders offensively, we look pretty productive,” Mierkiewicz said. “I think we’re going to be able to drive the ball down the field more than we did last year and make more big plays.’
Crouch is 6-3 and 200 pounds and displays a cool demeanor. He’s fast with a good arm, so he’s a dual threat. Campbell could be a 20-carry guy.
“What’s great about Ed is you often bring in a transfer quarterback and he wants to do his own thing, but Ed has come in and he runs our system the exact way it’s supposed to be run,” Mierkiewicz said. “We’re trying to go fast and trying to spread things out. But you’ve got to have some rules and some ideas within that and he’s been great with that. If you’re looking for a level-headed quarterback, he’s got that even keel. Tyrone has really stepped up and fits into our zone-read scheme. Ryan Lakso’s had a good camp and (freshman) Zack Melius is going to play and play quite a bit this season.”
They’ll operate behind an offensive line that’s still somewhat young. Its improvement could be the measuring stick for the Bulldogs success’ year.
The Bulldogs’ defense is probably ahead of the offense. Ends Dalton Whitfield (a preseason All-KCAC pick) and transfer Isaiah Hill have drawn effusive praise from Mierkiewicz, who adds there’s more beef in the tackle positions where last year the Bulldogs were physically overmatched.
At linebacker, McPherson High product Travis Steenson, who earned All-Jayhawk honors at Butler County two years ago, has picked up where he left off as he’ll be a team leader. Braden Bush is another All-KCAC preseason pick after leading the conference with six interceptions as he’ll headline a secondary that could be among the KCAC’s best.
“Steenson has just been lights-out,” Mierkiewicz said. “And I’m curious to see what kind of year Isaiah Hill is going to have. He’s been impressive. He’s very much like Ed is on offense.”
Nebraska Wesleyan is coming off a 4-6 season. The Prairie Wolves return a healthy 13 starters, seven on offense and six on defense. They were picked seventh in the GPAC preseason poll. Last year they defeated KCAC member Friends, 27-17.
“Typically my experience with them is a hard-nosed, physical football team,” Mierkiewicz said. “I don’t think they’re in a huge hurry to run plays. They’re a huddle-type team. When we played them when I was at Hastings, it was about a 2-hour game because both teams ran the same thing offensively. They’re a run-between-the-tackles type of team and not that interested in running that much outside.”
The Bulldogs are going to be road warriors these first couple of weeks as they board on to the bus next week for a trip to Iowa to take on Dordt College.