Are you ready for some football?
After watching the first day of practice for McPherson High and McPherson College on Monday, the answer is “more than ready.”
Anticipation is off the charts at McPherson High, where third-year head coach Jace Pavlovich is working with a squad of 76, which includes the freshman class.
The team, however, revolves around a large group of seniors who have enjoyed nothing but success throughout their careers, going all the way back to their pre-teen days.
I had the opportunity to watch the Bullpups in team camp this summer and during the scrimmage with Garden City at the stadium, so there weren’t going to be too many surprises during the first day.
In fact, Pavlovich had to do very little teaching, since the team covered so much over the summer. The first day felt more like a refresher course.
“I was impressed with how our kids retained everything from the summer,” Pavlovich said. “There wasn't much teaching to do with the varsity group as it was more of a review than anything.”
Pavlovich did make a bold move as Wyatt Seidl is going to see two-way duty as Monday he worked out in the offensive line. He’s already one of the top defensive ends in Class 4A Division I, so keeping him fresh will be a priority. He played some fullback last year in short-yardage situations, so he does have some two-way experience.
The No. 1 question to answer going into camp is the quarterback position, handled so capably the last two years by the graduated Casen Hoover. Drew Labertew and Kyler Hoppes are both being given every opportunity to win the job. Labertew probably has the edge as a runner and Hoppes is the better passer. Labertew has a lot on his plate already, as he’s been rated as one of the Top 10 safeties by one website, not to mention he came on strong last year as MHS’ place-kicker.
There’s little question the Bullpups are going to hang their hat on their defense. They’re stacked with linebackers and defensive backs and the common thread is speed. MHS should be able to fly to the football with the best of teams. Developing depth in the defensive line is another box that has to be checked.
MHS is ranked No. 3 in the first 4A D-1 poll that’s been published, just behind first-game opponent Buhler and just ahead of second-game opponent Maize South. Last year the Bullpups opened their season hosting those two teams, losing to both before ripping off eight straight wins. Maize South then ended the Bullpups’ season in the second round of the playoffs.
MHS will be having a scrimmage from 8 to 10 a.m. Saturday at the stadium for those who would like to see the progress the team is making.
Meanwhile at McPherson College, third-year head coach Paul Mierkiewicz is working with a squad size of 87. Normally during the preseason process the number fluctuates as some players realize college football isn’t for them or some get homesick since players come from various parts of the country.
I attended both sessions and got a lot more out of the evening session as the players were in pads after being in shirts and shorts in the morning. Mierkiewicz said he was relatively pleased with the first day, but noted there’s still light-years to go as his team seeks to better last year’s 1-10 record by quite a bit, though half of those losses were by 10 points or less.
This clearly is Mierkiewicz’s most talented team as he’s basically had to build the program from scratch. When he arrived for spring football in 2015, he didn’t even have enough players to scrimmage, so he’s done a good job in recruiting and retention.
The offense has more playmakers this year, led by quicksilver quarterback Ed Crouch and running back Tyrone Campbell. Both were among the best at their positions in the KCAC last year. Campbell wore down last season as there was literally no backfield depth, but this year there’s no less than a half-dozen backs, some with eye-opening speed.
As with all offenses, the key will be how well the offensive line plays.
On defense, it’s hard to tell where the Bulldogs are since there are so many new players to evaluate. Mac, of course, is having to replace standout Braden Bush, who tragically passed away over the summer. Also, top tacklers Travis Steenson and Dalton Whitfield are no longer with the team, which is a blow because they earned All-KCAC honors as underclassmen.
But Mierkiewicz has added some impressive athletes and hopefully that athleticism translates into success.
Mac opens its season Sept. 2 hosting Texas Wesleyan.