McPherson College’s football team is literally staring across the line of scrimmage at a mystery.
The Bulldogs make their 2017 debut on Saturday at McPherson Stadium against Texas Wesleyan of Fort Worth, which is bringing back football after a 75-year absence.
Kickoff is set for 3 p.m.
“I think our guys are ready,” said third-year Mac coach Paul Mierkiewicz, whose team is coming off a deceiving 1-10 season that included six losses by 10 points or less. “They’re ready to get after somebody else. I’m sure it’s the same down in Fort Worth. We’ve been banging on each other for about two weeks and it’s time to make that move.”
Mierkiewicz admits he’s never prepared for a team with no background. Some of his players might know some of the Rams as there’s nearly 35 players on the Bulldog roster from Texas. Texas Wesleyan has more than 100 players listed.
“The variable that you have is we don’t know anything about them,” said Mierkiewicz, who said he did see some film from their spring game, but it wasn’t a lot to go on. “We took a look at some of that. It’s my typical experience that coaches will let you see what they want you to see.”
So the Bulldogs are taking the philosophy that they’ll control what they can control, like effort and intensity. The Mac staff will have to make adjustments on the fly, something the Rams won’t have to do since they can look at last year’s film as most of the Mac starters are back this season.
“We’ll have to be aware as coaches like we do with any first or second game, you’re going to see some new stuff and adjust,” Mierkiewicz said.
The Bulldogs’ strength would appear to be with their offense. Dazzling quarterback Ed Crouch is back after a super first year as a starter, accounting 2,198 yards passing and 873 running. Mierkiewicz actually hopes his rushing numbers go down, as he believes Crouch will have more protection and won’t be running from the rush as much.
He can hand the ball to preseason All-KCAC pick Tyrone Campbell, who ran for 943 yards in 2016 despite being banged up the final three games. Mierkiewicz moved to get him some help in the offseason as newcomers Armond McCray and Corey Davis have impressed with their burst through the hole.
“We’ve been effective running the ball, which I like,” Mierkiewicz said. “The insertion of a fullback has helped. In the pass game we’ve been a little more in tune of staying in our routes.”
Brandt Wolters, Eman McNeil and Jackson Goodmiller are all returning receivers and Mierkiewicz brought in some newcomers to add depth.
The defense could be a work in progress. The obvious strength is the front four of Joey Hale, Chandler Tisby, Isaiah Hill and Charles Tisby. Hill, expected to be an impact player last year, was granted a medical redshirt after being injured in the first game. Charles Tisby is explosive and a big-time athlete who joins the team this year.
The Bulldogs are inexperienced at linebacker, but redshirt Tanner Williams is expected to be the mainstay. The secondary has some familiar names, but it’s also a unit that was under siege last year. The return of Ashton Serpes should help after he was injured last year.
The Bulldogs will be playing their first game without longtime standout Braden Bush, who tragically died of an asthma attack during the offseason. The team plans to honor him throughout the season.