LINDSBORG — There are some close observers of the KCAC who believe the Bethany College Swedes may make the biggest jump in the standings of any football team this year.
The Swedes finished 1-10 in 2016, though on the field they were 3-8. An ineligible player was detected, but not before they had to forfeit two of their wins. Their only victory that counted was a big one though, 18-15 over McPherson College on the last play of the game when James Augusta boomed a 46-yard field goal, giving the Swedes momentum to take into the offseason.
Third-year coach Paul Hubbard has more players than jersey numbers. His squad was in the 130s when practice started earlier this month and he worked with 85 players in the spring alone.
The Swedes begin their season Saturday by hosting Briar Cliff at Anderson Field, with kickoff 4 p.m. The Iowans already have a game under their belt, having been pounded 62-26 last week by Waldorf, falling behind 42-0 at the half.
Bethany has a good group of returnees, but it’s an infusion of some newcomers that could start to turn the tide. There’s a nice group of players who were in Lindsborg when Manny Matsakis was the coach who are now eligible, including big-time receiver Rodney Molette, who should join with All-KCAC preseason pick Michael Wimberly to form a dynamic combination. While Nate Ocran has transferred to play his final year at bitter rival Kansas Wesleyan, the running game will be in good shape with Jasaan Eley and Jafar Thomas. Isaiah Salazar is back to lead the attack.
The defense will be led by linebackers Jau’Mari Clark and Milton Hall, while Rhett Mizer is expected to be one of the KCAC’s top defensive backs. Three players who sat out last year — Mickey Stewart, Dahari Gray and Jarad Bader — are expected to make up the front line of the 3-4 defense.
Another weapon is Augusta, who should be one of the top kickers in the KCAC.
The first three games are critical for the Swedes. If they can get past Briar Cliff, they play their next two games against McPherson College and Bethel, both picked near the bottom of the conference.