McPherson College’s football team is trying to make up for lost time.
While other KCAC schools began practice on Aug. 11, the Bulldogs were not permitted to open until the 18th under the school’s guidelines.
So first-year coach Steve Fox and his staff are trying to cram in as much as they can before opening the season Sept. 6 at Bacone (Okla.) College, which rallied to clip the Bulldogs 37-31 in overtime last season.
Fox believed the first week of practice was highly profitable, capped by an intra-squad scrimmage Saturday night under the lights that was witnessed by much of the student body, which turned out in force.
“Things have gone really well,” said Fox, who was elevated from defensive coordinator to head coach after the resignation of Pete Sterbick following a 5-6 season. “We’ve come a long way. We’ve had shorter preparation time than the other teams in the conference, so we’ve really had to buckle down and get things done to move forward.”
Hampering the Bulldogs’ efforts to improve have been a spate of injuries to key players. No less than a half-dozen starters were held out of Saturday’s practice, including a couple of skill-position players who are expected to greatly impact the offense.
Even without some key players, Fox believes the team is making strides.
“Our offense is able to run the ball now, which I’m really excited about,” Fox said. “We’ve got about nine in our offensive line, though we’ve got a couple of dings there.”
The Bulldogs’ line will be led by former Hutchinson Salthawk Will Thacker, who was one of the KCAC’s best last year. McPherson High graduate Collin French, who was at Highland Juco last year, was a Shrine Bowl selection for the 2012 Bullpups and will be be a key newcomer.
The horses up front will try to protect returning quarterback Jordan Hoffman, who started the majority of games last year and threw for 2,361 yards. Mac is awaiting word on J.T. Levenseller, a one-time quarterback at Washington State who is trying to gain eligibility. If he’s cleared, the Bulldogs will have a 1-2 punch at quarterback that few teams have.
The running back situation is muddled, as the big hope is that Terrance Jones is healthy and ready to go by Week 1. He had a sensational start to last season before being injured late in Week 4 against Kansas Wesleyan. When 100 percent, he’s among the top backs in the KCAC.
Fox has a number of other possibilities, including a couple of freshmen and transfers. The receiving corps also is unsettled due to injuries.
Mac may hang its hat early on its defense. Again, though, injuries to a couple of key players have dimmed the enthusiasm. When at full capacity, though, the unit should be the team’s strength, provided the secondary improves.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys who have come in and are learning the system,” Fox said.
The kicking game appears to be in good shape. Edgar Castaneda, who transferred in from Sacramento State, displayed a big leg during Saturday’s scrimmage, while there’s good speed in the return game.
Mac plays its first three games on the road before hosting Kansas Wesleyan on Sept. 27.