KANSAS CITY, Mo. —
The Pittsburg State Gorillas know just as well as anyone that preseason polls don’t mean much.
The Gorillas were picked to finish fifth in the MIAA in 2011 and ended up winning the NCAA Division II national title. Last year they were favored to repeat as league champs before losing three games and missing the postseason entirely.
Still, there was much to talk about after the Gorillas, who finished in a tie for fourth last season, were picked to finish third behind 2012 champion Missouri Western and Northwest Missouri on Monday at the MIAA Football Media Day.
“It’s understandable why Northwest Missouri and Missouri Western were picked one and two. After that it’s any one of four or five teams,” Pitt State coach Tim Beck said. “I’d like to think that we’ve got some good experience back and that people do respect that. But it’s preseason stuff mainly for the fans. And for us, we’ve got to worry about part of the preseason camp and worry about preparing for the season and we’ve got to get to a certain point where we focus on Northeastern State.”
The Gorillas open at home against Northeastern State on Sept. 7.
That’s a date that suddenly seems closer for Pittsburg State senior linebacker Nate Dreiling.
“All we take from today is that football is close now,” he said in a phone interview, having been left in Pittsburg after coaches voted not to bring players to the media event. “One year we are picked fifth (in the MIAA) and we win the national championship, and then the next year we’re picked first and we don’t even get to the playoffs. There’s no correlation between the poll and the season.”
Dreiling and the Gorillas do, however, hope there is a correlation between team speed, a solid spring camp and success in the fall.
The Gorillas broke the program record for the average team 40-yard dash time during spring drills, and coaches say this could be their most athletic team in recent memory.
“That (40-yard dash) record had stood for quite a while,” Dreiling said. “We’ve got a lot of team speed and we’re definitely athletic defensively. When you are athletic and have experience, that’s a scary combination.”
The Gorillas return seven starters on offense and eight on defense, validating Dreiling’s comments on experience.
Dreiling is back for his senior season after three straight All-America campaigns. He’s joined on defense by All-MIAA performers Jason Peete (a junior safety) and Joe Uzzel ( a senior linebacker).
Harlon Hill candidate and All-American John Brown is back on offense along with quarterback Anthony Abenoja and tackle Cody Holland, both All-MIAA honorees a year ago.
“This conference, you have to have experience back,” Beck said. “If you’re just all brand-new guys, you’re going to take some lumps.
“Having those guys back, there’s a comfort level there, but we also have to have that hunger. We have to make sure they’re hungry and ready to go. I think after last season, not making it to the playoffs was not what we wanted, and we want an opportunity to rectify that.”
The next step in that process is next Monday, when the Gorillas open the fall season with preseason camp.
MIAA Preseason Coaches Poll
T1. Missouri Western (6) 159
T1. Northwest Missouri (6) 159
3. Pittsburg State (2) 145
4. Central Missouri 119
5. Lindenwood 117
6. Washburn 116
7. Emporia State 113
8. Fort Hays State 70
9. Missouri Southern 68
10. Central Oklahoma 57
11. Northeastern State 56
12. Nebraska-Kearney 51
13. Southwest Baptist 30
14. Lincoln 14
MIAA Preseason Media Poll
1. Northwest Missouri (10) 300
2. Missouri Western (10) 294
3. Pittsburg State 276
4. Washburn 231
5. Lindenwood 221
6. Central Missouri 205
7. Emporia State (1) 197
T8. Missouri Southern 138
T8. Fort Hays State 138
10. Northeastern State 125
11. Central Oklahoma 113
12. Nebraska-Kearney 96
13. Southwest Baptist 52
14. Lincoln 29