The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


August 31, 2013

Key pieces return for Pittsburg State

PITTSBURG, Kan. — The key pieces are back, and that could be a very good thing for the Pittsburg State Gorillas.

The Gorillas — coming off 2011’s national title run — appeared to have things rolling last season until a handful of key plays led to a season-deflating stretch of three losses in four games, including an embarrassing home loss to eventual MIAA champion Missouri Western.

The plays the Gorillas made during 2011’s magical run were made by the opposition in 2012, and that was the biggest difference.

Pitt State welcomes back 15 starters, seven offense and eight defense. That includes a quarterback with a year under his belt, an All-American linebacker and an All-American wide receiver


The offense was solid under first-year starting quarterback Anthony Abenoja, then a sophomore, in 2012.

The Gorillas averaged 33 points and 454 yards per game and Abenoja set a school record by throwing for 233 yards per game.

“I feel pretty good about our offense,” Abenoja said. “I’m always going to trust our guys to do their job. I love the guys I play with and we have great chemistry. Now we just have to put it together.”

That passing attack, out of the pistol formation, should remain solid, merely with the return of Abenoja.

But also back is John Brown, the All-American speedster who has proven himself as a threat to score from anywhere on the field.

Juniors Gavin Lutman and Luke Rampy return with starting experience at receiver. Austin Daniel should contribute, as should Marquis Cushon, an “explosive” receiver according to Beck.

“We have a large group of receivers and we feel like several of them can do some nice things for us,” Beck said.

Perhaps the biggest question mark on offense is at running back.

Senior Solomon Watkins was poised to take over the starting position before suffering an injury during fall camp. Watkins missed much of the 2011 season with a torn ACL before playing in seven games a year ago.

And while Beck wouldn’t comment on Watkins’ injury, he did confirm that sophomore Jeff Seybold is “at this point in time,” the starter.

Seybold is coming off a medical redshirt season and enters this season as a sophomore in eligibility after suffering a season-ending injury in Week 2 against Central Oklahoma. He had 54 carries for 273 yards as a freshman after transferring from Nebraska-Omaha.

Redshirt freshmen Dre Holman and Steve Sullivan, along with Brian Poston, will also push for carries.

The season may start with more of a ‘running back by committee’ approach than Beck would prefer.

“We don’t necessarily want it to be that way. We just have to see how it goes,” he said. “It’s been a while since we’ve had one guy who has carried the load ... I think when you get a guy who is established, who the O-line feels good about and he feels good, that can be a great thing. We’ll just have to wait and see how that all transpires.”

While the running back situation lurks as an unknown to start the season, the line appears to be solid.

Senior tackle Cody Holland and junior guards Tyler Smith and Ollie Venegas are back after starting all 10 games last season.

Senior Taylor Peak beat out junior Zach Burkhart for the starting center position and junior Boston Higgins won the starting job at right tackle.

Senior Connor Combes, junior Zach Bessett and redshirt freshman Kyle Swartz will likely see time at tight end.

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