The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

April 24, 2014

Young players step forward during Pittsburg State spring drills

Spring football drills have allowed several young players to display their talents, Pittsburg State coach Tim Beck said Wednesday as the session of 15 practices draws to a close.

“We’ve got a lot accomplished,” Beck said. “We just feel like there have been a lot of new kids who have stepped up.”

Players battling for a spot on the Gorillas’ depth chart will get one final chance to impress coaches before the fall as Pittsburg State’s annual Spring Game is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at Carnie Smith Stadium.

Pittsburg State returns nine players on each side of the ball who had at least five starts for last year’s 10-2 team that was just shy of making the NCAA Division II playoffs.

But there are at least a couple of spots where the Gorillas are looking to fill. Four-time All-American linebacker Nate Dreiling and three-time All-American wide receiver and return man John Brown were both lost to graduation.

Dreiling led the team in tackles with 109, including 71 solo tackles, as a senior. The Gorillas do return linebacker Tyler Disney, who was second with 101 tackles in 2013.

“A lot of people are wanting to know who will take Nate Dreiling’s spot,” Beck said. “We’re not 100 percent settled there, but Spencer Brown (5-11, 204, so.) has had a really nice spring. Eric Brantley (5-11, 189, jr.) has done a good job. Colby Hall (5-10, 192, jr.) has had a good spring, along with Blake Woellhof (6-2, 210, jr.). We still have three or four guys there who are competing. There’s no question Tyler Disney (6-1, 214, sr.) will be a starter at linebacker.”

Brown, who is expected to be selected in the NFL Draft next month, led the Gorillas with 1,951 all-purpose yards in 2013. He hauled in 61 receptions for 1,198 yards and 14 touchdowns.

However, Beck said he feels good about the receivers he returns. Gavin Lutman (6-4, 201, sr.) had 36 catches for 568 yards and four touchdowns. Marquise Cushon (5-10, 156, jr.) recorded 23 receptions for 402 yards and three touchdowns.

“Even when John was here, we really distributed the ball pretty well,” Beck said. “We got the ball to a lot of different people. Obviously, John had some great games for us ... In the system, there were a lot of guys who got a lot of action. We have everyone back except for John and then the addition of Andre Taylor (5-9, 178, jr.) and Austin Panko (6-0, 177, fr.), who got hurt the early part of last year, we have pretty good depth at the receiving corps.”

Beck also mentioned redshirt freshman Kellen Sims (5-11, 180) as a receiver who has impressed over the spring.

Pittsburg State worked to get the ball to Brown, who had one of the fastest 40-yard-dash times at this year’s NFL Combine, in a variety of ways. He rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns and was a dangerous return man.

“It will be different without having him in there, there’s no question,” Beck said. “We’re looking at a guy who’s got a great chance of being drafted, and those guys just don’t come and go every year. There will definitely be some things that we won’t do that we did with John. But there are some explosive guys who we will want to get the ball to in some of the same situations.”

Senior Anthony Abenoja returns for his third season at Pittsburg State’s starting quarterback. He passed for 2,954 yards and 30 touchdowns as a junior. His backups are sophomore Ramsey Hamilton (6-2, 200) and redshirt freshman Thomas LaPage (6-3, 180).

“We’ve been impressed with Thomas LaPage,” Beck said. “He’s done a really nice job this spring, but Ramsey has more experience than he does. So, no we probably don’t have a clear-cut No. 2 yet.”

The team voted Abenoja, Disney, junior running back Jeff Seybold Jr. and senior safety Keeston Terry as the four team captains on Wednesday. The captains will draft Red and White teams today for Saturday’s scrimmage. Practice begins at 10 a.m., and the game should start about 10:30.

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