By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
New Missouri Southern football coach Daryl Daye can’t hide his excitement as the Lions kick off their season tonight at Central Oklahoma.
“People have had a lot questions about the NFL (where Daye was an assistant with the Buffalo Bills the last two years), but there wasn’t a game last year that I felt any more excited about than this one right here,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “You come in, and you get vested by putting in work, by committing yourself to kids and seeing those kids develop. You want to get your payday on game day. I’m very excited and anxious to see what we are and how we play and continue to mold them from there.”
The players, as expected, are even more excited.
“You only get so many games in your college career,” senior linebacker Alex Wong said. “You want to maximize every opportunity you have.”
The Bronchos, one of the new teams in the MIAA this year, also have a new head coach as Nick Bobeck returns to his alma mater after compiling a 42-5 record the last four years at Navarro (Texas) College, highlighted by the NJCAA national title in 2010. Like the Lions, the Bronchos have many new faces as 40 of the 85 players on the roster are freshmen or sophomores.
Adrian Nelson, who played for Bobeck at Navarro, unseated incumbent Adrian Nelson as the starting quarterback. Josh Birmingham, junior running back, ran for 882 yards and seven touchdowns and caught 50 passes for 334 yards last season.
“Right now we’re defending a lot of ghosts because we don’t know (for sure what UCO will do),” Daye said.
Missouri Southern also has a new starting quarterback. Senior Kellen Cox, who played receiver the previous three seasons for the Lions, won the job during fall camp, but Kyle Webster will also see action under center.
“They will probably equally play before the game is over,” Daye said. “We’ve let them compete for it when we got back here when two-a-days started. Throughout camp they were really neck and neck. Either one could got, but Kellen edged him out and we decided to go with him. But both of them in a sense are our starting quarterback. ... Both of them are very good throwers, very good runners, tough kids, sharp kids. They are very similar in style.”
They will be directing an option offense that will not feature one particular back.
“It’s an offense that spreads the wealth,” Daye said. “You’re not going to have one superstar in that offense. There are going to be a bunch of superstars in that offense if it’s productive, which we hope it is. Not one guy is going to have 30 carries. You’re going to have 30 carries throughout two or three guys or more. It’s a very team-oriented offense.”
Senior Landon Zerkel starts the season second in school history in receptions (173), third in receiving yards (2,447) and fourth in receiving TDs (17). With the option offense, Zerkel at times will be more of a wide blocker than wide receiver.
“I’ll do a lot more blocking, but we have a pretty good team-sense this year,” Zerkel said. “Everybody knows they have to their part for us to get a win.
“It’s exciting for me. It takes me back to high school. We were run-first at Webb City. I’m excited to see what we can do with all the new guys, this new coaching staff, start off fresh.”
Wong is one of eight returning starters on defense.
“We’re very enthusiastic, that’s for sure,” he said. “We come to work every day. No one is complaining about what we have to do. We’re pretty excited about what we have in front of us.”
“We’re an attacking style defense,” Daye said. “We’re going to be very multiple in what we do. The biggest thing is we’re going to hang our hat on running to the football and tackle. We’re going to keep things in front of us and make people execute. We’re hanging our hat on our kids’ effort to the football and being aggressive when they get there.”