As Tim Beck heads into his 10th season as the head football coach at Pittsburg State, the goal remains the same.
Play well enough for a postseason berth and compete for a national championship.
“Maybe it’s because school has started earlier, but it seems like it has taken longer to get through the offseason,” Beck said. “We are to the point, now, where our kids are just ready to go play. We need these next few days to polish some things up, but our kids are ready to face someone else and find out where we are at.”
The Gorillas are coming off an 8-3 season in 2018, losing three of their final six games to narrowly miss the playoffs.
Injuries played a significant role in the late-season losses for Pittsburg State, maybe none more deflating than the season-ending knee injury to standout cornerback and Webb City product KiAnte Hardin in the Oct. 6 loss to Northwest Missouri State.
The good news is Hardin is healthy and ready to lead the Gorillas’ secondary in 2019.
“He is doing fine and will be ready to go,” Beck said. “He is a really talented played who can do some great things. He has a huge impact for us. I feel like he is one of the top corners in the country and is a very dynamic punt returner as well.”
Pittsburg State returns six starters on defense under second-year coordinator Nate Dreiling. Standout senior defensive lineman Simanu’a Thomas, a two-time All-American and three-time All-MIAA performer, headlines the list of returners.
“I think everyone is pretty locked in and ready to go,” Thomas said. “I feel like Pittsburg State has given me a lot, including the opportunity to get an education. They also gave me the chance to continue playing the game that I love. I feel like I owe the school and my teammates everything, and I am going to cherish my senior year as a captain.”
Other returners on defense figuring to have a big impact include senior ends Ned Bingaman and Levi Wyrick, senior safeties Josh Hornback and Creighton Sanders and junior safety Morgan Selemaea. Senior Chase Johnston, a transfer from Kansas State who prepped at Carl Junction, and junior Kaden Roy, a Webb City product, figure to see plenty of snaps at linebacker.
Pittsburg State has yet to name a starting quarterback, but there are several options to choose from for second-year offensive coordinator and longtime assistant Dave Wiemers. Sophomore Brandon Mlekus, a Frontenac graduate, redshirt freshman Mak Sexton and sophomore Matt Harman are all battling for the starting job, and sophomore B.J. Bradbury will miss the start of the season while recovering from a shoulder injury.
“There is a chance we will play more than one quarterback,” Beck said. “We have been rotating them in during practice, and we have liked the progression we’ve seen there.”
The offensive line figures to be a strength. The unit is headlined by returning All-American senior tackle Ryan Dodd. He will be joined by all-MIAA junior guard Zach Thomas, senior guard Ben Sinclair, junior center Anders Vance and senior tackle Cole Baughman, with Abilene Christian transfer Trase Jeffries, a sophomore, expecting to compete at the tackle spot.
“I feel really good about our five starters,” Beck said. “They are going to get after it. We have good leadership there, and I think they will be the strength of our offense.”
The stable of horses at the running back position is headlined by junior Tyler Adkins, who rushed for 900 yards and seven scores as a sophomore to garner all-MIAA honors. He is joined by junior Tucker Horak, seniors Kiah Kintchen and Keynan Scheurich, junior Eastern Arizona Community College transfer Wilbur Cooper Jr. and senior DeMarcus Edwards.
“You have to have depth at running back,” Beck said. “We feel like we have different guys that we can rotate in and out. They are all quality backs who can give us some good reps.”
Senior all-MIAA performer Lorenzo West, junior Brennor Clemons, also an all-MIAA performer, and junior Brendon Franklin highlight the returning players at wide receiver.
Pittsburg State opens the season the road with a 7 p.m. matchup against Central Oklahoma on Thursday in Edmond.
“I think it is going to be a tremendous matchup,” Beck said. “They are loaded on the offensive side of the ball, with a lot of really highly skilled guys, plus they have the majority of the offensive line back this year. I think it will be a great matchup between two really good teams.”
COACH: Tim Beck, 10th year
RECORD AT PSU: 76-30
COORDINATORS: Dave Wiemers, offense; Nate Dreiling, defense.
ASSISTANTS: Matt Karleskint, wide receivers; Josh Lattimer, defensive line; John Pierce, running backs; Carl Roth, recruiting coordinator-linebackers; Korey Lindsey, cornerbacks; Steve Wells, offensive line; Larry Garman, off-campus recruiting; Luke Miller, tight ends; Terry Szucs, defensive line; Jesse Wall, offensive line; Travis Young, wide receivers-video.
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 44
RETURNING STARTERS: 13 (7 offense, 6 defense)
Sept. 5 — at Cent. Oklahoma, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 — Emporia St., 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 — Northeastern St., 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 — at Fort Hays St., 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 — Lincoln, 1 p.m.
Oct. 12 — Northwest Missouri (at Kansas City, Arrowhead Stadium), noon
Oct. 19 — Fort Hays St., 1 p.m.
Oct. 26 — at Cent. Missouri, 1 p.m.
Nov. 2 — Mo. Western, 1 p.m.
Nov. 9 — at Washburn, 1 p.m.
Nov. 16 — Mo. Southern, 1 p.m.