With the start of the 2019 football season just days away, a three-man quarterback competition at Missouri Southern continues.
First-year Lions head coach Jeff Sims said the competition at quarterback, as well as several other positions, will continue through Tuesday and possibly even Wednesday before starters are officially named. The Lions open the season on Thursday night when they play host to Nebraska-Kearney at Fred G. Hughes Stadium.
“We have three quarterbacks who are ready to play football,” said Sims, a former Garden City Community College coach who is embarking on his first campaign as a head coach at the Division II level. “As we go into this first game, they’ll each have their own play packages.”
Vying for the starting QB role are seniors Sean Kelly, Jacob Park and junior Dwayne Lawson.
Park, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound quarterback who either started or held a significant role for Iowa State in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, took part in his first practice as a Lion when the team opened its fall camp. He passed for 1,181 yards while completing 61.7 percent of his passes — the fifth-highest completion percentage in Iowa State history — in four games in 2017. In 2016 he split time for the first half of the season before becoming the starter the last five games, finishing the year with 1,791 yards and a 58.8 completion rate.
Lawson, another MSSU newcomer, threw for 2,120 yards and ran for 1,068 as a starter last season under Sims at Garden City. The Broncbusters went 10-1 on the year and made the NJCAA national championship game, losing to East Mississippi 10-9.
And MSSU’s returning starter at quarterback, Kelly, completed 48.8 percent of his passes to total 883 yards with no touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2018.
Sims said there is a likelihood that all three signal callers will play in the season opener.
“A good story to go along with that is about Peyton Huslig, who’s now the starting quarterback at Missouri State,” Sims said. “Peyton played for me and won a national championship (at GCCC in 2016). When he came to camp he was the eighth string … and by the fourth game he was the starter. So it’s an evolution, and if you said to me that Sean Kelly, Dwayne Lawson and Jacob Park all played in that first game, I wouldn’t be shocked. You never know which guy will elevate his play over the others until you put him out there.”
The Lions, coming off a 1-10 season, have been picked to finish 10th in the MIAA by both the media and the conference coaches.
“What excites me about being in the MIAA is the quality of the competition and the consistent high level of football that’s played,” Sims said. “If we can build a program and be successful in the MIAA, I think as athletes, and as coaches and as a university, we’re showing the type of work that we can do.
“It’s not an easy task. This is a really, really good football conference regardless of its level. So I’m excited about competing against people that I think are some of the best in the business.”
Just nine starters and 26 lettermen return from last year’s team that ranked last in the MIAA in scoring offense (7.4 points per game) and second-to-last in scoring defense (46.4).
Among the top priorities for Sims and his staff over the offseason was working the recruiting trail. And in early February, Southern announced a 64-player signing class — the largest in program history — for the 2019 season that consisted of 45 signees from the high school ranks and 19 college transfers.
Sims indicated that more players have been added to the team’s roster since.
“The biggest stride we made during the offseason is that I believe we found guys that football is important to,” Sims said. “My job is to develop a football program, and when you come here, we’re trying to develop service-minded champion graduates. That’s what I’m supposed to produce. So it means a lot to me, and I believe this spring that we were able to find the players that it meant a lot to.”
COACH: Jeff Sims, 1st year
COORDINATORS: Marty Higgins, offense; Josh Hager, defense.
ASSISTANTS: Joe Bettasso, outside linebackers; Casey Carlo, defensive line; John Powers, offensive line; Daniel McKinney, wide receivers; Tom Leogrande, tight ends; Keike Misipeka, running backs; Jon Clark, defensive backs; Halakilangi Muagututi’a, safeties; Andrew Schnoebelen, football operations; Richie Woods, equipment manager; Nathan Morris, strength coach.
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 26
RETURNING STARTERS: 9 (3 offense, 4 defense, 2 special team)
Sept. 5 — Neb.-Kearney, 6 p.m.
Sept. 12 — at Lincoln, 6 p.m.
Sept. 21 — NW Missouri, 6 p.m.
Sept. 28 — at Fort Hays St., 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 — Cent. Missouri, 2 p.m.
Oct. 12 — at Mo. Western, 4 p.m.
Oct. 19 — Washburn, 4 p.m.
Oct. 26 — at Northeastern St., 2 p.m.
Nov. 2 — at Cent. Oklahoma, 1 p.m.
Nov. 9 — Emporia St., 3 p.m.
Nov. 16 — at Pittsburg St., 1 p.m.