Matt Myers has assumed a cautiously optimistic mindset ahead of Kansas Wesleyan’s first fall football practice this Saturday.
The Coyotes were 8-3, 7-3 in the Kansas Conference, in Myers’ first season as head coach – the three losses by a combined 16 points against the three teams that finished ahead of them in the standings.
Furthermore, KWU is the favorite to win the Franklin “Gene” Bissell Division this fall in coaches and media polls conducted Wednesday during the annual KCAC Virtual Media Day. All that coupled with the fact he is more at ease in his role as a head coach has Myers ready and eager to tackle his second season.
The excitement, though, is somewhat tempered by the fact 35 Coyotes who played in 2022 have departed. Their replacements are younger players who have risen through the ranks and a slew of mid-year and summer transfers.
“With 35 guys graduating from last fall we’re looking at a brand new roster,” Myers said Wednesday. “We did a lot of mid-year recruiting to bring in some guys in January to help us out in the spring and get through spring ball. We brought in 30 and we’re bringing 60 more for the fall.
“There was a lot of excitement in the spring and it’s going to be super competitive this fall. Expectation-wise as long as we’re playing consistent violent football and executing up to our standards, we feel really good about it.”
With the arrival of new conference member Evangel the KCAC adopted a two-division format for football each consisting of six schools. The divisions will be redrawn every two years. Joining the Coyotes in the Bissell Division, named in honor of the longtime KWU hall of fame coach, are Avila, Ottawa, Sterling, Tabor and Saint Mary. Bethany, Bethel, Evangel, Friends, McPherson and Southwestern will compete in the Dr. Ted Kessinger Division, which recognizes Bethany’s longtime hall of fame coach.
KWU received five of six first-place votes in the Bissell Division coaches poll and 13 of 21 first-place votes in the media poll. Avila was second, Tabor third, Saint Mary fourth, Ottawa fifth and Sterling fifth in both polls. The two Kessinger Division polls were mirror images as well – Southwestern on top and followed by Evangel, Bethel, Friends, McPherson and Bethany.
Teams will play games against the six opponents in the opposite division to start the season. Following a conference-wide bye week October 7 they’ll finish with games against the five teams in their division. Division winners qualify for the NAIA playoffs.
“The split season gives you some time to figure out who fits where,” Myers said. “We’re super excited to get into this format that’s going to change every two years. I think that’s very unique, it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
“I think the bye week will be great, I’m excited to have a bye week. Have a chance for the guys to heal and maybe relax for a day or two instead of going 11 straight (weeks) like we’ve been doing the fast past few years.”
Myers also is a big proponent of the two automatic postseason bids.
“Everyone’s talked about automatic bids and more representation into the playoff,” he said. “That’s all good for the KCAC because we’re a very competitive conference.”
Despite the large number of departures KWU’s personnel cupboard is not bare. Nine Coyotes who saw significant duty last season return on offense – quarterback Richard Lara, running backs Nick Allsman, Tyler Boston and Mark Benjamin, wide receivers Woody Banks, Rhadarious Lomax-Spivey and Jacquante Pitts and linemen Rolandius Williamson and Chris Muns. Eight veterans are back on defense – linemen Ricardo Garcia and Josh King-Bradley, linebackers Ricco Moore and Jhalen Haynes and Julian Urioste, Jordan Dupre and My’kell Barnett in the secondary.
“Based on how we operate offensively and defensively we play a ton of guys on Saturdays,” Myers said. “Unless you’re (former All-America defensive end) Shaq Bradford you’re probably not going to play 90 snaps a game. For us it’s going to be what roles guys fall into and then give them reps as we go through practice and into the game.
“As long as they accept their roles and perform to the best of their ability, I think we’ll be a tough out every Saturday. I’m excited for Friday check-in and we get rolling on Saturday.”
KWU opens the season against Evangel at 6 p.m. August 26 in Springfield, Mo. The home opener is the following week against rival Bethany at 7 p.m. in JRI Stadium and the Graves Family Sports Complex.
DR. FRANKLIN “GENE” BISSELL DIVISION
- Kansas Wesleyan – 25 (5)
- Avila – 19 (1) 19
- Tabor – 15
- Saint Mary – 14
- Ottawa – 11
- Sterling – 6
- Kansas Wesleyan – 118 (13)
- Avila – 110 (8)
- Tabor – 73
- Saint Mary – 59
- Ottawa – 49
- Sterling – 32
DR. TED KESSINGER DIVISION
- Southwestern – 22 (3)
- Evangel – 21 (2)
- Bethel – 17
- Friends – 14 (1)
- McPherson – 11
- Bethany – 5
- Southwestern – 110 (12)
- Evangel – 98 (4)
- Bethel – 87 (4)
- Friends – 53
- McPherson – 49
- Bethany – 23