After an early loss in the playoffs last season, a revamped Minnesota State Mavericks football team will make their own push for chance at better playoff success.
Last season did not go quite as planned for the MSU Mavericks. After a 10-1 regular season going into the playoffs, the Mavericks came in holding the 2nd seed in Super Regional 3’s of the 2015 division II playoff bracket. Their first opponent was 7th seed Emporia State University. After a long and high scoring affair Emporia State won by a score of 51-49, barely coming away with a victory.
The disappointing loss early in the playoffs may have left some players and fans with a bad taste in their mouths. Though it is disappointing for seniors who played their last game, returning players and coaches have the perfect motivational tool to make a serious run in the playoffs this time around.
The Mavs will have their work cut out for them, as 7 of the 11 starters on the offensive side of the ball won’t be returning to play this season. Not to mention the six defensive starters that will not be returning. Revamping the offense and defense will have been an important task for Head Coach Todd Hoffner over the offseason.
On the Offensive side of the ball, the Mavericks will be missing key starters from last season. Tight-end Bryce Duncan, last year’s leading receiver, will not be returning. Duncan caught 38 balls for 445 yards and 5 touchdowns in 11 games, averaging 11.7 yards per reception. The quarterbacks for the Mavericks will not be able to rely on the sure-handed tight end anymore. It is the next man up as they say, and there will be some big shoes that need filling.
“It’s the next group’s opportunity to shine.” Coach Hoffner said. “We have high expectations and standards of excellence that we expect our guys to reach or exceed.”
A big concern coming into the season for the Mavericks will be filling the spots of the four departed starting offensive linemen. Nicholas Coy, Herschel Prater, Nate Trewyn and Lawrence Walker all left MSU after the 2015 season. In a season where MSU’s 2,672 rushing yards were the seventh most in program history, running the ball was a staple of the Mavericks’ offense. The younger players on the offensive line will need to step up if they hope to continue the team’s success from last season going forward.
Even with losing many players on the offensive side of the ball, returning starters like junior wide receiver Ty Dennis and senior quarterback Ricky Lloyd will lead a new group of guys.
Dennis earned All-NSIC honors last season. In 12 total games, Dennis made 37 receptions for a team leading 793 yards and 6 touchdowns with an incredible 21.4 yards per reception. Also returning to the team is fellow wide receiver and senior, Brett Esser. Esser also made 37 receptions for 523 yards and 5 touchdowns in 12 games for the Mavericks.
Leading the run game for the Mavericks will be Virgil Hammond. On just 72 rushes, Hammond accounted for 523 yards rushing which lead the team while averaging 7.3 yards per carry. The goal is to have Hammond and the rest of the offense picking up where they left off and the Mavericks’ offense will find success as a result. The real question will be if the offensive lineman coming in can be productive and fill the spots of the four starters that left just a season ago.
Defensively, the Mavericks have a lot of big impact players returning to the team. Cornerback Jared Gillespie, who also earned All-NSIC honors in 2015, will be returning. Alongside Gillespie is linebacker Marcus Gooden, the team’s co-leader in tackles with 58 last season. Other returning starters like Mat Andriano and Evan Perrizo will lead a defense that only allowed 16 points per game on average. A balanced offense and defense could mean more success for the Mavericks this season if everything goes to plan.
Heading into their first game of the 2016 season, the Mavericks rank 7th in the AFCA Coaches rankings according to NCAA.com.
“We’re excited to be nationally ranked but you’re only as good as your next snap,” Hoffner said.
It is time for the Mavericks to show the fans what they can do. They will be set to play their first game against Minot State University of Minot, North Dakota on September 1st. Their first home game will come the following week on September 10th against Bemidji State University. With the first game being this Thursday, Maverick football is set to begin and it looks like it will be an exciting season for Maverick football fans.