KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Central Missouri has consistently been one of the top teams in the MIAA in recent seasons under former Northwest Missouri State offensive coordinator Jim Svoboda. Last season was supposed to be the year that they finally had their signature season.
This time last year, it was a widely held belief that the MIAA race would come down to three teams: Northwest, Fort Hays State and Central Missouri. Two out of three of those teams came through.
The Bearcats and Tigers shared the conference crown with matching 9-2 records. The Mules finished 5-6. What happened? Brook Bolles’ injury happened.
As a junior in 2017, Bolles led all of Division-II in total yardage and was a Harlon Hill Award finalist. In the 2018 season opener, the younger brother of Bearcat greats Blake and Brady Bolles had the Mules up 16-6 over Fort Hays State, but was injured in the third quarter.
When Bolles went down with his season-ending injury, Central Missouri’s season quickly followed suit. The Tigers rallied with two fourth-quarter touchdowns and the Mules suddenly found themselves very mediocre.
“Certainly when you go through a tough season like we did last year, that nine months (between seasons) can’t go fast enough and the season can’t get here fast enough,” Svoboda said. “We are excited that that time has come again because I know we have a lot of hungry guys to show that they are a better football team.”
Bolles was granted a medical redshirt, however, so the expectations of 2018 had been shifted to a new season.
“I’m feeling great, ready to go,” Bolles said.
In addition to Bolles, the Mules have one of the MIAA’s top rushing duos with juniors Devante Turner and Koby Wilkerson. The threat of the run game should allow Bolles an added safety net.
“They definitely take the load off me a little bit,” Bolles said.
The Mules will have to replace some of Bolles’ favorite targets with top receiver Kyrion Parker and tight end Seth Hebert gone, but Shae Wyatt was one of the MIAA’s most dynamic freshmen last year with 769 yards and gives the receiving corps some teeth.
“We have lots of things to build from on offense,” Svoboda said.
The Achilles heel for the Mules in recent seasons has been a defense that hasn’t been able to match the offense’s exploits. Svoboda hopes this season is different.
“We are encouraging our players to expand their reach and challenge their idea of what hard work and commitment means,” Svoboda said. “I’ve seen them do that.”
Led by All-MIAA linebacker John Embrey and his 91 tackles, the Mules return eight starters on the defensive side of the ball.
“Everybody is on the same page and everyone is ready to get going,” Embrey said.
Central Missouri will have a chance to show that they are ready to contend Week One when they host Fort Hays State. A win over the Tigers could make for a very exciting season and a chance to make the season finale in Maryville mean an awful lot.
“I haven’t sensed anything but hunger out of our players and coaching staff,” Svoboda said.