KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As head coach Nick Bobeck enters his eighth season as the head coach of the Central Oklahoma football program, he has seen the Bronchos make a huge transformation under his watch.
In his first two seasons and the team’s first two in the MIAA, the Bronchos won two games each season, but in the five years since they have won eight games on three occasions.
On paper, last season was supposed to be a step back. The team had a three-way battle at quarterback and was replacing nearly every aspect of one of the MIAA’s most prolific passing offenses.
As the season began, the Bronchos looked like a team struggling to find an identity. A 21-7 loss to Pittsburg State and a 31—27 loss to Nebraska-Kearney seemed to signal a long season for the team.
“One of the things that has been important within our football program is consistency,” Bobeck said. “That is something we are talking about a great deal within our football program. We have started slow the last couple years so there has got to be some change.”
Things appeared to grow bleaker in Week Three when quarterback Keats Calhoun was injured against Lindenwood, but Chandler Garrett mounted a fourth quarter rally for a 52-42 win. The next week changed the course of the season completely.
The Bronchos built a 28-3 lead after three quarters and held on to beat the nation’s fourth-ranked team Northwest Missouri State, 31-21. Garrett threw four touchdown passes in the shocking win.
“We expect to do things like that,” offensive lineman Tyler Stilwell said. “We go into every game expecting to win.”
In a 15-0 loss to Fort Hays State the next week Garrett was injured.
The Bronchos refused to be slowed down though and Will Collins won his first five games as the team’s starting quarterback. The team ended the season with a Heart of Texas Bowl victory, 41-33, over Angelo State. Collins threw four fourth-quarter touchdowns to rally his team to the victory.
“It was the next man up and that kind of attitude,” Bobeck said.
The quarterback competition rages on this fall with all three quarterbacks returning to the team.
“That is a fun room,” Bobeck said. “We are very fortune to have all of those guys back. We have three guys that won football games for us in the MIAA last year. … What is fun with those guys is that they are each other’s biggest cheerleaders.”
Whoever emerges as the team’s quarterback will have plenty of weapons to throw to with All-MIAA performers Dustin Banks and Mekaall Hall back as well as Tyrone Howell and Johnny Bizzell.
Running back is a glaring hole with no proven runners on the roster but T.J. Roberts is a highly regarded JUCO transfer and redshirt freshman Payton Scott is a former Oklahoma High School Gatorade Player of the Year.
Defensively, the team is reloading with only two returning starters. One of those is All-American defensive back O’Shay Harris though and the safety is ready to lead a young Broncho unit.
“That was my emphasis this offseason,” Harris said of his leadership. “Coaches asked me to step up. I’m more of a quiet guy. I think I’m doing a better job now.”
The season will open with opportunities for Central Oklahoma to avenge its slow start last season against Pittsburg State and Nebraska-Kearney, but in Week Four, they travel to Maryville where they must contend with a Bearcat team also hungry for revenge.
“On paper, we should be pretty good,” Bobeck said. “We will see if we can keep from screwing them up as coaches.”