KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One of the MIAA’s most storied programs finished the 2018 season with an 8-3 record, but 10-year head coach Tim Beck made it clear at the MIAA Media Day that he felt his team was better than an eight-win team.
“We just had a couple of games where we didn’t play very well,” Beck said. “I think our guys are extremely motivated to show that we can be better than 8-3. It’s a very difficult conference and it’s a conference that you have to be focused in on and play great every week.”
The Pittsburg State offense makes it no secret what it wants to do. The Gorillas have finished outside the top 25 in rushing offense just once and that should continue in 2019 with three senior running backs.
Kiah Kintchen rushed for 289 yards and two touchdowns in 2018, while fellow senior Keynan Scheurich rushed for 273 yards and two touchdowns. Coach Beck and the Gorillas also add junior transfer Wilbur Cooper to the backfield. Cooper, a transfer from Eastern Arizona Community College, rushed for 890 yards on 146 carries in 2018.
The Pitt State backfield may seem crowded, but the Gorillas have no issue sharing the football. In 2018, the offense had six different players carry the ball 40 times or more. Only Nebraska-Kearney had more rushing attempts last season.
The Gorillas finished ninth in the MIAA last season in pass offense — averaging just 163 yards per game. The pass offense in 2019 will need a new leader with John Roderique graduating. The four-man battle has yet to be settled, as a starter has yet to be determined, but B.J. Bradbury and Matt Harman are the only two to have seen action last season.
“They all have different attributes that work for them, but I’m just excited to get into fall camp and I think the first two or three weeks will show who our starter is,” tight end Jackson Krull said.
Senior Lorenzo West and redshirt junior Brenner Clemons led the team in receptions in 2018. West led the team and was sixth in the MIAA with 51 receptions for 814 yards. Clemons finished last season with 27 receptions.
The Gorillas return eight starters from a defense that finished fourth in scoring, allowing just 21 points per game. All-American Simanu’a Thomas has enjoyed watching new players step into leadership roles.
“Kaden Roy was voted team captain and I think that speaks volumes, especially with it being his first year here,” Thomas said. “He’s stepped up and he’s made big steps to being a good leader on the defense, I mean he’s really vocal when we’re out there on the field.”
Thomas helped a Pitt State defense that finished first in the conference with 36 sacks. Last year’s leader in sacks, Cole Morris, returns for his senior season. Morris and Thomas combined for 13.5 sacks in 2018.
The Gorillas had the conference's best pass defense last season but the 2019 version will consist of newer, less experienced faces at the corner positions. The secondary will rely on the experience of safety Creighton Sanders as the only senior in the back four.
“We’ve been getting together a lot this summer and doing some walk throughs and it has helped a lot, especially with a lot of younger guys coming up,” Thomas said. “It’s really about team chemistry, getting everybody together and I think we’ll be able to do some special things again this year.”
Pittsburg State will begin the season at home against Central Oklahoma on Aug. 30.
“It’s been four years since we’ve won the conference championship and we’ve been fortunate to be a part of a lot of those, but we haven’t been at the top for a while,” Beck said.