KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When you think about the Emporia State football team in recent seasons, the names that immediately pop to mind are Braxton Marstall, Landon Nault, Justin Brown and Tyler Harris.
Those four, however, are gone as the 2019 season approaches, as is nearly every player that accounted for any offensive yardage last season.
“Going into this season is a little bit of uncharted territory for us,” Emporia State head coach Garin Higgins said. “We are going to be replacing a very good football player in Braxton Marstall at the starting quarterback position, We lost a lot of production offensively — the most production since I’ve been there in my 12 years.”
Replacing Marstall at quarterback will be the biggest key for the Hornets early on. Dalton Cowan returns after completing two-of seven passes last year with a touchdown and an interception. The one touchdown was a good one though — a 54-yard pass in the upset win over Fort Hays State.
“I would have to say that Dalton Cowan is definitely the leader in the clubhouse going into camp,” Higgins said.
The one playmaker spot where the Hornets do return some production is running back where senior Kai Callins steps in for Nault, a four-year starter. Callins was third on the team last season with 335 yards rushing and was also an effective pass catcher with 167 yards in the air.
“I’ve been around the block a little bit, had quite a bit of adversity and I am finally fully healthy,” Collins said. “I’m really ready to show what I can (do).”
Other than sophomore Cole Schumacker and his nine catches for 112 yards, the Hornets don’t return any receiver with more than two catches last season. To put that into perspective, Marstall had just as many catches last year as the team’s second leading returner at receiver had.
“We are very talented,” Callins said. “I know they are hungry, ready to prove what they can do and they are probably tired of hearing Justin Brown’s name by now. They are ready.”
Defensively is where the Hornets see the bulk of their experience return with 13 of their top 15 tacklers back from last season.
“I think going into this year, we have the most experience coming back on defense since I’ve been here at Emporia State,” Higgins said. “To me, I believe they are going to be the strength of our football team especially at the beginning.”
The leader in that category is the 2018 MIAA leading tackler Jace McDown. The junior middle linebacker had 127 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss last year.
“We have a lot of guys on the defensive side of the ball that play with a lot of passion,” McDown said.
With all the talent back on defense, the Hornets will attempt to improve from last season when they allowed 26.4 points per game.
Emporia State will have the chance to get off to a good start to the season with games against Northeastern State and Lincoln sandwiching contests against Pittsburg State and Nebraska-Kearney.
“That is part of the reason we’ve had success,” Higgins said. “Our players are out to prove something.”