KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Pittsburg State closed last season with a 7-4 record and finished in the middle of the pack in the MIAA Conference standings.
That is unacceptable if you ask any member of the Gorilla football program, including head coach Tim Beck, who conveyed those feelings at the MIAA Media Day on Tuesday at Children’s Mercy Park.
“The bottom line is, our guys didn’t come to Pittsburg State to be 7-4,” he said. “They are all on the same page as our coaching staff, and they’ve worked extremely hard. I am not saying that is different than any other team, but we have a lot of guys who understand what they’re here for and how important the tradition (of winning) is at Pittsburg State.”
Pittsburg State was selected to finish fourth in the conference in both the coaches and media polls. Northwest Missouri State, under new head coach Rich Wright, was picked to finish first, Emporia State was picked second and Central Missouri was projected as the third-place team.
“One thing I think will definitely be a positive for our football team is I feel like we’ve had as good of leadership we maybe have ever had,” said Beck, who is entering his eighth season as the PSU head coach. “I feel really good about where we are at. … Our coaching staff is very happy with how our spring semester went and feel like our guys are very committed and did a tremendous job in the offseason.”
One of the leading factors to the four losses a year ago was the defensive line’s inability at times to get to the quarterback and the secondary’s suspect play, particularly on the deep ball. The Gorillas allowed 37.4 points per game as a unit, but junior linebacker Demetrius Bernard believes the proper adjustments were made in the offseason.
“I think not getting off the field and giving up the big play was our biggest issues (as a defense) last season,” Bernard said. “We got teams to third down but they always seemed to convert. And then, just big plays. One missed tackle would lead to a 60-yard run or a long pass — that just killed us.
“We have to finish and can’t take plays off. It starts in the offseason and I think we have more accountability. … We have to have the mindset of focusing on being successful on every play, and if we can be successful on most of our plays, we will win the game.”
Pittsburg State’s defense lost 11 lettermen, including six starters, from last year’s team. The Gorillas bring back 20 lettermen, with eight having started four or more games last season.
While Coach Beck believes his secondary will be much improved, it’s the defensive line he thinks will be a standout unit and strength for the program.
“I think people will be surprised about our defensive line,” Beck said. “With (sophomore defensive lineman) Simanu’a Thomas, who is going to be tremendous for us this year, inside and (sophomore defensive end) Ned Bingaman, who has had a really good offseason and got a lot of experience last year, and (redshirt freshman defensive end) Levi Wyrick, a guy no one really knows about who I think will have a really good year, gives the defensive line a chance to be really good.”
Webb City native John Roderique is preparing for his third season as the starting quarterback. He finished last season with a 144.87 efficiency rating after completing 173-of-295 passes for 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
“His knowledge and comfort level of the schemes and what we’re doing is much higher than it has ever been,” Beck said. “We’re somewhat complex offensively, and you need to have someone who has a good feel for what your are doing. We feel like he has a great grasp on everything.”
Of Pittsburg State’s 22 returning lettermen on offense, 10 started last season. The greatest asset may be the offensive line, which returns two senior All-Americans in center Bo Farrow and tackle Codey Funk. All-MIAA sophomore tackle Ryan Dodd and guard Alex Jones, who started 10 games last year, return as well.
The offense averaged 40.4 points and 305.5 passing yards per game last season.
“We have a lot of returners and a lot of experience on the offensive line,” Roderique said. “Everyone wants to talk about the skill positions, but it all starts up front with them. I think the offense as a whole has really improved.”