By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Trevor Rubly has a sense of optimism — and a lot of it is how his team looks to others.
Bacone football players report today and practice begins Friday. They’re coming off a 7-3 season that matched the school’s record for most wins in a season and 14 starters, including eight on a defense that got national acclaim in the NAIA record books, has voters in the NAIA’s spring top 25 putting his team on the edge of the radar.
Only one other team got more votes in the “others receiving votes” category.
“Last year we kind of jumped in late and were hoping the poll-setters would help us. Well, this year’ the plate is set. With a big win we’ll jump right in the mix,” said Rubly, entering his fourth season as head coach.
Bacone was ranked for the first time in school history heading into its regular season finale at McMurry when it came in at No. 23. With the Central States Football League having an insufficient number of league members last year, the Warriors were left hoping for an at-large berth by finishing in the top 20. That fell apart with the 37-14 loss in Abilene, Texas that weekend.
This year, the Warriors go to McPherson (Kan.) on Aug. 31 before returning home for a matchup with No. 13 Northwestern Iowa. NCAA Division III Southwestern follows and then there’s a trip to Beaumont, Texas, for a matchup with Football Championship Subdivision foe Lamar, which will be coming off games against Louisiana Tech and Oklahoma State.
Kyle Kuban returns to lead the Warriors’ offense. The senior quarterback is battling Carl Birkenfield for the starting job even though Kuban started nine games in 2012, earning All-CSFL honors. Kuban was 11 of 19 for 117 yards and two touchdowns while Birkenfield was 14 of 20 with one interception for 147 yards and one TD in the Warriors’ Spring Game.
“Kyle came out a month early and he’s been working out on his own every day with guys to throw to and I’ve noticed that,” he said. “It’s good to see that dedication when you’re not organizing and requiring attendance. It’s helped him emerge as the front-runner but it’s going to take more than just showing up. Competition doesn’t hurt anyone.”
Warriors running back Tyler Thomas, the CSFL Offensive Player of the Year, graduated but another first-teamer in junior Sheriff Thomas.
“The receiving group is the core of our offense at this point but we’ll have five or so at running back to start workouts and any of those can start,” Rubly said. “The biggest concern is replacing three offensive linemen but we think we’ve recruited well to help plug those holes.”
Recruiting has filled at least one of the two huge voids left at the defensive end spots. Preston Sanders, a former player at Sam Houston State, had four tackles including three sacks after enrolling in time to play the spring game. The other loss to graduation was at middle linebacker but a former BYU recruit in Chris Tuitama is expected to fill that spot, Rubly said.
All three of those vacancies were occupied by All-CSFL players from 2012 (ends Paul Mpagi and Dustin Sherer and linebacker Daniel Shield). Bacone’s defense averaged a NAIA season-low 243.2 yards allowed according to Dakstats.com and was third in points allowed going into the final game of the season.
“The kids are buying in to what I’ve been preaching since I’ve been here about not trying to do too much and just do your job, like when linebackers do the job of a defensive end and leave a gap open. It has a domino effect on the entire unit. There’s more cohesiveness and I expect us to build on that.
“The loss to McMurry gave us a lesson with what opportunity we left on the field and I think we’ll respond to that as well.”