Missouri Western Football has high expectations for this season after being picked No. 18 in the preseason AFCA Coaches’ Poll and picked to finish third in the MIAA conference by the coaches and media.
“Honestly our goal isn’t to come in third,” coach Jerry Partridge said. “We didn’t come in third last year, we tied for second. We got picked lower so in a way we slipped. People are congratulating us for our high ranking, but we want to be higher than that.”
Western returns a lot of the talent on both sides of the ball that led to a 9-3 season that ended in the playoffs and went 7-2 in MIAA conference play.
“I don’t think they are taking anything for granted,” Partridge said. “They are putting the work in and understanding that this team hasn’t won one game yet.”
At this time last year, quarterback Travis Partridge was preparing to be the starter for the first time. He returns this season confident with a year of starting experience on his resume.
“A year of experience can do wonders,” the second-year starter said. “It feels completely different than last year and having everybody back offensively bring us a lot of confidence.”
Coach Partridge also recognizes that a year of experience going through the MIAA battles has helped the quarterback better prepare for the upcoming season.
“The game is slower for him and he’s more comfortable now. If he stays healthy, he will have a nice year.”
The Griffon offense also returns first team all-MIAA running back Michael Hill, who rushed for 1,305 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
“Having a back like Mike is huge for an offense because he’s a bruiser that can get himself yards inside the tackles, he’s fast enough to get them outside the tackles and he can catch the ball,” Travis Partridge said.
Partridge proved he could be an effective runner last season as he also rushed for eight touchdowns last season. Hill and Partridge make up a dangerous threat on the ground, but the Griffons also have the capability to throw the ball down field.
“Our success all came off of just game planning and we don’t always depend on the run,” Hill said. “It just depends on the defense, when they do pack the box then we will throw it.”
Coach Partridge is sticking to his philosophy that he is going to take what the defense gives him and is confident in the Griffons ability to gain yards on the ground or in the passing game.
“We’ll scratch what itches,” coach Partridge said. “To be the level of football team we want to be, I believe we will throw the ball for a lot more yards this year.”
Western returns receivers Tarrell Downing, T.J. Fannin, Kyle Knox, Derek Libby, Reggie Jordan and more only losing Adam Clausen from last years receiving corps.
“Our receivers are really deep. There’s seven or eight receivers that can play and play well at this level,” Travis Partridge said. “As a quarterback that’s exciting. As an offense it’s exciting to have that flexibility.”
The talent doesn’t stop on the offense as Western brings back several defensive standouts from last season including all-MIAA first-team defensive lineman David Bass, who led the Griffons with 14 1/2 sacks last season. The defense also returns Ben Pister, who was second team all-MIAA with eight 1/2 sacks last season.
“We’ve had some very good d-lines in the past and this one stacks up with all of them and it might be the best one,” coach Partridge said. “David Bass is a great player and probably one of the more under sung guys is Austin Baska. Talent wise he’s a mix, physical like Pister and athletic like Bass. He’s a great player in his own right.”
St. Louis Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein led Western with 107 points last season and gave the offense a dangerous weapon in the kicking. Coach Partridge is confident that the team has a solid replacement in Taylor Anderson.
“Taylor is definitely capable or going 52 or 53 yards. I think he’s within ten yards of what we had last season,” coach Partridge said.
Western starts with conference opponent Central Missouri on August 30 at Spratt Stadium. Central also received votes for the top 25 and is a tough opening contest.
“I’d rather not have to start with those type of teams,” coach Partridge said. “They are hungry to beat us, there’s no doubt about it. I know they will be a difficult opponent.”
Western went to the playoffs last season but were beat in the first game by rival Northwest Missouri State in a close game. The goal is higher this season.
“A success is conference championship first and then a national championship,” Hill said while Partridge felt the same way.
“I think expectations are very, very high,” said Partridge. “We take it upon ourselves that we are going to achieve more than we did last year and anything less would be a disappointment.”