The Griffons and the Mules of UCM will square off next Thursday, at Spratt stadium to kick off the new season. The Mules look to get their first win against the Griffons since 2010. Last year, the Griffons escaped Warrensburg with a 26-23 victory. In the MIAA preseason poll, the coaches have the Mules ranked at number three while the Griffons are ranked number five. Quarterback Hayden Hawk will be returning for the Mules as their signal caller. Hawk was a third team All-MIAA selection a season ago, and he started every game. He threw for over 3,000 yards and also threw 29 total touchdowns. On the ground, Hawk rushed for 99 yards and a total of two touchdowns. LaVance Taylor, running back for the Mules will also make his return to the field next Thursday. Taylor was a third team All-MIAA selection for both running back and kick returner. He rushed for 721 yards on 131 carries and also delivered five rushing touchdowns. He returned two kickbacks for touchdowns on 13 attempts. On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Ricky Spratley is returning to improve on last year’s stellar season. Spratley led the Mules in tackles with 84 total. He had 6.5 tackles for loss and he also forced four fumbles. He had a career game against the Lions of Missouri Southern, were he totaled 14 tackles and two tackles for loss, in a game the Mules also loss. The biggest headline going into the first game for the Griffons is the debut of quarterback TJ LaFaver. LaFaver redshirted last year but beat out two other candidates for the starting spot this year. LaFaver will have help from preseason All-American running back Raphael Spencer in the backfield. Spencer rushed for over 1,300 yards last year and also rushed for 12 touchdowns. Having Spencer in the backfield will be important for LaFaver, who has never took snap in a college regular season game. On the Griffons defensive side, linebackers Yomi Ali and Stephen Juergens are returning to anchor the middle of the defense. Juergens led the team in tackles with 88, while Ali, coming off of injury the season prior, never looked fully healthy. Spencer is going into the game knowing that the Mules are a much-improved team from last year, and they must come with their best. “UCM has a very talented team,” Spencer said. “Their defense plays hard and loves to hit.” The running back mentioned that everyone has to be on the same page if they want to walk away with their fourth straight victory over the Mules. “It’s up to us to play smart and execute,” Spencer said. “I’m anxious to see how it will play out.” Kickoff is at 7pm.