The Missouri Western football team has not had a losing season in 11 years—but they also have not made the playoffs in four years. The Griffons finished last season with a 6-5 record and saw all five losses come by two scores or less. Head coach Jerry Partridge acknowledged that if a few plays had gone the other way, his team would have been right there in the mix for the playoffs.
“The Pitt game, we just need one more play, and that is both sides of the ball,” Partridge said. “Same at Central Missouri, same for all five losses.”
The Griffons relied heavily on their very talented defense for the 2015 season, but Partridge and his staff will have to find a way to replace their leading tackler and star cornerback Michael Jordan.
“We lost four seniors on our defensive line and that is my biggest concern,” Partridge said.
The young defensive line should get help from a talented secondary.
“There is a lot of talent, but a lot of youth,” Partridge said. “Donte Watkins and Jonathan Owen are really, really good football players.”
Both players were in the top five in total tackles on the team in 2015 and Owen finished second on the team with four interceptions.
“We’re going to be pretty young at the corner spots, but we’re trying to teach them what we learned from Mike Jordan and Brown,” Owen said.
Redshirt junior Cody Lindsay returns at linebacker for the Griffons. Lindsay led the team last season with seven and a half sacks. Lindsay hopes that the front seven can add enough pressure to help the young secondary.
“We gotta help with a good pass rush, try and keep it aggressive, force a bad ball and help the back end of the defense,” Cody said.
Leading the Missouri Western offense this season is quarterback Skyler Windmiller. Windmiller led the Griffons with nine touchdown passes last season and passed for 1,701 yards. Coach Partridge has seen a lot of improvement from his young quarterback.
“His play over the offseason has really improved,” Partridge said. “It has just been hard for him to gain momentum over the last few seasons because of injuries.”
Western will have to replace Raphael Spencer in the backfield—2015’s leading rusher. The team will not have to look far for his replacement, though. Partridge and his staff believe they have one of the most talented running backs in the conference in Josh Caldwell.
“If we had given Josh the same amount of carries as Raphael, he would have given us the same amount of production,” Partridge said. “He’s as good a back as you’ll find in the conference.”
Caldwell was second on the team in rushing last season, rushing for 660 yards and averaging six yards per carry.
“You know losing Raphael would hurt any other team, but the guys we got behind him are just as good,” Windmiller said.
The coaching staff has also seen a lot of good things out of running back Kendall Short.
“Kendall is physically impressive, a slasher kinda guy and can be equally as talented,” Partridge said.
The thinnest position on offense for the Griffons is the wide receiver position. With a lack of experience, Western will rely a lot on underclassmen and junior college transfers. The Griffons lost five of their six leading receivers from a year ago. Returning from that group is wide receiver DiJuan Ussery. Ussery had 23 receptions for 402 yards and four touchdowns in 2015.
“We just want DiJuan to get better,” Partridge said. “There’s a good chance when he comes out onto the field he has more speed than anyone out there.”
Windmiller is confident in the skill players starting this season.
“We get out there and doesn’t matter who is out there, we’re doing the same thing year-in and year-out,” Windmiller said.
The offensive line for Western will return three of the five starters from a year ago. The coaching staff has high praise for the three returning players—especially two-time All-MIAA lineman Travis Anderson.
“What you want to happen with the offensive line happened,” Partridge said. “You sign high school kids and you hope they develop.”
The Griffons could not ask for an easier start to the 2016 campaign. Their first two opponents combined for one win in 2015. After those two games Western will host Central Missouri and then travel to Central Oklahoma to face a team who had just seven wins a year ago.
Some coaches may feel some added pressure, but after 19 seasons as the head coach at Missouri Western, Partridge says that the pressure he feels most—is the pressure he puts on himself.
“I put the pressure on myself, I cannot stand to lose,” Partridge said. “The passion of my hatred for losing is far greater than the joy I get from winning.”