SOUTH SIOUX CITY — The 20th season of the Great Plains Athletic Conference kicked off Tuesday in South Sioux City at the GPAC Media Day. And with that came the preseason football polls for the conference.
Hastings College was selected to finish seventh in both the coaches’ and media polls, while Morningside — the defending national champions — cruised into first in both polls.
With HC’s report date for preseason camp just five days away, Broncos’ head coach Tony Harper is excited to get to work.
“(We’re) just going to make sure we’re all on the same page,” he said. “I talked a little bit about consistency and figuring it out, and that’s what we’ve done as coaches and will continue to do throughout the season.
“From day one, we’ve got to sit down and talk about our standard, we’ve got to talk about our culture and what’s expected of the guys. We’re doing some things this fall that we’ve never done before in regards of leadership and accountability, and I’m looking forward to it. It’s different. It’s making me step out of my comfort zone. And this new academic calendar, to be quite honest with you, I think is going to benefit us as well and benefit our guys.”
Most of the coaches spent a lot of time answering questions about ushering in a new quarterback to their system — something Harper has gotten used to doing the last six seasons. But the Broncos bring back a pair of quarterbacks with starting experience in Isaiah Jackson and Griffin Roberts, with Jackson leading the competition for the job heading into camp.
Harper said it’s a nice change to have stability at the position going into the season.
“It’s been since, I think, Matt (Overmiller) was our starting quarterback his senior year,” Harper said. “It’s not a load off your mind, but there’s a comfortability, a relief that, ‘Okay, if we go in and install this package, (Jackson and Roberts) are going to know what that package is.’
“And I’m not saying Griff is out of this mix either. He’s going to compete with Zay every single day, but Zay’s got that experience... If you look at what he did the last four games of the season last year, he’s got the confidence of his team and he should have confidence in himself too.”
One of the biggest losses on the offensive side of the ball was at the running back position. Hastings’ will be without the efforts of Tahj Willingham, who graduated after rushing for 1,256 yards last year and ended his career second on the all-time rushing list for Hastings College.
Harper said the Broncos will rely on a mixture of returners with experience as well as some newcomers to fill the void left by Willingham.
“(The competition) is going to be completely open,” the coach said. “We’ve got Tyree (Nesmith) coming back, and he was an honorable mention for us. He’s a very good football player and an even better young man. He’s just a great kid to have around.
“But we’re going to have some young guys playing there. Brett Simonson (of Sutton) is going to get an opportunity very early in camp, and we have a few other high school guys that will be coming in and competing for the job. Probably for the first two weeks it’s going to be by committee, just to see where we’re at.”
The Broncos were fifth in pass defense last season, with the secondary led by All-American Anthony Murray. HC lost Murray as well and will be moving some pieces around in the defensive backfield.
“With what we do defensively and how we play and rotate our guys... we still have guys that played reps. You’re never going to get a guy to come in and play right away as good as Anthony did. He was a great talent. But we do have guys that have college experience,” Harper said. “We have guys that when they get popped in the mouth for the first time on Saturday (Aug. 31), it will not be the first time they’ve been popped.”
Hastings College opens the season Aug. 31 at home against Panhandle State University at 6 p.m. at Lloyd Wilson Field.
Preseason coaches’ poll (first place votes):
1. Morningside 81 (9)
2. Northwestern 73 (1)
3. Dordt 62
4. Midland 58
5. Briar Cliff 46
6. Doane 41
7. Hastings 34
8. Concordia 22
9. Dakota Wesleyan 18
10. Jamestown 15
Preseason media poll (first place votes)
1. Morningside 119 (11)
2. Northwestern 109 (1)
3. Dordt 87
4. Midland 84
5. Briar Cliff 66
6. Doane 64
7. Hastings 48
8. Concordia 35
9. Dakota Wesleyan 24
10. Jamestown 23