By Daegiona Wilson
Sports Editor

Football is back.

Moundbuilder football will face the Tabor Bluejays, 6 p.m. Saturday at Jantz Stadium.

Four months ago this reality was uncertain, but over the past four weeks Moundbuilder football has been preparing for a new, but quite different season.

Brad Griffin, head football coach, said “We haven’t practiced as much, but practices have been more valuable to us.”

“I think we are further along this year than we were last year. So I think we will be better prepared.”

For the past three seasons, the Moundbuilders have finished .500 in conference play. This year is expected to be different. With a senior-heavy class, Griffin said, “Overall we are in a good place. We have a pretty veteran team, so that helps a lot.”

The Moundbuilders will be suiting up roughly 75 players due to COVID-19 restrictions, so that leaves just about half the team on game day. On the bright side, Griffin said they have finally reached the point in their program where it is senior-heavy, so the amount contributing will be the majority of experienced athletes.

The Moundbuilders will have nearly all of their previous starters, including ten of eleven defensive players. Trevor Strong, defensive coordinator, said having that amount of returners means they have higher goals than where they left off.

“The ambition is there. They want to go prove something because they know that they can turn that into a better record. So I think the motivation level is pretty high right now.”

A major setback last season was at the quarterback position due to injuries and losing an experienced player to a tragedy. Will Mueller, sophomore quarterback, filled in as a true freshman. Now with two junior college transfers, the position is loaded with competition.

“We basically have a three-person battle going on.” said Strong, “Will has grown a lot, and I think with the two juco kids coming in, we feel really good about the depth at the position. We haven’t even named a starter yet.”

Losing three seniors at wide receiver is a hit for the Moundbuilders, but with newcomers, these spots shall fill well. Andre Jones, junior wide receiver, is a physical player that is expected to receive a lot of playing time, along with junior college transfer Keshawn Jones.

Keshawn Wyatt, senior running back, missed the majority of the season due to a partially torn calf muscle. As an all-American and KCAC all-conference player, he shall bring hectic to opposing defensive lines. “If he’s healthy, he is one of the best in the country,” said Griffin.

In addition to Wyatt, Dustin Rivera, senior offensive linemen, enters his senior season. Rivera has been named first-team all-conference and first-team all-American. He also received national recognition as the Remington award honoree this past season.

Grant Torgerson, senior linebacker, is another player to keep an eye on. He said, “This fall camp has probably felt better than any other season going into it, and I’m just excited.”

“I think confidence is probably the biggest thing different about this group. Every position there is depth and we haven’t had that in years past.”

Heading into the spring season, it was more about focusing on brotherhood off the field, but given the pandemic, this was not able to happen. With spring season being stripped away, Strong feels as if it has made players more motivated, given the chance to finally play.

“They realized how quickly it can be taken away from you. Even for us coaches it’s the same mindset. With everything going on it almost makes you more thankful and you have more gratitude towards what you get to do for a job or as a student athlete” said Strong. “I think the mindset is we feel lucky, we feel blessed, let’s take advantage of it every day.”

Strong said, “Coach Griff always talks about try and not wake up and say, I have to do this today, I have to go to practice, I have to go to a meeting, its I get to.”

With experience, opportunity, and excitement, the Moundbuilders are finally set to hit the field. Torgerson said, “We have a pretty good quarterback that we are playing this upcoming week, he’s probably one of the veteran guys we will play all year, so just looking at last year’s game and kind of getting a feel of his tendency”, is a way him and the team have prepared.

“No changes for them on staff, so you’ll like to think they are going to be similar in the same thing,” said Griffin. “but it’s game one so you have to be prepared for the unknown as well.”

Griffin said of course the team has goals, but “for us, it’s just day to day. Just get better every day and those never change, those have always been the same.”

“We can’t worry about Saturday if we don’t take care of today. Take care of all of the little things. That’s been our approach, sometimes you lose sight of those things. It’s easy to focus just on winning.” said Griffin, “Win today, win tomorrow, win Friday, and then win.”

As Saturday is just the start of an unpredictable season, Strong is excited for the seniors to have one last ride. “I want them to look back on this year and say, that was worth it.”

“These guys have stuck it out for four years, let’s prove to them that if you stick it out, and stay committed you’re going to be rewarded in the end.” said Strong, “We are just going to take it one day at a time and try to enjoy the process.”

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