Mules Football season preview

Written by Muleskinner Staff

by Alex Agueros
Sports Editor
(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — Central Missouri’s slim postseason hopes were all but dashed with a 17-45 loss to Fort Hays State on senior day. That is, until the Live United Texarkana-Bowl came into existence. The Mules proceeded to thump Southeastern Oklahoma State 48- 21 for the program’s third bowl game win. It was a conclusion more fitting than Fort Hays’ game for seniors Hayden Hawk and LaVance Taylor.
Despite losing crucial cogs in the offense, head coach Jim Svoboda said this year’s team has more depth than last year.
“When you have a good team you’re going to graduate good players,” Svoboda said. “That’s part of the deal. We have players that have been in the system and have played. (There are) not too many spots we have a lot of super-green players.”
Ten practices into their season redshirt junior Garrett Fugate receives the majority of first-team reps. Redshirt junior Eric Siebenshuh and redshirt freshman Brook Bolles also practice with the first-team.
Fugate was 5-of-9 for 46 yards in 12 games last season, and rushed for 143 yard in 25 attempts. He’s projected to keep the ball and run more than Siebenshuh. However, evaluating Fugate’s tuck-and-run performance proves difficult in a practice that isn’t live.
“If (Siebenshuh) was the guy, we would probably call less pure quarterback running plays,” Svoboda said. “When you don’t go live with the quarterbacks, the things that Fugate and Bolles bring to the table, you have to just estimate that. Ultimately it comes down to who’s going to get the ball to the end zone.”
LaVance Taylor put the ball in the end zone 18 times last season. Junior running back Ray Harris supplemented Taylor’s game with 380 yards on 54 attempts last season. Surgery will keep him off the field in 2015. Senior Evan Campbell, redshirt junior Gabe Vandiver and freshman Markel Smith of St. John Vianney High look to emulate that production.
“(Campbell) and Markel (Smith) have been getting the lion’s share of one-reps,” Svoboda said. “Chances are it’s going to be a little bit more by committee, as opposed to what LaVance brought to the table.”
At the helm of the Mules offense is firstyear offensive coordinator John McMenamin. McMenamin was recruited to Northwest Missouri as a high schooler. He set 27 school records for the Bearcats from 1998- 2002 before beginning his coaching career.
“He’s brought a lot of good ideas on his own that have fit,” Svoboda said. “We feel like, with the (offensive) line that we have, we have a strong commitment to running the football.”
Defensively, the Mules were middle of the pack in the MIAA, allowing 409 yards per game. UCM ranked No. 4 in the nation with 24 interceptions.
“We were very opportunistic,” Svoboda said. “We got a lot of those ball hawks back this year.”
Junior defensive back J.R. Alexander led the team with four interceptions. Redshirt junior Kenny Mings, Travion Vaughn and redshirt sophomore Monteze Latimore each picked up three interceptions. All four backs return for action in 2015.
Svoboda said redshirt senior Jason Venckus and redshirt junior Josh Powell are the “anchors” of the defensive line.
Central Missouri begins their season against a familiar rival. The Mules have yet to defeat Missouri Western since 2010, and came within one point in a disappointing season opener in St. Joseph, Missouri, last season.
Svoboda said he could only assume one thing when it comes to Missouri Western.
“They’re always good,” Svoboda said. “They’re never bad. And that’s what you know. This year, I’m sure is no different.”
Surmounting perennial powerhouses like Northwest Missouri and Pittsburg State, ranked No. 5 and No. 7, respectively, is the ultimate challenge in the MIAA. The Mules were picked No. 3 in the preseason coaches poll behind those two programs, and preceding Central Oklahoma and Missouri Western. The Mules fit nicely with UCO and MWSU as the second-tier programs looking to knock off the top dogs … for now.