Story by JASON STRICKLAND, Sports Editor / Photo courtesy of UCM Media Relations
Junior quarterback Mike Petersen, who is entering his first year as the starter after playing in five games last season with 60 yards off of 7-of-13 passing, said it will be important to run the ball.
“We are trying to be more balanced this year,” Petersen said. “[We are] trying to get that running game going so we can work off that and get our passing game going.”
Taylor had 99 carries for 630 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He also caught 30 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s [Taylor] an exciting player,” Svoboda said. “He’s an excellent receiver out of the backfield. He’s got tremendous burst as terms of acceleration through the hole.”
Another running back expected to be in the mix is sophomore Corey Washington. He had 30 carries for 139 yards and a touchdown in six games last season.
“He’s [Washington] looked like he’s in very good shape,” Svoboda said. “We are not tremendously experienced there [at running back] but we have some talent.”
As for Petersen, learning from former Mules quarterbacks Eric Czerniewski and Tommy Corwin has helped him prepare for this season.
“I learned a lot from them,” Petersen said. “Eric won the Harlon Hill award and is possibly the best quarterback in school history, so I just tried to take as many notes from him as I could and learn from him.”
Petersen will have an experienced offensive line in from of him with four of the five starters returning from last season.
“It’s evident right now in camp. They are working really well together, and it all starts with them,” Petersen said. “We can’t do anything without an offensive line.”
Petersen will have several targets to throw to despite losing the top two receivers from last season in Jamar Howard and Taylor Dyer.
Svoboda said senior Kyson Ginavan, junior Ralph Watson, sophomores Clayton Cooper and Anthony Kirkwood, and junior transfer from Snow College in Ephraim, Utah Ronrei Lloyd should be in the wide receiver rotation this season.
The offense will feature several new faces, but much of the defense is intact with eight starters returning.
The Mules defense allowed over 24 points per game last season, but senior defensive back Patrick Lewis, who led the team with 104 tackles last season, said he sees this unit improving from a year ago.
“We are miles ahead of where we were last year. [We have] so much more experience, it’s great to have them out there,” Lewis said.
Being a leader is what Lewis said he wants to be this season.
“My expectation is to lead this team. I think we definitely can improve a lot from last year as far as the defensive end,” Lewis said. “Just being the leader out there and being someone that everybody can turn to for guidance, and when we need a big play I’m there to make it.”
The Mules’ season starts off tough with a game at No. 18 Missouri Western Aug. 30 and a home opener versus No. 3 Northwest Missouri State Sept. 8.
Central’s schedule also includes games against the four new members of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, with two of them on the road.
Svoboda said the new teams add to the quality of competition of the conference, but they also add to the amount of traveling each team will have to do.
“The thing that I initially didn’t agree with was the fact that some of these schools are, even though they are good schools, quality schools, they are a long ways away,” Svoboda said. “Central probably has the best fan base in the conference. We have the best attendance in the conference at home. We get a nice following, and I think that those long trips will affect our following and will affect everybody’s following in what was the old MIAA.”
New members Nebraska-Kearney, Central Oklahoma, Northeastern State and Lindenwood are in the top five as far as distance away from Central in the conference. The Mules will play at Northeastern State and Lindenwood this season.