Gorillas hit the field for first spring practice

Pitt State is coming off an 8-3 season in 2021.

PITTSBURG, Kan. – The Pittsburg State Gorillas hit the field at Carnie Smith Stadium on Tuesday morning for their first spring practice of the season.

“We want to play with great effort. In order to do that we have to practice with great effort,” says head coach Brian Wright of setting the tone and tempo early in the spring, “We’ve been paying close attention to the details here this off-season and we know there are a lot of things we have to do better. We want to close the gap from 8-3 to an even better record next season.”

“It was just good to be out here doing some football stuff again. It felt good,” says wide receiver Elijah Harris, “I felt like our tempo was really good. We’re just learning how to have the right tempo when we’re not wearing pads. I felt like we did well for the first day.”

“I thought we had a lot of great enthusiasm and the effort was there,” says senior linebacker PJ Sarwinski, “We were running to the ball and guys had high energy. It was a lot of fun.”

Pitt State returns 8 players on offense and 7 on defense who started at least five games last season.

Defensively, Sarwinski returns after an All-American season in 2021. Linebacker Luke Jennings and defensive lineman Zeke Wall are back after All-MIAA seasons in 2021 – as well as guys like Brandon Mlekus, Alex Gaskill, Jack Barkley, Dubem Okonkwo and Malik Wooley – who all finished with 20+ tackles last fall.

Sarwinski (84) and Mlekus (68) led the team in tackles last season.

While they do return important players on that side of the ball, the Gorillas also lose some big time contributors who made the Gorilla defense one of the best in the MIAA in 2021.

Pitt State graduates All-American Dallis Flowers and All-MIAA picks DE Kaden Roy and CB Jordan Hendy – so there will be big shoes to fall on the PSU defense.

“We got guys like Keiondre Hall who are going to step up. We have guys like Nate Woods, a local Pittsburg guy,” Sarwinski says of the defense, “I’m just fortunate to be with these guys, whoever it’s going to be. We’re going to be good.”

“That’s the fun part of having spring practice, getting to see some of those guys,” Wright says of the new additions to the starting defense, “We get to see that next group of guys who are stepping into leadership roles or starting roles, or guys who are freshmen who just showed up last fall. We see them step up and make plays this spring. I’m excited to evaluate our whole football team this year.”

Offensively, the Gorillas have six players returning who earned All-MIAA recognition last season: OL Trase Jeffries, OL Riley Teutsch, OL Kory Woodruff, WR Elijah Harris, TE Kaizer Newell and RB Caleb Lewis.

At quarterback, Pitt State enters the spring with Chad Dodson, Jr. at the top of the depth chart.

Dodson, Jr. got his first start in the final game of last season’s schedule against Fort Hays State. He threw for 294 yards and 3 touchdowns in the team’s 34-24 win over the Tigers. On the season, Dodson, Jr. threw for 599 yards and 7 touchdowns in 5 total appearances.

“We’ve added a couple new guys into that group, too,” Wright says of his quarterback room, “Roland Harvey is here. He’s a guy we recruited here a year ago, and we really saw him step up a little bit this off-season. We’re looking forward to him having a good spring as well.”

Pitt State has 14 practices scheduled for the spring, with their annual spring game scheduled for April 15th.