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2021 Season Preview

By MSSU Athletic Media Relations

The 2021 Missouri Southern State University Football program will open up the season with new leadership and with renewed energy as the Lions will look to play their first MIAA Football game in nearly two years.

The Covid-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 season for all of NCAA Division II, but the Lions were able to play one spring football game in 2021, as well as host a full spring practice season this past March. That lone game was a 21-20 victory at Southern Nazarene University that saw the Lions score late and utilize a strong defense to stop a two-point conversion and seal the win.

Coaching Staff

The 2021 Southern football team will be vastly different from the 2019 version. The Lions have a new coaching staff, but a familiar face will lead the Green and Gold. Former Lion Atiba Bradley is now the head coach and he will be charged with guiding the resurgence of the Lions’ football program.

Atiba Bradley

Atiba Bradley

Bradley is already 1-0 after taking charge in February and beating Southern Nazarene in March. Returning from the previous staff are Defensive Coordinator and Linebacker coach Joe Bettasso and Associate Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator Matt Rahl. Both are alumni of Southern. The other coach that is returning is Tight Ends coach Sean McGrath.

Bradley brought in a strong group of veteran coaches including Colton Meyers (Recruiting Coordinator and Quarterbacks), Reggie Mitchell (Running Backs), Mitch Leppke (Defensive Backs – Safeties), Trey Porter (Defensive Backs – Corners), Chance Alberswerth (Defensive Line), Michael Gallo (Assistant Defensive Line), Keyan Williams (Wide Receivers) and Bijan Hosseini (Offensive Line). Rylee Hartwell (Director of Operations) and Zach Shaw (Strength and Conditioning) also remain from the 2019 staff.

Offense

Gone are quarterback Jacob Park and running back Charles West that powered an offense that scored 29.3 points per game and gained 444.5 yards of total offense and one of the best passing games in the MIAA. Starting duties at quarterback will be determined in a battle between Dawson Herl a redshirt freshman, Jaylon Banks a transfer from Eastern Illinois or freshman David Oplotnik, Isaac Kittrell and Luke Sampson.

Brian Boyd

Brian Boyd

Three of the top five pass catchers from the 2019 season are gone, but Brian Boyd and Keandre Bledsoe set a new Southern record with 35 receptions from the tight end position and gained 437 yards, while Boyd finished with 43 receptions and a team-high 706 yards, and both added two touchdowns. Other pass catchers that saw action in 2019 to return are Ty Harvery at tight end, as well as Jaedon Stoshak and Jonathan Watts, both wide receivers competing for starting roles.

Keandre Bledsoe

Keandre Bledsoe

Josh Mercer is the lone returner from the running backs after having 40 rushes for 126 yards and a touchdown while being one of the best kick returners in the MIAA with 27 returns for 652 yards, including an 86-yard touchdown return against NSU. Taylor Thomas, Oakley Roessler and Trey Hock are back after redshirting the 2019 season and will be joined by Cooper Hardin making the switch from tight end to running back and freshman Nathan Glades and Jeremy Brown as they will compete for reps from the running back position.

Josh Mercer 1

Josh Mercer

The offensive line will see some reshuffling as it loses three that had at least three starts in 2019 but return Mohamad Al-Ramahi, Lepo Tito-Fualaau, Michael Brown and Labrentae Davis all with starting experience. Transfers LaColby Tucker, Theodore Bullard and Edward Manase all started in the game at Southern Nazarene, while Al-Ramahi and Tito-Fualaau and Caden Coulson saw time as a blocker as well.

Defense

Solomona Fetuao notched a start and was heavily rotated in during the 2019 season and will be one of the leaders on the defensive line that will start anew. Dylan Wright will be fighting for a starting spot in the interior after backing up in 2019. Kiyon Robinson and Chauncey McCaulie, both transfers, will be competing in the interior line as well for a starting spot while Solomon Garcia and Ryan Merriweather will also be in the competition. Competing alongside Fetuao as a defensive end are James Boyd, Nick Kruse, Kalepo Fiaseu, Kameron Neal, Ryan Scleimer, Dionnte White, Meshack Kioko Jr. and Renard Gwynn for a starting assignment.

Richard Jordan Jr

Richard Jordan, Jr.

Where the Lions are strong are their one-two tackling punch at linebacker with All-MIAA LB’s Richard Jordan Jr. and Colton Winder prowling the field. Jordan Jr. finished atop the MIAA ranks and was tied for seventh in D-II with 120 tackles. That number was tied for the lead in D-II for all sophomores and he was tied for 11th across D-I, II, III, while setting the single-game record at Southern with 25 tackles against Washburn.

Winder started seven games for the Lions but finished with 95 tackles which was second in D-II and tied for second in the MIAA. It was the fifth-most across D-I, II, III for a freshman. Jakwan Allen and Bryce Osman will be fighting for that last linebacker starting spot. Allen is a returner that got into some action in 2019 after redshirting his first season at Southern and in the lone spring game against Southern Nazarene, forced and recovered a fumble to go with five tackles (four solo), and a sack.

The secondary will see some reshuffling. Jaylon Alexander and Dylan Bolden are returning and look to be the top corners on the team while Malachi Broadnax will transition from linebacker to safety after finishing 2019 with 60 tackles, a sack, interception five pass breakups and two forced fumbles playing as a linebacker and a nickel back.

Special Teams

Returning for the special teams will be Luke Taggart to man the long snapping duties, while the kicking will be assigned between returner Gordon Stephens, Missouri State transfer Nick Williams and true freshman Drake Reese. Josh Mercer will be back after emerging as one of the leading return specialists in the MIAA, finishing third in the conference with 652 kick return yards and a touchdown and was fifth with a 24.3 average yard per return. Mercer topped 100 return yards twice in 2019, gaining a season-high 117 yards against Missouri Western and 115 yards against Northeastern State. Jaedon Stoshak assumed primary punt return duty in 2019 finishing with seven returns for 33 yards as a true freshman.

Schedule

Southern will play its first MIAA game in nearly two years when the 2021 season begins with a road test going to Kearney, Nebraska to going up against the Lopers on September 2nd from Cope Stadium. The Lions host their first home game in 672 days as Southern will take on Northeastern State on September 11th from Fred G. Hughes Stadium on the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon.

The Lions take a trip to Edmond, Oklahoma to trade blows with the Bronchos of Central Oklahoma on September 18th from Wantland Stadium before playing hosts to Fort Hays State (Sep. 25) for Homecoming and Pittsburg State (Oct. 2) for the Miners Bowl against the Gorillas. October 9th the Lions will be on the road against Lincoln in Jefferson City as the Blue Tigers and Lions will battle it out at Dwight T. Reed Stadium and then Southern returns home the following week to play the co-conference champion Central Missouri Mules, October 16th.

A road trip to Emporia, Kansas follows as the Hornets of Emporia State will host the Lions, October 23rd at Welch Stadium before the Lions will host Missouri Western (Oct. 30) and co-conference champions Northwest Missouri, November 6th with the game against Western serving as the Southern Hall of Fame Game and the game with the Bearcats serving as Senior Day. Southern will wrap up the regular season in Topeka, Kansas playing the Washburn Ichabod’s, November 13th in Yaeger Stadium.

MSSU Lions 2021 Schedule

September

  • 2 -Nebraska – Kearney @ 7:00 PM (Away)
  • 11 – Northeastern State @ 2:00 PM (Home)
  • 18 – Central Oklahoma @ 7:00 PM (Away)
  • 25 – Fort Hays State @ 2:00 PM (Home) (Homecoming)

October

  • 2 – Pittsburg State @ 2:00 PM (Home) (Miners Bowl)
  • 9 – Lincoln @ 2:00 PM (Away)
  • 16 – Central Missouri @ 4:00 PM (Home)
  • 23 – Emporia State @ 2:00 PM (Away)
  • 30 – Missouri Western @ 2:00 PM (Home) (Hall of Fame Game)

November

  • 6 – Northwest Missouri @ 2:00 PM (Home)
  • 13 – Washburn @ 1:00 PM (Away)

All Games Streamed Live @ www.mssulions.com

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The MIAA

The MIAA announced its preseason coaches and media poll as part of its Media Day on July 27, 2021 at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City. Northwest Missouri was picked by both the coaches and media to win the MIAA. The Lions were picked tenth by both groups.

The top three (Northwest Missouri, Central Missouri and Fort Hays State), as well as the bottom three (Missouri Southern, Northeastern State and Lincoln) were the same in both polls.

The complete polls are listed below.

2021 MIAA Football Preseason Coaches Poll

1.    Northwest Missouri (10) – 120 points
T-2.    Central Missouri (1) – 105 points
T-2.    Fort Hays State (1) – 105 points
4.    Nebraska Kearney – 86 points
5.    Missouri Western – 71 points
6.    Washburn – 69 points
7.    Pittsburg State – 66 points
8.    Emporia State – 55 points
9.    Central Oklahoma – 52 points
T-10.    Missouri Southern – 24 points
T-10.    Northeastern State – 24 points
12.    Lincoln – 15 points

Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own team.

2021 MIAA Football Preseason Media Poll

1.    Northwest Missouri (10) – 142 points
2.    Central Missouri (1) – 124 points
3.    Fort Hays State (1) – 120 points
4.    Missouri Western – 99 points
5.    Nebraska Kearney – 98 points
6.    Pittsburg State – 91 points
7.    Washburn – 70 points
8.    Central Oklahoma – 62 points
9.    Emporia State – 56 points
10.    Missouri Southern – 33 points
11.    Northeastern State – 25 points
12.    Lincoln – 16 points

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