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2021 Season Outlook

The Pittsburg State University football team is set to embark upon the 2021 season. The Gorillas overcame the Covid-19 pandemic and played an abbreviated four-game season in 2020, posting a 2-2 record against NCAA Division II and FCS competition.

First-year head coach Brian Wright, who came to Pitt State after serving the previous four seasons as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at the University of Toledo, and his staff gained valuable experience working with the Gorillas and identifying the team’s strengths and weaknesses in preparation for 2021.

Seven seniors – running back Tyler Adkins, cornerback William Bazzle IV, running back Tucker Horak, wide receiver Jalen Martin, safety Markel Roby, defensive end Kaden Roy and linebacker Morgan Selemaea – return for a final season in the Pitt State program. Additionally, the Gorillas have 15 juniors who each will have the unique decision to make if 2021 will be their last year playing.

Overall, 23 letterwinners will seek to provide veteran leadership to a large and talented group of newcomers who have joined the program in Wright’s 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes.

 “Obviously, we are very excited to begin the season and play a full MIAA schedule with a group of guys that are extremely motivated and hungry for success,” Wright said. “I am proud of the work that our entire team has put in to this point and really impressed with our super seniors that have sacrificed a lot to return for their final year.

“The MIAA always is a highly competitive league with outstanding football teams, but still a lot of unknowns exist amongst us all. We were really fortunate to have the opportunity to be one of 10 teams that played football at this level last fall. The four games played was our first opportunity as a new staff to work with our players on the field; and it was a crucial to our growth and development as a program moving forward.”

The Pitt State Offense

The Gorillas will look to a trio of quarterbacks who all possess valuable game experience to lead the offensive unit in 2021:  redshirt sophomore Mak Sexton, redshirt junior Matt Harman and second-year freshman Chad Dodson Jr.

  • Sexton (6-1, 209) started all four games for the Gorillas during the 2020 campaign. The Leander, Texas, native completed 85 of 142 passes (.599) for 1,009 yards and eight touchdowns. He has passed for 2,703 yards and 21 touchdowns in 15 career games.
  • Harman (6-3, 220) enters his fifth and final year in the Pitt State program. The Cashion, Okla., native has played in 18 games, completing 54 of 104 passes (.519) for 733 yards and four touchdowns.
  • Dodson (5-11, 185) saw action in one game as a true freshman in 2020, completing three of seven passes (.429) for 50 yards.

“Our quarterbacks are highly competitive with a lot of talent. Not only do I love coaching this group, I really enjoy just being around them,” Wright said. “They represent Pitt State very well. It is going to be a very important preseason camp for all of them.”

Up front, the Gorillas return a stable of veteran lineman. At the tackles, redshirt sophomore Trase Jeffries (6-4, 315), sophomore Kieven Myers (6-5, 330), redshirt freshman Riley Teutsch (6-5, 300) and second year freshman Shane Rance (6-6, 280) all gained valuable experience for Pitt State in 2020, while redshirt sophomore Cooper Schettler (6-4, 273) and second year freshman Sergio Garcia (6-5, 300) return as guards. Redshirt sophomore Michael Toney (6-3, 282) and second year freshman Evan Taylor (6-1, 260) also return at center.

The Gorillas have added a pair of junior transfers in Kory Woodruff (6-5, 330) and Chimemela Okorafor (6-6, 320) in addition to a strong freshman class of offensive linemaen. Woodruff was an NAIA All-America selection at Briar Cliff University in 2019.

“Our success offensively will rely heavily on this group’s development throughout the year,” Wright said. “I really like where our first seven to eight guys are at currently and I’m pleased with the transfers and the young talent that we’ve been able to bring in. I’m really looking forward to watching this unit gel and be the force that we need them to be in the fall.”

In the backfield, the Gorillas return a pair of All-MIAA performers in senior runningbacks Tyler Adkins and Tucker Horak. Adkins (5-10, 208) rushed the ball 64 times for a team-leading 299 yards (4.7 ypc) and three touchdowns in 2020. The Broken Arrow, Okla., native has compiled 1,901 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns in 33 career games. Horak (5-10, 179) has 248 carries for 1,389 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Rossville, Kan., native also has 1,765 career all-purpose yards to his credit.

A young stable of running backs, led by second year freshman Caleb Lewis (5-11, 180), redshirt sophomore Luke Hardman (6-0, 184) and redshirt freshman Noah Hernandez (5-10, 195) also will look to challenge for playing time for the Gorillas.

“This is a talented group of guys that we are going to rely heavily on this fall,” Wright said. “This group is very versatile and can come at you a lot of different ways. I’m excited to watch our veteran leaders in Tucker and Tyler lead our offense, while seeing a few new young guys step up with major contributions.”

Senior Jalen Martin, redshirt juniors Bryce Murphy and Elijah Harris and redshirt freshman Christian Carter will look to lead a talented wide receiving corps.

Martin (6-3, 215) caught a team-leading 29 passes for 312 yards (10.8 ypc) and two scores in 2020, after transferring to Pitt State from Iowa State University. Murphy (6-2, 195) also made 14 catches for 192 yards (13.7 ypc) and one score in 2020. Murphy has 59 career receptions for 751 yards and five touchdowns. Harris (5-10, 175), who missed the 2020 campaign due to injury, has 21 career grabs for 283 yards and two touchdowns. Carter (6-0, 170) made a splash in 2020 with 11 catches for 209 yards (19.0 ypc) and two scores in three games played.

Redshirt sophomore Payton Copher (6-0, 190), sophomore transfer Payton Bowens (6-0, 180) and second year freshman Jake Bogdon (5-10, 180) also figure to see significant action for the Gorillas.

“Our wide receivers corps has a good mix of veteran experience along with some newcomers that really stepped up last fall and contributed quite a bit for us,” Wright said. “This group must have a big year for us and produce the explosive plays that we seek in this offense.”

At tight end, sophomores Kaizer Newell, Lawrence Harris Jr. and Devon Garrison and second year freshman Mario Kirby Jr. (6-1, 245) figure to battle for playing time.

Newell (6-2, 245) has made three career starts between the 2019 and 2020 seasons and he has three career receptions for 42 yards (14.0 ypc). Newell and Harris (6-3, 243) have both appeared in 12 career games for the Gorillas. Garrison (6-6, 220) also played in all four games in 2020.

“We need to solidify who the starting tight end is and who is going to contribute valuable snaps for us this fall,” Wright said. “This position is such a critical piece to our offense and I’m anxious to get a few questions answered early in the preseason.”

The Pitt State Defense

The Gorillas return eight players that started three or more games on the defensive side of the ball during the four-game Covid-19 shortened 2020 campaign, led by All-America senior linebacker Morgan Selemaea.

Selemaea (5-11, 204) made a team-leading 30 tackles (14 solo) with two pass break-ups, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one blocked kick in 2020. The Harrisonville, Mo., native has 30 career starts with 168 career tackles (99 solo), 24.0 tackles-for-loss, 13.0 quarterback sacks, six interceptions and 14 pass break-ups.

In addition to Selemaea, the Gorillas welcome back a veteran linebackers group.

  • Redshirt freshmen Luke Jennings and Alex Gaskill enjoyed strong 2020 campaigns. Jennings (6-4, 215) made 16 tackles (12 solo) with 2.0 tackles-for-loss and a fumble recovery, while Gaskill (6-3, 205) posted 15 stops with 2.5 tackles-for-loss and an interception.
  • Redshirt freshmen Mahcel Johnson (6-4, 195) and Dubem Okonkwo (6-0, 215) made 12 tackles apiece in 2020, while sophomore Elijah Robinson (6-2, 197) posted 10 stops and 2.5 tackles-for-loss. Redshirt sophomore P.J. Sarwinski (6-1, 213) also was credited with eight tackles last year.
  • Redshirt freshmen Jack Barkley (6-1, 225) and Jake Burke (6-2, 200) and second year freshmen K’Von Hamilton (6-1, 230) and Brandon Stegall (6-2, 215) also figure to vie for playing time for the Gorillas.

“From a depth standpoint, our linebackers are the deepest unit on the team,” Wright said. “Along with depth we have some very good football players that we are going to ask to cover a lot of ground this fall. Morgan Selemaea is very talented and our leader, but we also have five or six others that played significantly last fall and all proved they can play winning football.”

On the defensive line, the Gorillas return a pair of All-MIAA performers in defensive end Kaden Roy and defensive tackle Zeke Wall.

Roy (6-5, 232) made a team-leading 86 tackles at linebacker in 2019 before moving to defensive end a year ago. The Webb City, Mo., native made 15 stops in 2020 with 1.5 tackles-for-loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Wall (6-1, 269) posted 35 tackles (15 solo) with 4.5 tackles-for-loss in 2019 and he added 16 stops (five solo) and a forced fumble in 2020.

Junior defensive end Keiondre Hall (6-4, 213) has 10.5 career tackles-for-loss and 6.5 quarterback sacks to his credit. Sophomore defensive tackle Dalton Davis (6-4, 242) started three games for the Gorillas in 2020. Second year freshman nose guard Cole Sample (6-3, 280) also returns after gaining valuable playing time a year ago.

Junior defensive end Nathan Woods (6-4, 228), redshirt freshman nose guard Christian Roth (5-11, 230), redshirt freshman defensive tackle Malik Wooley (6-4, 270) and sophomore transfer defensive tackle Daryl French (6-3, 285) also are expected to vie for significant action for the Gorillas.

“Much like the offensive side of the ball, our success defensively will be a direct correlation with the growth and development of this unit,” Wright said. “We have some good depth in this group and the transition of Kaden Roy to defensive end has solidified this unit as one that can control the line of scrimmage. I’m really looking forward to seeing a few others step up and become a dominant force for us. We are expecting a lot out of this group.”

In the secondary, the Gorillas welcome back three veteran cornerbacks in senior William Bazzle IV and sophomores Gasevan McGrue and Rico Payton, while senior transfer Jordan Hendy also is expected to vie for significant action.

Bazzle (6-2, 195) mas made seven starts in 34 career games. He has made 64 tackles with three interceptions and nine pass breakups. McGrue (5-9, 164) started all four games in 2020, making 14 tackles and two pass breakups. Payton (6-1, 180) rejoins the Pitt State squad after opting out of the Covid-19 shortened 2020 campaign. He posted 14 tackles and four pass breakups for the Gorillas in 2019. Hendy (6-0, 180) transferred to Pitt State in January from the University of Toledo, where he played the past two seasons.

Redshirt freshmen Antione Nunn Jr. (5-9, 165) and Dominique Shelmon (6-0, 185) also will challenge for playing time at cornerback for the Gorillas.

At safety, the Gorillas welcome back senior Markel Roby, juniors Brandon Mlekus and Adam Smith and sophomore Jeffrey Fordjour.

Roby (6-0, 200) made nine tackles, an interception and a pass breakup in 2020, his first year with the squad. Mlekus (5-11, 194) started all four games at strong safety in 2020, after moving back to defense from the quarterback position where he started 10 games in 2019. Mlekus shared the team tackle lead with 30 stops and he also made a pass breakup.

Smith (5-10, 179) did not see action in 2020, but he made 18 stops with an interception and a pass breakup in 2019. Fordjour (6-1, 199) posted 11 tackles in 2020, including a pair of tackles-for-loss.

Sophomore Jared Flood (5-10, 182) and second year freshman Kade Hicks (6-0, 180) also figure to challenge for playing time.

“Brandon Mlekus’ move back to safety has been a key move to really solidify the defense,” Wright said. “We will need consistency and good fundamental play from our backend players in order to defend the potent offenses in the MIAA. We recruited a considerable amount of talented people to add to our defensive back rooms and I’m excited to watch the competition among this group in the preseason.”

Pitt State Special Teams

The Gorillas will look to redshirt freshman Gentry Cole (5-9, 170) and second year freshman Jaden Snyder and Dominik Stadlman to handle the squad’s punting and place kicking duties.

Stadlman (6-1, 175) punted eight times for a 40.0 yard average in 2020, while Snyder (5-7, 160) connected on a pair of field goals on the season.

“Our specialist group is comprised of all freshmen and last fall was really valuable game experience for each of them,” Wright said. “We expect them to build off of their rookie seasons and really improve in production this fall.”

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