Bronchos Stampede Into 2018 Season
As they enter the 2018-19 season, the University of Central Oklahoma football team is looking to find new leaders and answer key questions to build off last season’s 8-4 record.
Priority number one is deciding who will take over as quarterback after graduated Chas Stallard, the program’s all-time leading passer, according to head coach Nick Bobeck.
“I think we’re more talented at the quarterback position, but the question is are we better,” Bobeck said.
The three leading candidates are sophomores Chandler Garrett, Keats Calhoon and Will Collins.
Both Garrett and Calhoon saw action last year, with Garrett being used in a short yardage package, running for 266 yards and seven touchdowns.
Calhoon appeared in three games last season, tossing one touchdown, while Collins possess the arm strength and mobility that the coaches are looking for, according to Bobeck.
“I like the group we have and I know that someone is going to come out of here and put us in a great position to win some football games,” Bobeck said.
The other notable position battle is on offense, at guard, where the Bronchos must replace graduated starter Aaron Williams.
“We’ve got some options that we feel good about,” Bobeck said.
Bobeck said the top three candidates are junior Ben Raulston and redshirt freshmen J.W. Morrow and Chase Slack. He said that he is also not opposed to moving starting tackle Noah Hammonds to guard if he is the best option.
“He’s played a bunch of football in his time here at UCO,” Bobeck said. “He’s probably the smartest offensive linemen I’ve ever coached.”
If Hammonds does move to guard, Bobeck said to look for Raulston or seniors David Seagle and Jacob Blair to take his place at tackle.
“We feel good about this group as a whole and we feel like this is going to be a strength of our offense,” Bobeck said.
Last year’s injuries and graduations also provided opportunities to freshmen Jake Standlee and Bruce White.
Standlee is a versatile back who finished third in rushing with 345 yards and three touchdowns, while also finishing fourth in receptions and yards with 20 for 152.
White, a former walk-on, was pressed into the starting job against University of Central Missouri and responded with a 134 yard and two touchdown day. He finished second on the team in rushing with 527 yards and four touchdowns, including 200 in the Bronchos’ Corsicana Bowl win last season.
Sixth-year senior Clay McKenzie is back after missing the last 10 games of the previous season because of a knee injury. He ran for 117 yards and making two touchdowns before the injury.
Rounding out the group are Tyriq French, a junior college transfer and converted receiver, and Justin Curry, a Samford University transfer.
Similar to the quarterback, Bobeck said there may not be a permanent starter and that the Bronchos will have to see what happens for the group.
Out wide, the Bronchos have to replace two of the most decorated receivers in program history, J.T. Luper and Josh Crockett. Their departure left a talented but inexperienced group behind, according to Bobeck.
“We’ve probably got the most talented group of kids in the conference since we’ve been here,” Bobeck said. “It’s just a matter of who is going to come in and do it.”
Junior L’liott Curry is the veteran of the group, having appeared in all 12 games last season and having finished with 32 receptions for 600 yards and six touchdowns.
The Bronchos’ coaches said they are also excited about junior Dustin Basks, who only appeared in five games last season due to injury. He scored two touchdowns in his first game back against Missouri Southern.
Redshirt freshman Mekail Hall is a rangy target who has earned praise from Bobeck since he stepped on campus. Hall is counted on to make an impact, along with 6-foot-4-inch University of Alabama-Birmingham transfer Ronald Turner Jr., according to Bobeck.
Turner made nine starts for UAB last season, finishing with 28 receptions for 262 yards and one touchdown.
“We’re trying to figure out what their roles are and making sure they’re in a good position to be successful,” Bobeck said.
With all three starters back, the linebacker unit is the strength of the defense, according to Bobeck. The unit is led by senior middle linebacker Colton Lindsey, who led in tackles last season with 100.
He is joined by outside linebackers Chris Pogi and Alex Figueroa. Figueroa led in tackles for loss with 11.5 and sacks with five. Both Figueroa and Lindsey earned All-Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association honors last season.
“We get all three starters back and we brought in two good transfers at mid-year in Bryan Burns and Dillion Hall,” Bobeck said. “We feel like we have eight linebackers who can play. It’s probably the strength of the team.”
Bobeck said he expects redshirt freshman Brock Berus to see time, as well as senior Langston Underwood, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship after spring practices.
“We feel like he’s going to be a really good football player for us,” Bobeck said about Underwood.
The defensive line is led by senior Carson Smith at nose tackle. He earned Third-Team All-MIAA last season.
“Carson Smith is one of the best defensive linemen in all of Division II,” Bobeck said.
The spot opposite next to Smith is still undecided, but Bobeck said he likes the two transfers he brought in Mike Rios from the University of Tulsa, and Kahewai Kaaiawaawa, a 300-pounder from Garden City Community College.
Whoever wins the job will be flanked by a group of ends in seniors Eli Hooks, Trey Wormington, Justin Stewart and Noble Lybrand, who moved in from tackle.
“We’re probably more talented on the defensive line then we’ve been since 2015,” Bobeck said. “I don’t know if we’re as game ready as that group yet.”
The secondary received a huge boost when sixth-year senior Addison Staggs was granted another year. He will lead a veteran group with returning starters Malik Walker, O’Shay Harris and Barry Higdon.
“We had a really good spring with the secondary,” Bobeck said. “We’re not only good in coverage, but do a good job in run support. It’s the most improved group.”
He also said to look for redshirt freshmen Daniel Baughman and Kolby Underwood to see time in play after an impressive spring.
The kicking game returns intact with sophomore kicker Alex Quevedo. As a true freshman, he hit 9-12 field goals and all 40 of his extra points. Junior punter Jay Tedesco returns after averaging 40 yards per punt, landing 16 inside the 20-yard line.
“Alex did a great job for us as a true freshman,” Bobeck said. “Jay Tedesco also did very well. He has great ability and we’re looking forward to him progressing.”
While the Bronchos might have questions yet to be answered, Bobeck said the team’s goal remains the same.
“The only football goal we have is to win a national championship,” Bobeck said. “To do that we need to start fast and build confidence.”
The Bronchos open the season Aug. 30 at Pittsburgh State University in Pittsburgh, Kansas.