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Starting the season with an essentially a new team might be cause for alarm or at least a dose of trepidation for a returning veteran.
Nick Allsman is a rare greybeard on a Kansas Wesleyan football team that opens the season this weekend with a plethora of new starters and backups.
He isn’t concerned, though.
“This year we have basically a full reset for the guys that are playing,” said Allsman, a senior tailback who led the Coyotes with 795 yards rushing last fall and is in his fourth season at KWU. “Last year we had almost 40 seniors, this year we don’t even have 10.
“In years past that I’ve been here we’ve brought back a ton of guys that won a lot of games and were chasing a (championship) ring. They felt like they’d proven themselves. This year with everybody being new it’s like they have a chip on their shoulders. They have something to prove, a lot more than they have before.”
Allsman and Co. play Kansas Conference newcomer Evangel at 6 p.m. Saturday in Nixa, Missouri, located just outside Springfield. KWU was 8-3, 7-3 in the KCAC, in 2022.
For Allsman, being a veteran has added responsibilities.
“We’re all chasing the greatness of those ’18 and ’19 teams,” he said. “They won 25 straight conference games and I was a member the last three or four. I’m one of the older guys that people look to as a leader in the way that we do things.
“I was here when a lot of the young guys were freshmen. I’ve watched them grow up in the program and as they’ve improved it’s created a bond between us. They look at me and know that I believe in all of them.”
Allsman’s confidence is high entering the opener primarily because he is injury free and feels good. He took the spring off and didn’t participate in KWU’s 15 practices.
“After last fall I’d played in 50 or 51 games in my college career,” he said. “That’s a lot of contact, a lot of beating on the body. Running back is a physical position. Whether you get the ball or you don’t get the ball you’re getting tackled just about every play.
“Having the ability to take the spring off and get healthy was a big thing. I played seven games with a shoulder injury last year and was able to get my body right. Going into this season I feel as healthy as I have since we had the COVID time off.”
Allsman won’t likely have a heavy workload as tailbacks Mark Benjamin (582 yards) and Tyler Boston (413) also return.
“Mark and I were both all-conference nominees and Tyler Boston was no slouch either,” he said. “Only one starts on Saturday but you give any of us 10 to 15 carries and we can have a hundred yards and couple of touchdowns. What’s nice is we’ll all play about the same amount of snaps in the games and it’s going to be pretty similar.
“I think it’s going to pay dividends. You’ll see in October, November, December when you have all these running backs for other schools that have 150, 200 touches on their bodies and we’re sitting at 85, 90. I think we’re going to be fresher longer and as the year goes on our run game is really going to start to shine.”
Richard Lara will open at quarterback Saturday after starting the last six games and throwing for 899 yards and five touchdowns. Trent Graves, a transfer, could also see duty after battling Lara in camp.
“(Lara) is going to be efficient and I think he’s the guy to really get the ball to the right people and push our offense down the field and allow us to score a lot of points,” Allsman said.
The offense will rely on a rebuilt line that has one returning starter in right tackle Rolandius Williamson. Again, Allsman isn’t too concerned.
“The rest of them that were here – Chris Muns, Jontrell Casimere and Dawson Adams – played in a lot of games,” he said.
Allsman likes the six-team, two-division format the KCAC has adopted this fall.
Teams open the season with six games against the opposing division. Following a bye week October 7, they’ll close the regular season with games against the five teams in their division. The champions advance to NAIA postseason play.
“It’s great because it allows us to get two teams in the playoffs,” Allsman said. “Our first six games matter but as far as postseason goes, they’re irrelevant. We have to win the last five.
“I think it’s fun for us that we’re the team that gets to welcome Evangel to the conference and show them that the KCAC is an elite conference. We want to show them the caliber of football we’ve been playing with the top four or five teams.”
Story by Bob Davidson