NSU RiverHawks Ready to Win In 2023
By Bill Huddleston
For the Northeastern State University RiverHawks and head coach J.J. Eckert, the upcoming football season provides the opportunity to see the efforts of the past four years produce success in 2023 with a team that’s not only bigger, faster and stronger but also more experienced and understanding of the process.
“Anytime you can bring back close to 50 lettermen, that’s a huge plus because you’ve got some continuity with guys that know what they’re going against every week in the MIAA,” said Eckert. “Last year we had 14 or 15 upperclassmen and this season we have 43 juniors and seniors and that makes a big difference in our league when you’re playing against teams made up of juniors and seniors.”
Eckert points to the depth chart on the offensive line where experience will lead to continuity.
“We’ve got Beau (Curry), Ty (Earp) and Matthew (Harker) that all started 11 games plus Caleb (Davis) and Quinton (Thomas) that were a big part of nine contests returning. Cayson (Badley) getting involved as a freshman is also huge,” Eckert said. “When you start talking about getting better through experience, this an area where you’ll see us have an advantage benefiting from the continuity of 15 practices this spring. It’s a group that will have expectations and an attitude to be effective in 2023.”
With depth and experience upfront, Eckert expects to see the running game be productive.
“You have to able to run the football because of the physicality of this league; find ways to convert on third down and finish possessions.”
That’s where the energy and talents of Loran Kirk and Brayden Gilkey will come into play along with the expected impact of Blake May, a transfer from Southern Arkansas.
NSU also returns experience at quarterback where Ben Ward and Grant Elerick have experience running the team and get another boost with the addition of Sawyer Jones, a Wagoner native and a transfer from the University of Central Oklahoma.
“Ben and Grant are more comfortable in their decision making and just playing football,” said Eckert. “Sawyer brings another benefit with his ability to run the football.”
The receiver’s unit returns limited experience and has yet to find a game-changing performer.
“Will (Bergner), Devin (Blaney), Drew (Elerick), Glenny (Jones) and Eli (Edmonds) all had a good spring camp. They all saw action last year and are capable playmakers. Now we need to see who will take the next step to go make plays happen.”
Eckert also expects tight ends Dean Odom, who started all 11 games as a freshman along with Tre Currin to strengthen the blocking scheme effectiveness as well as being viable targets in the passing attack.
Like the offensive approach, the RiverHawks defensive front holds the trump card for controlling game action at the line of scrimmage.
“Systematically, that’s where we’re strong and experienced,” Eckert confirmed. “Blake (Corn), Chris (Lee), Jarveon (Williams), and Antonio (Johnson) all have an expectation for success. They know the demands of their position. Our incoming recruits and the growth of last year’s redshirts will give us depth that makes the entire defense better.”
The RiverHawks linebacker unit has plenty of talented athletes but remains young in game experience.
“It is an area with a real opportunity to become difference makers. Kendrick (Juniel), Cam’Ron (Holmes), Dalton (Crumbly), Isaac (Little) and Miller (Herndon) are all hungry to make plays,” said Eckert referencing the efforts from spring practices. “I’m also looking forward to watching junior (Makarios) Brown, a transfer from Northwestern State- Louisiana play on Saturdays.”
The secondary unit, which will again be tested by the talented offenses in the MIAA, comes out of the spring in search of depth. Jordan Lamotte, a second team All-MIAA selection, was injured in spring drills leaving John Joseph, LaKedrick Holmes and Johnny Jean as the returning veterans with the most experience.
“We worked a lot of players during spring drills,” Eckert said. “We want to get eight to 10 guys that we can put out there capable of making plays in any situation.”
NSU will once again have proven talent in the kicking game as Tyler Crawford, who toed through three field goals from 50 plus yards and averaged 42 yards per punt returns to help the RiverHawks control field position.
While the 2023 RiverHawks have the pieces to find success this season, Eckert has challenged this year’s team to find a way to finish.
“I believe that we’ve put the right roster together with players that understand what’s required to compete. Now we need to play through the scenarios and not let the scenarios control us and win the close games by sprinting across the goal line from game one through eleven.”
NSU RIVERHAWKS 2023
8-31 – vs. Fort Hays State
9-9 – at Nebraska-Kearney
9-16 – vs. Emporia State
9-23 – at Missouri Southern
9-30 – vs. Pittsburg State
10-7 – at Lincoln
10-14 – vs. Central Missouri
10-21 – vs. Central Oklahoma
10-28 – at Missouri Western
11-4 – vs. Northwest Missouri
11-11 – at Washburn