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Emporia State

Stingers Up as Austin Willis Latches On With Raiders

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Helmets off to Austin Willis, the former Emporia State wideout who is on an NFL team. How good does it feel to say that?

Willis, who scampered by defensive backs routinely for touchdowns and big plays the final three years of his career at ESU, was offered a deal by the Oakland Raiders over the weekend. Sub-4.4 speed helped to gain the Riders coaching staff’s attention, but Willis also must have demonstrated an acuity for picking up on things quickly for them to maintain interest.

After spot duty on special teams his freshman year, Willis gradually added playing time and by his junior year he couldn’t be rooted out of the starting lineup, catching 10 touchdown passes as a junior and accumulating over 2,000 receiving yards in his career.

Numbers like that would get instant notice if Willis was in a Division I Power 5 conference. Even though Willis played in the toughest football conference in Division II, his name wasn’t mentioned all that much — if at all — leading up to the NFL Draft.

Such is life if you play football in any other level than D-I.

On KVOE’s Morning Show earlier this week, Ron Thomas made a great point in that technology now has made it much easier for scouts to unearth talent. I wouldn’t go so far as to say things are tilting in favor of D-II athletes, however. Even with the stated goal of trying to find talent everywhere, there is a reason NFL rosters are so heavily stacked with D-1 players. It’s the best college competition and players have proven themselves at what is basically a minor league football level. So it makes sense to keep the attention on D-1, often — and unfortunately — at the expense of D-II players or other levels who just need a chance to show they can measure up.

Willis got his chance. And he measured up.

Besides being a big win for Willis, this is also a major recruiting coup for ESU. The Hornets now have had several players get more than a cursory look by NFL teams since Garin Higgins became coach, like Chris Poston and Adam Schiltz, who has been with Tennessee TItans’  and the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad during his career. It’s not being part of the 45-man roster, but at least the dream is still viable without going to Canada or Europe to play. If Willis can stick with the Raiders, Emporia State stands to benefit as impressionable teenagers look for a place to play college football.

Can Willis capture some of the magic that kept Rod Smith of Missouri Southern as one of the NFL’s elite receivers and that’s propelling John Brown, a Pittsburg State wideout, to stardom? Perhaps. There’s nothing he can do about his size, so he will have to be a precise route-runner, possess soft hands and a spongy brain, and make himself versatile — likely special teams — to make it hard for the Raiders to cut ties. Austin Willis has made it this far because of those qualities, and a door has opened as a result. He’s poised to walk through to stardom if everything works out in his favor.


Schiltz Comes Home…Or Close Enough for Us Hornet Fans

esuhelmetThis weekend, the Kansas City Chiefs gave Emporia State University Hornet football fans yet another reason to pay attention to training camp by bringing in former Hornet standout Adam Schiltz.

KC claimed Schiltz off waivers from Tennessee, who had the former ESU tight end on its practice squad for most of the 2013 season.

For the Chiefs, it’s a move that makes sense because they just lost Sean McGrath to retirement, and there have been questions about the position. Anthony Fasano returns, but after that there is really no name-brand, dependable option, Demetrius Harris is big at 6-7, but he’s probably more raw at the position than Schiltz. Travis Kelce appears to be Fasano’s main backup, so Schiltz has a fair amount of competition for that third TE spot.

For Schiltz, it’s a second chance to latch on to an NFL team. Schiltz became a go-to guy as Emporia State’s offense became more wide open his junior and senior season, catching 44 balls for over 500 yards and four scores as the Hornets won the Kanza Bowl. Schiltz’s size won’t overwhelm anybody — 6-foot-3, 245 pounds — but he could always get space in third-down situations and his body positioning was always solid if coverage was tight. He also developed into a good blocker as his career progressed.

Schiltz became an integral part of Emporia State’s offense, and with the Chiefs’ tight end position in flux, he has a chance to become a third-down specialist and then expand his role from there.  Tight ends didn’t catch a lot of balls from QB Alex Smith last year (less than 60 catches combined out of almost 550 passes thrown), but the role the Chiefs’ short passing game had in the team’s overall offense was well-documented, even as the team got more accustomed to Andy Reid’s offense and used a more vertical approach in the back half of the season.

Schiltz seems to be a good fit. Now he has to distinguish himself in a relatively crowded field.

First Takes and Second Helpings, December 2013


Man. I can’t believe it has been months since I last posted anything. Well, yes, I can, but that’s for another post.

It has been a busy quarter-year. Locally, we’re looking for a new city manager, the college football team made the D-2 playoffs and the women’s basketball team is in the nation’s top three.

Nationally, the Affordable Care Act still gets raked over the coals, two members of Pussy Riot were released from prison and a basketball head coach made headlines for comments about size and snipers (in one of the best postgame rants of all time).

And now that I have your attention (in no particular order)…

OWH_logo1. Am I glad this isn’t 1983. The Omaha World-Herald just published a story on December 1983. Worst winter weather of my life. A week straight where the high temperature didn’t crack zero. Lows of -15 to -24, and that’s just the air temperature. Christmas Eve saw a high of -11 and an obscene wind chill of -72 (calculated differently than we do today, but still…). A foot-plus of snow already on the ground which didn’t start to melt until February. Not how you want to spend your Christmas break at any age, but especially as a teenager. 1989 was almost as bad. I took a flight from Tucson back home at the end of my first semester break at the University of Arizona. Temperature when I left: Around 60 degrees. Temperature when I got back home: -15.

2. Thank you, Barry Hinson. Wish we had more honest postgame news conferences such as his from a couple weeks ago.

3. It was hard to get into the Christmas spirit this year. Until the gifts opened up. Blame the shorter shopping season, blame Target’s credit card security breach, blame the busy schedule, blame whatever. However, watching everybody’s faces when they tore away the wrapping paper…it’s hard not to enjoy that.

catsstevens214. I’m still looking for a relatively new rock band I can gravitate towards. Not really feeling the shouty, wall of noise nature of rock today. And now I know how my parents feel when they listen to a lot of the rock that I like. Unnerving. On the flip side, I’m really wondering 1) why I didn’t get Rush’s Vapor Trails earlier and 2) why I got away from the fusion jazz that I used to really enjoy. And 3) how in the world Cat Stevens goes into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside Nirvana and Kiss. And 4) what’s it going to take for me to actually want to play my bass again. Talk about unnerving. So that’s what happens when you’re followed by a moonshadow.

5. Returning to weather. The way this winter has gone — gradual warmups followed by sudden cold snaps — we’re setting up for an early severe weather outbreak. Just saying. It’s way, way too much like a spring weather pattern with colder temperatures for my liking.


That’s it from here. Back to you.

Game preview: Emporia State vs. Northeastern (Okla.) State

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ESU vs. Northeastern State
Game time: 1 pm, Welch Stadium
Coverage: Noon, Mix 104.9 FM and

Following its record-setting 54-38 shootout win over Central Oklahoma last weekend, Emporia State has entered the AFCA rankings for the first time at No. 24. Northeastern State, however, wasn’t close to the national ratings when Saturday began and fell further away from the rankings after a 48-3 loss to Washburn.

Based on trends and available personnel, this should be an easy win for the Black and Gold. Should be.

Keys to a win:

Running game. Hornet running game found some holes in the second half against Central Oklahoma, helping to blunt Central’s comeback efforts. Riverhawks were counting on running back Joel Rockmore to carry the offensive load, but he’s done for weeks after injuring his knee against Missouri Southern. Advantage: Hornets

Defense (clap clap) defense (clap clap). Last two games haven’t been stellar for ESU, but Central Oklahoma has the athletes to gash even the better defenses in the MIAA. Despite giving up nearly 50 points last weekend, NSU’s defense was a bright spot for the team after forcing five interceptions. Advantage: Hornets.

Tempo. Northeastern State has eight starters out for the year. If the Hornets can maintain an uptempo pace for most of the game, the second half could get real ugly for the visitors from Tahlequah. Advantage: Hornets.

Final score: ESU 55, Northeastern State 24

Game Preview: Emporia State at Central Oklahoma


Emporia State at Central Oklahoma
Game time: 6 pm, Edmond, Okla.
Pregame: 5 pm, Mix 104.9 FM and

Emporia State wasn’t burned for playing one good half of football as they cruised to a 34-21 win over Nebraska-Kearney last week. Central Oklahoma, however, simply could not stop Pittsburg State en route to its second straight loss.

The keys to victory:

Rushing attack. UCO’s Joshua Birmingham has done well to start the season, with 150-plus yards against Pittsburg State and 172 yards against Missouri Southern. However, ESU did a good job bottling him up last year in Emporia. Meanwhile, Dozie Iwaugwu adds a slippery dimension to the Hornet rushing attack that has been hard to stop since he started running downhill about halfway through the Fort Hays win. Advantage: Hornets

Defense. In Central Oklahoma’s case, there isn’t much of it. Pitt State gained nearly 600 yards last week with Missouri Southern tacking on 473. ESU wore down defensively against Nebraska-Kearney, but a strong start was more than enough to help seal the win. Advantage: Hornets

Motivation: ESU is fighting mad, thinking they lost a chance to make an early statement that these aren’t the same old Hornets from the past decade. Central Oklahoma is honestly fighting for its season, but it needed ESU to be a lot more complacent coming in. Advantage: Hornets

Final score: ESU 48, UCO 23

Game Preview: ESU vs Nebraska-Kearney

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Emporia State vs. Nebraska-Kearney
Game time: 6 pm, Welch Stadium
Coverage: 5 pm, Mix 104.9 and

Last week, Emporia State dominated Fort Hays State, while Nebraska-Kearney was on the wrong end of things against Washburn.

The Lopers’ seven turnovers makes it difficult to really determine just how good Nebraska-Kearney is after UNK suffered through a terrible 2012, going through a half-dozen quarterbacks, shrinking the playbook  and thoroughly plucking the bloom off what was supposed to be a dominating year in a new conference.

ESU, meanwhile, turned up the offensive octane as last week’s game progressed, amassing nearly 600 yards of total offense and throwing a stifling run defense at Fort Hays.

How do you handicap an early-season game where the two participants had such different outcomes the week before? And you haven’t even factored in the thorough beating ESU gave Kearney last year.

As usual, it comes down to several things. In this case, I’m looking at quarterback play, line play and turnovers. I’ve also found an intangible — motivation — which may well play into the final result.

QB. ESU sophomore Brent Wilson didn’t seem fazed at all in his first college start, passing for 301 yards, rushing for over 70 more and accounting for five touchdowns. Bronson Marsh, the Nebraska transfer, didn’t fare nearly as well, throwing for 163 yards and three interceptions. Marsh may be more comfortable in the pocket this week — if ESU lets him be. Advantage: Hornets.

Line play: ESU’s lines are bigger than they have been in some time, and it showed. The Hornets dominated their Fort Hays State counterparts last week. Lopers did gash Washburn for nearly 190 rushing yards, however. Advantage: Hornets.

Turnovers: If Nebraska-Kearney turns the ball over seven times, this could get really ugly. ESU was relatively mistake-free last week, and I think the Hornets can do a better job of turning mistakes into points than UNK can. Advantage: Hornets.

Motivation: UNK thought it could flatten ESU last year just by attending the game, and guess how well that happened. So the Lopers are, well, highly motivated to do unto others as they had done unto them. ESU wants to carry the momentum from last year — and last week — forward. The question is which motivational tool is stronger, and pure, unadulterated revenge is hard to beat. Advantage: Lopers.

Final score: ESU 27, UNK 20

Football Preview: ESU vs Fort Hays State

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Emporia State at Fort Hays State
Kickoff: 7 pm Thursday
Pregame: 6 pm, Mix 104.9 and

The 2013 college football season begins Thursday for the Emporia State Hornets, and it starts the way it has the past few seasons — against in-state rival Fort Hays State.

Two years ago, the Hornets couldn’t get out of their own way in 104-degree heat and wound up wilting in Hays. Last year, ESU was focused and pretty well ran roughshod over the visiting Tigers.

So how does the 2013 season opener play out? I see four areas which could decide the game.

Quarterback. Both teams are relying on youngsters, with the Hornets turning to sophomore Brent Wilson and Hays putting Treveon Albert under center. Because of injuries to All-Region QB Tyler Eckenrode, Wilson perhaps got more playing time than expected last year, which should help him ease into the starting role this year. Albert, meanwhile, played QB in high school but was utilized as a running back, receiver and kick returner last season. Advantage: Hornets

Defense. Hornets were strong defensively last year, and despite the losses of leading tackler Ben Carlson and interception guru Derek Lohmann the D should be strong again, anchored this year by LB Jordan Sanders and CB Chris Poston. Secondary could be a strength for Hays, but the Tigers don’t have as much depth as ESU does along the line or at linebacker. Advantage: Hornets

Special teams. ESU will rely on Eli Kuhns, mainly used for lengthy field goals last year, as the team’s primary kicker. The Tigers will counter with Drew O’Brien, a sophomore who struggled at times with extra points. Both teams should be explosive returning kicks at times during the season, but the question Thursday becomes which team makes more mistakes in the opener. Advantage: Push

Coaching. It’s Garin Higgins’ seventh season at the helm for ESU and Chris Brown’s third leading Fort Hays State. Higgins is tasked with continuing the momentum that started building last year, no small order given the loss of Eckenrode at QB and the talent lost on defense. However, Year 3 has become the year when people expect moribund programs to take significant strides forward. Hornet coaching staff has come into its own the past few seasons, so expect ESU to make the right calls in critical situations. Whether they get executed properly…Advantage: Hornets

Final score: ESU 27, Fort Hays 13

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