Don Weast, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
Emporia State football’s presence in the national spotlight continues to grow. The Hornets are ranked No. 4 in Lindy’s Division II Preseason Top 25 to match their spot in the Street & Smith’s Magazine NCAA Division II Football Preseason Top 25. It is the highest preseason ranking ever for Emporia State.
The Hornets have made the playoffs in three of the last four years and are set to return 13 starters, seven on offense and six on defense, along with all of their specialists next year. Headlining the returners is Lindy’s pick for Preseason National Offensive Player of the Year junior quarterback Braxton Marstall. Emporia State won 11 straight games last year on the way to an 11-2 overall mark, with both losses coming to the eventual national champion and this year’s preseason #1 Northwest Missouri.
Marstall is the magazine’s preseason pick for All-American at quarterback. As a sophomore he threw for 3,599 yards and 31 touchdowns while adding 515 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. He is ranked third on the Emporia State single season chart in passing yards and touchdown passes, and is second in total offense. His 481 passing yards against Minn.-Duluth in the playoffs is the fifth best single game total in MIAA history.
He will have three of his top four receivers back from last year in Justin Brown, Morris Williams and Louis Dailey. Brown caught 73 passes for 738 yards and eight touchdowns while Williams and Dailey combined for 72 receptions for 916 yards and nine touchdowns. Brown was a second-team All-MIAA performer as a sophomore last year. Landon Nault is back for his junior year after leading the Hornets in rushing last year with 651 yards and four touchdowns. Four players that have started in the playoffs are set to return on the offensive line.
Defensively, Emporia State will need to replace four of their top five tacklers from last season, but do return their second leading tackler from last year in linebacker Gabe Cleveland along with all-region defensive back AJ West. Cleveland had 66 tackles last season, including a career high 13 stops at Northwest Missouri in the playoffs. West had 44 tackles with an interception, three pass break ups and a 35 yard fumble return for a touchdown last year.
On special teams the Hornets return their kicker, punter, and deep snapper for their fourth year together. Kicker Austin Morton was second in the MIAA in kick scoring, going 55 of 57 on PATs and hitting 14 field goals. He holds the Emporia State and NCAA single game playoff record with five made field goals at Henderson State in 2015 and is second all-time in made field goals at Emporia State with 46 makes.
Emporia State is one of three MIAA teams and one of seven Super Region-3 teams in the top 25. Starting next season the MIAA will be in a Super Region with the Great American Conference (GAC), Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) and Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC). The top four teams in Lindy’s Preseason Poll and five of the top six are from this region.
For the second year in a row Emporia State will open the season in a playoff rematch against defending national champion and preseason #1 Northwest Missouri. The two will match-up in Maryville, Mo. for the fourth time in their last five meetings on Thursday, August 31, the opening night of MIAA football.
Jones Field at Welch Stadium will be the site of six home games for Emporia State this fall starting with Nebraska-Kearney on September 7. The Hornets are 28-10 in the last seven years at home with five of the losses coming to teams ranked in the top 15 at the time. Season tickets are on sale now through the ticket info link on esuhornets.com and in the Athletic Ticket Office in the ESU Memorial Union.
Lindy’s NCAA Division II
Preseason Top 25
1. Northwest Missouri 15-0
2. Ferris State 12-3
3. Grand Valley State 12-1
4. EMPORIA STATE 11-2
5. Indiana (PA) 10-2
6. Harding 13-1
7. California (PA) 11-1
8. Texas A&M-Commerce 11-2
9. UNC-Pembroke 10-2
10. Sioux Falls 12-1
11. Minnesota-Duluth 10-2
12. LIU Post 12-1
13. Azusa Pacific 9-3
14. Colorado School of Mines 10-3
15. Shepherd 13-1
16. North Greenville 9-5
17. Valdosta State 8-3
18. Central Missouri 9-3
19. North Alabama 11-2
20. Ashland 9-2
21. Newberry 10-2
22. Tuskegee 9-3
23. Texas A&M-Kingsville 9-3
24. West Georgia 7-4
25. Colorado-Mesa 9-3
MIAA Teams in Bold
Super Region 3 Teams in Italics
Lindy’s Preseason All-Americans
QB – BRAXTON MARSTALL (EMPORIA STATE)
RB – Marty Carter (Grand Valley State)
RB – Max Mickey (Sioux Falls)
WR – Damon Gibson (Minn. St.-Moorhead)
WR – Brody Oliver (Colorado Mines)
TE – Eric Fuller (Minnesota State)
OL – Joe Hillin (Mars Hill)
OL – Andrew Alten (Findlay)
OL – Alex Capps (Humboldt State)
OL – George Roberts (Delta State)
OL- Jake Daugherty (Ferris State)
DL – Whitney Richardson (Lane)
DL – Zach Sieler (Ferris State)
DL -Marcus Martin (Slippery Rock)
DL – Brandon Jones (TAMU-Kingsville)
LB – David Smith (Morehouse)
LB – Zach Bassuener (Minnesota-Duluth)
LB – Osband Thompson (Tuskegee)
DB – Carlo Thomas (Johnson C. Smith)
DB – Drew Hebel (Black Hills State)
DB – Joshua Simmons (Limestone)
DB – Tavierre Thomas (Ferris State)
K – Ryan Sheehan (Colorado Mesa)
P – Carter Anchors (Pittsburg State)
AP – Antwuan Haynes (Florida Tech)
Off. Player of the Year: Braxton Marstall, QB, Emporia State
Def. Player of the Year: Whitney Richardson, DL, Lane
Most Valuable Player: Marty Carter, RB, Grand Valley State
Newcomer of the Year: Beau Reilly, QB, TAMU-Kingsville