By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
As head coach Wes Beachler puts it, the 2019 season was a “pretty rough year.”
“We had low numbers due to quite a few injuries,” he said. “We ended up starting five freshmen in week 10 against Mt. Vernon. Kind of a rough year from that respect but hopefully it will pay dividends this year.”
The Tigers went 0-10 while averaging just eight points per game and allowing 41.7. It was the team’s seventh-straight year without a winning record. The silver lining? Seven sophomores and seven freshmen earned letters.
Numbers have improved this year with 65 to 70 players participating in summer workouts, up from 52 a year ago. And the Nevada team that takes the field this fall will be much more experienced, with 10 starters returning on both sides of the ball. Many of them are still just sophomores and juniors.
Offensively, a few positions remain up in the air. There’s a three-person race for quarterback that includes senior Dylan Beachler, the coach’s son and last year’s starter. Sophomores Case Sanderson and Cade Beshore are also in competition for that role. Sanderson and junior Eli Cheaney are also in the mix at tailback.
At fullback the team has a pair of seniors competing for time in Wesley Balk and Jace Lee. Junior Logan Marquardt is also in competition there. Both of them saw playing time there last season. Both tight ends also return: seniors Riley Trotter and Noah Beshore. Some younger players are in the mix there and could earn a starting spot, as well, like sophomore Drew Beachler, Dylan’s younger brother, and sophomore Steven Zachary. Junior Kartman Highley and junior Gauge Boyd could also see time at tight end.
The offensive line returns a lot of experience. Junior Logan Smith is a returning starter at left guard and junior Jackson Dryer is a returning starter at center. Lukas Higgins, a junior, is competing for the starting left tackle spot. Sophomore Skylur Mashek started at right guard as a freshman and last year’s starting left tackle, senior Charles Ramey-Dias, has moved over to the right side. Senior Nick Williams could also get some reps on the line and newcomer Kenneth Johnson, a sophomore, will compete at guard or tackle.
In the backfield the team returns senior Kaden Denney, though he missed virtually the entire 2019 season. Denney entered as the team’s starting wingback after averaging 6.5 yards per carry as a sophomore. He rushed for 42 yards and recorded six tackles in last year’s season opener – all before leaving halfway through the first quarter with a season-ending injury. Trey Moore, a returning senior, will also be competing for time at wingback and sophomore Gage Miller, one of last year’s lettermen, will see time at tailback. A newcomer to Nevada, junior Anthony Vance, has also been picking up the offense well.
“We’ve got some pretty good running backs,” Beachler said. “Pretty good depth there and at fullback.”
Defensively the Tigers hope to build off some strong moments from late last season. In that week 10 loss to Mt. Vernon, Nevada started five freshmen on offense and managed to hold the Mountaineers scoreless for a quarter before an eventual 33-6 loss.
“Mt. Vernon was obviously a good team last year and pulled away from us late,” Beachler said. “We were happy with how the young guys played so we hope they can build off that.”
On the defensive line the team has senior Blake Pryor, Noah Beshore, senior Riley Trotter, Highley and sophomore Daniel Carlin in the mix at defensive end. Pryor has returned to the sport this year, while Beshore and Trotter started at the ends last season. Williams has looked strong at defensive tackle and Mashek could also see time there. Higgins and Johnson are also in competition at tackle.
Lee and Balk started on and off last year at inside linebacker and should fill those spots. Sophomore Case Sanderson started at outside linebacker as a freshman, while the other outside spot could go to Moore or Cheaney. Zade Lee, Jace’s younger brother, is also looking for time at outside linebacker and Miller and Marquardt are in the mix at inside linebacker.
Denney has a great chance to start at corner after his brief six-tackle performance last year. Cade Beshore, Dylan Beachler and junior JD Downing are also competing for a corner spot. At free safety the team returns a starter in senior Ethan Forkner and Drew Beachler is backing him up. Sophomore Dalton McIntire has moved in from Springfield and is also competing at free safety, along with sophomore Trent Otter.
Beachler said overall team speed should be a strength this fall, as well as size on the offensive line, where the Tigers average 220 or 230 pounds.
“But they’re athletic and pretty quick, too, so that will help us out some,” he said.
Question marks remain on defense after allowing so many points last fall, and it remains to be seen how effective the team’s passing game will be.
“I don’t throw the ball much more than eight to 12 times a game but when we do throw we want to be effective and we weren’t very effective last year,” Beachler said. “We’ve got to be more sound defensively and have a more effective passing game this year. Dylan is a returning starter and I’m not sure he’s got the job this year but (passing) has improved in practice so far. Without the jamboree that first week’s going to be kind of a guessing game. You can look pretty good against your JV guys and scout team but until you get in a game you don’t really know.”
The team was supposed to take part in a jamboree at Carthage. With that event cancelled, Nevada will likely hold a scrimmage instead.
“I think we’ll be much improved,” Beachler said. “I don’t know what that looks like record wise but I know I’ve mentioned the injuries – we lost seven starters last year to injury and we had a lot of young kids playing. I think we’ll be improved.”
“We can call a play and the kids know it,” he said. “Last year we had a lot of kids that were unsure and this year they seem a lot more confident in what we’re doing on both sides of the ball.”