State Colleges

Football 2015: A look at the Heart of America Conference

Tony Adame looks at Kansas teams in the Heart of America Athletic Conference

No. 8 MidAmerica Nazarene

Coach: Brian Willmer, second season, 9-2

2014: 9-2, 8-1 HAAC

Outlook: With proven talent back all over the field, the Pioneers are national championship contenders in Willmer’s second season. Picked to win the South Division in the HAAC’s first year with two divisions, 14 All-HAAC players are back from last year’s league championship team. Leading the way is junior running back Javon Taylor, last year’s HAAC Offensive Player of the Year. Taylor rushed for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Quarterback Trent Hedlund threw for 2,132 yards and 13 touchdowns last season and is also back.

On defense, MidAmerica Nazarene returns six starters, and all earned some type of All-HAAC honor last season, led by second-team safety Derek Pollox. The Pioneers have a big advantage on special teams with the return of sophomore All-American kicker Cristian Casillas. Casillas made 40 of 42 PATs last season and 20 of 26 field goals, including a season-long 50-yarder against Evangel. Third-team All-HAAC punter Patrick Carrigan (37.9 yards) is also back.

Schedule: Aug. 29, Culver-Stockton; Saturday, at William Penn, 6 p.m.; Sept. 12, at Graceland, 6 p.m.; Sept. 19, Benedictine, 11 a.m.; Sept. 26, at Peru State, 1 p.m.; Oct. 3, Grand View, 6 p.m.; Oct. 17, Evangel, 2 p.m.; Oct. 24, at Baker, 11 a.m.; Oct. 31, Avila, 1 p.m.; Nov. 7, at Central Methodist, 1 p.m.; Nov. 14, Missouri Valley, 1 p.m.

No. 15 Baker

Coach: Mike Grossner, 12th season, 73-47

2014: 8-3, 6-3

Outlook: Baker missed the NAIA playoffs last season after two consecutive trips, and junior quarterback Nick Marra is back after an injury-shortened sophomore season. Marra hurt his knee in the first game against Ottawa and played in spot duty the rest of the season — essentially on one leg — getting time in six games while throwing for 1,219 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Wide receiver Clarence Clark is back after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter of the first game last season before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Clark was an All-HAAC pick in 2013 after catching 40 passes for 840 yards and 10 touchdowns. Baker also has an All-American candidate on the offensive line in senior Sheldon Jacks (6-1, 291). Former Scott City and Butler Community College running back Dalton Buehler should also give the offense a boost. Two second-team All-HAAC picks are back on defense – sophomore defensive lineman Josh Kock and senior linebacker Tucker Pauley.

Schedule: Aug. 29, at Grand View; Sept. 5, at Culver-Stockton, noon; Sept. 12, William Penn, 6 p.m.; Sept. 19, Graceland, 6 p.m.; Sept. 26, at Benedictine, 1 p.m.; Oct. 3, Peru State, 2 p.m.; Oct. 17, at Avila, 1 p.m.; Oct. 24, MidAmerica Nazarene, 11 a.m.; Oct. 31, Central Methodist, 1 p.m.; Nov. 7, at Missouri Valley, 1:30 p.m.; Nov. 14, at Evangel, 1:30 p.m.

No. 25 Benedictine

Coach: Larry Wilcox, 35th season, 251-136

2014: 7-4, 6-3

Outlook:Wilcox became one of four NAIA coaches to win 250 games after last season. The Ravens lose a ton of talent, including 12 players who earned some type of All-HAAC honors. The new starters should have ample time to get acclimated, with opening games against Evangel and Avila — both picked in the bottom half of the South Division.

What the Ravens do have back is elite talent at several skill positions. Senior running back Tyler Henness led the HAAC with 1,488 rushing yards last season. Senior Christian Haack racked up 1,160 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns on the way to being named All-HAAC at athlete.

Schedule: Aug. 29, Evangel; Sept. 5, at Avila, 1 p.m.; Sept. 12, Missouri Valley, 11 a.m.; Sept. 19, at MidAmerica Nazarene, 11 a.m.; Sept. 26, Baker, 1 p.m.; Oct. 3, at Central Methodist, 6 p.m.; Oct. 10, Culver-Stockton, 11 a.m.; Oct. 24, Graceland, 1 p.m.; Oct. 31, at William Penn, 11 a.m.; Nov. 7, Grand View, 1 p.m.; Nov. 14, at Peru State, 1 p.m.