Tabor College was one of four teams in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference to receive votes in the preseason NAIA top 25 poll. So head coach Mike Gardner considers his football team to be in the mix of KCAC contenders.
He knows a conference title won’t be easily captured, though.
“There has to be a lot of things that fall into place,” Gardner said. “You have to be a little lucky, and you have to be able to create your own breaks.”
The Bluejays’ schedule certainly didn’t create breaks for them. Tabor will face Sterling, Friends, and Ottawa — the other three vote-getters in the poll — on the road.
“Those games on the road are going to be something that’s extremely important,” he said. “It’s why our preparation has to be so fine-tuned.”
Gardner employs a run-heavy, option-based system. He said defenses will have to prepare for the possibility of an option play regardless of down and distance.
The focal point of his offense is quarterback Simon McKee. Last year, a shoulder injury limited McKee to just two games, in which he carried the ball 27 times for 161 yards.
He also completed 12 of 18 passes in those games for 149 yards and a touchdown.
Gardner said he’s not afraid to incorporate passing into the offense “if we feel we have a guy that can get it done through the air.”
Gardner said McKee is “starting to get there,” and is giving his best effort.
“He’s going to be as good as he can be, given the physical situation,” Gardner said.
On defense, the Bluejays feature some local faces, including first-team all-conference linebacker Ben Gardner of Hillsboro and defensive lineman Dylan Delk of Peabody.
Neither of them play in the position group Coach Gardner considers the team’s biggest question mark: the secondary.
“If we can come together, we’re going to be a solid unit,” he said.
The Bluejays kick off their season Saturday at Lyon College.
“They’re very athletic,” Coach Gardner said. “It’s definitely one of those situations where we’re gonna have to play exceptionally well to win the game and compete.”