Three standouts from the McCook graduating class of 2009 are playing key roles for the Lopers this fall. Another former Bison standout is redshirted this season with plans to get on the field next season.
Matt Berry moved from starting wide receiver to quarterback Saturday, Sept. 22, against Northwest Missouri State after UNK's top three quarterbacks went down with injuries. Berry had not played under center since he led the Bison to the Class B state playoff semifinals in the fall of 2008. But he performed well with 110 rushing yards and an 18-for-29 passing effort and 163 passing yards in a 37-13 loss to the nationally-ranked Bearcats.
Tyrone Sellers transferred from Kansas U. to Kearney this season. Sellers is a back-up defensive end for the Lopers, and he alternated in the line during Saturday's contest but did not record a tackle.
Mark Nichols decided to switch from basketball at North Platte Community College to football at UNK this fall. The 2010 McCook High School graduate is redshirting this season, and he will enter next season with three years of eligibility remaining. Nichols is playing wide receiver for the Lopers.
"I was nervous coming into the game. I haven't played quarterback since my senior year of high school," Matt said in an interview after last Saturday's game. "I felt like the team really had confidence in me, and that really gave me a boost. Everybody came up to me and said, 'You've got this team, let's lead it.' That really made me feel good. So I just stepped up and try to make plays for the team."
After a slow start, the UNK offense picked up steam in the second half. The Lopers, trailing 13-0 at halftime, scored midway through the third quarter when the left-handed Berry flipped a 15-yard touchdown pass to Cody Anthony. Unfortunately, Northwest Missouri tallied 17 unanswered points to take a commanding 30-7 lead early in the final period.
Berry led UNK on a quick 74-yard, 10-play march late in the contest that ended when the former Bison sprinted 2 yards for a touchdown.
"We definitely gelled in the second half. The team started coming together," Berry said. "We had a couple of bad plays that kind of hurt us.
"That was my first gig at quarterback. Everybody was getting used to how I do it in different ways. I'm definitely looking forward to what this team can do. We have some games left on the schedule that we can win, no doubt. So we're going to go into each and every week ready to win."
Berry is expected to run the UNK offense again this Saturday when the Lopers travel to St. Charles, Mo. to face another Lindenwood University.
"I started feeling a lot more comfortable (as the game progressed)," Berry said of last week's effort. "At the start of the game, I'm not going to lie, I was nervous. But the team really rallied around me and got me going. I'm definitely going to feel a lot more comfortable next week."
GOLTL SAID his former Bison quarterback did a great job in last Saturday's game.
"We had faith in him," Dillon said of Berry. "Once he took a few snaps, it would be like riding a bike, he would get back into it. He did a hell of a job out here for us. I'm really proud of him. I wish I could have made a few more plays and helped out, but that's kind of the way it goes."
Goltl, a redshirt junior like Berry, scored his first collegiate touchdown earlier this season.
"It was kind of a relief to get that one out of the way," Dillon said.
Goltl said he is enjoying increased playing time this fall.
"It feels good to get in there and rotate with the starters," he said. "Get in there and do what you can do and help us get a win."
UNK joined the competitive Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletes Association (MIAA) this year, and so far the Lopers have not earned a win in four league games. Goltl said the four early losses is more than he has ever experienced in a season playing for the Bison or his first three years in Kearney.
It's kind of a change," he said. "They're great (league) teams -- you can't take anything away from them. But four losses, that's quite a few for a team that has the athletes and great coaches that we do. We're going to get it turned around and get it going."
SELLERS DECIDED to leave Kansas after Charlie Weis was hired as head coach of the Jayhawks last spring. Sellers said that was the third head coach he had in his KU career.
"The guys that originally recruited me, they had been gone for several years," Tyrone said. "It felt like it was time to go."
He was happy to join his former Bison teammates in the UNK program.
"It's pretty nice having some old McCook teammates on the team, as well as some guys from Nebraska that I played against and that I know," Sellers said.
Tyrone said the switch from major college football to the lower NCAA Division II ranks is different, with different teams, different styles of play.
"But it's just as tough, having to prepare every week," he said after last Saturday's game. "We just played a good team, and that showed."
ALL THREE former Bison standouts said they have follow their former high school team this season.
"They're doing better," Sellers said of the 3-2 Bison. "The first two games didn't go the way they wanted them to (losses to Aurora and Scottsbluff). But they're getting better and learning. That senior class is working hard and they have been for years. I've known them since they were little. It's kind of fun hearing about them play.
Berry said he listened on the radio to McCook's 34-12 win over Sidney last Friday night.
"A big win for them. They are rebounding like we need to do here," Matt said. "They've come together as a team and we need to do that here, too, and finish the season."
With their successful high school football experiences, the Bison trio will likely be leaders as UNK battles to find success this season.