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Kearney, Neb. – The Nebraska Kearney football team begins workouts this Wednesday, March 22, with a spring game set for Saturday, April 22. NCAA Division II teams are allotted 15 practices over a 30-day period in the spring. The Lopers will mainly practice two or three times a week from 4-6 p.m. with one morning scrimmage set for Saturday, April 1. All practices and scrimmages are open the public; more details about the spring game will be released in mid-April.
Head coach Ryan Held took over the reins of the Loper program in late December and brought in an entirely new staff of coaches. UNK then signed 25 players in February (seven transfers and 18 high school seniors) and will add some more newcomers prior to fall camp in August. Four of the transfers enrolled in January and having been taking part in winter conditioning.
UNK went 8-3 in 2022, tying for third place in the MIAA and spending several weeks in the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) D2 Top 25 poll. Seven offensive, three special teams and two defensive starters return, as do nine All-MIAA selections (2021 and 2022 honorees).
The “super seniors” include quarterback TJ Davis (Colorado Springs), left guard Hunter Hays (McCook) and punter Hunter Kraus (Taylor), each a 2022 All-American. Davis finished seventh in the voting for the Harlon Hill Trophy after amassing 2,506 yards of offense. Hays is part of a talented o-line that includes fellow all-league picks Jon Merten (Albion) and Kooper Reece (Valentine). Reece missed the second half of 2022 due to injury and with redshirt sophomore Hunter Push (Omaha North) replacing him in the starting lineup at left tackle.
Next, back Damien Cearns (Denver) earned honorable mention All-MIAA honors after averaging 6.6 yards per carry with five of the top six receivers returning. That group includes super senior Xavier Delk (Aurora, Colo.) and junior Zorian Stanton (Jacksonville, Fla.).
End Tell Spies (Mullen) and free safety Tre O’Guinn (Peoria, Ariz.) both made the 2022 All-MIAA team and are the returning starters on defense. The unit gets a boost with the return of inside backer Zach Schlager (McCook), a 2021 all-conference pick who missed last fall due to injury, with corner Armani Webster (Chicago) and safety Sethe Holt (Chicago) two more super seniors. All toll, 13 of the top 17 tacklers must be replaced.
On special teams, Kraus and long snapper Josh Churchill (Millard West) helped UNK lead all of Division II in net punting (41.5) in 2022. Finally, Kyle Failing (Port Orchard. Wash.) returns after averaging a healthy 59.8 yards on kickoffs.
UNK begins the 2023 season on Thursday, Aug. 31, at Central Oklahoma with the home opener coming on Saturday, Sept. 9, against Northeastern State.