BELTON — Two days after his team’s quarterfinal playoff loss to Wisconsin-Whitewater, it was time for Mary Hardin-Baylor coach Pete Fredenburg to begin preparing for life without a group of players who contributed so much to his program.
Saturday’s 26-7 defeat against the Warhawks was the final game for a Crusaders senior class that posted a 56-2 record, advanced to the Stagg Bowl three times and won two NCAA Division III national championships.
“I’m really proud of this senior class and all that they accomplished,” Fredenburg said Monday.
On the offensive side of the ball, that senior class includes starting quarterback Jase Hammack — who was 23-1 as a starter during his two seasons at UMHB — backup quarterback Luke Poorman and receiver Jonel Reed, who set single-season records this year for touchdown catches and yards receiving and finished third on the program’s career list for receptions and yards.
Among the defensive players the Crusaders lose are linebacker Tevin Jones and linemen Joey Longoria, Elijah Cross and Isaiah Johnson.
Jones set UMHB and American Southwest Conference single-season records for tackles this year and finished second on the Crusaders’ career list, and Longoria is a semifinalist for the Gagliardi Trophy — given annually to Division III’s top player.
“Joey is going to be tough to replace because it’s so tough to find someone who can dominate from that position,” Fredenburg said. “But you know, you can’t pick just one of those guys because they’re all so special.”
The Crusaders’ cupboard isn’t bare, though, even if it’s tough to say goodbye to the departing players.
“We had some young guys like (freshman offensive lineman) Russell Hogue, who came in and did the things that he did. (Freshman quarterback) Tommy Bowden did some really good things,” Fredenburg said. “We have some things to be thankful for, but then you look at it and see that we’re losing guys like Jonel Reed and Tevin Jones and Joey Longoria and others. It balances out.”
Back to work
Despite Saturday’s loss, the coaches’ offices were buzzing with activity Monday as the staff readies for a busy stretch of recruiting.
“I told our guys they had Sunday to mourn, then we’re going to work. That’s what we’re doing today,” Fredenburg said. “We’re evaluating and doing exit interviews, seeing who’s committed to this program and who we can count on, then we’ll develop our recruiting needs.
“Other people have been recruiting the whole time we’ve been in the playoffs. We don’t have time to waste. We’re going to get exit interviews done, get us a game plan and hit the road.”
New starting QB
With the departure of Hammack and Poorman, the Crusaders will have a new starting quarterback next season. Among the candidates already on campus are sophomore Ryan Redding and Bowden.
Redding was 6-of-17 passing for 72 yards and two TDs to go with 103 yards rushing and two scores, and Bowden was 15-of-22 through the air for 139 yards and a TD along with 268 yards and seven scores on the ground.
As of Monday, Bowden is the front-runner for the job.
“You would like to have a mobile quarterback because he can cause a defense so much grief, turning a bad play into a good play because of his ability to run,” Fredenburg said. “So, yes. I’m saying right now that it’s Tommy Bowden’s job.”
UMHB’s offense and special teams never had the services of receiver/return man Aaron Sims all season. After hauling in three TD catches and returning five punts for scores in 2018, he was suspended for the first five games of 2019 because of a violation of team rules and never saw the field because of a torn Achilles tendon he suffered during practice.
Sims has two semesters of eligibility left, meaning he could sit out of school or be a part-time student for the next two spring semesters and have two seasons to play. The other option is to be a full-time student next semester so he can test the injured foot, and then play his final season next fall.
“We hope he’s the same player he was, and he’s excited to come back,” Fredenburg said. “He has two semesters left, so we’re trying to figure out how to utilize those semesters well. Right now we’re thinking about making sure he can make it through (spring drills), then it would be his senior year in the fall.”