By BYRON BEERS bbeers @ tahlequahdailypress . com
KANSAS CITY , Kan . — Northeastern State took a couple of steps forward in 2021 and will look to advance furthermore this upcoming season .
The RiverHawks got into the win column for the first time since the 2017 season and did so twice , going 2-9 . It was the program ’ s first two-win campaign since 2016 .
“ Really excited about the opportunity of the season being right around the corner ,” said NSU head coach J . J . Eckert Tuesday at the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association Football Media Day at Kansas City Convention Center ’ s Little Theater . “ As you go back and recap 2021 , you have expectations . You had the whole 2020 COVID year and the things that went along with that and hopefully you ’ re looking for better things and the opportunity to improve in a lot of areas . I think big picture wise , we were able to do some things as a football program to do that . The problem was that we didn ’ t do the things we had to do down the stretch to be the kind of program that we would like to be .”
Eckert , who was joined Tuesday by players Blake Corn and Isaiah Davis , emphasized the differences in the past two offseasons .
“ You look at that 2-9 and when you come out of September and you ’ re where you ’ re at , you want to work hard as far as trying to improve , so obviously going into the spring that was a big , big , big emphasis was just trying to make sure that we continue to be a mentally and physically tough football team a lot like this league is made of up ,” Eckert said .
“ This year got us back on track with a full offseason . You had an opportunity to have an eight-week winter conditioning program , and that ’ s important . In this league there are a lot of guys that are redshirt juniors , redshirt seniors , super seniors like we had last year . We ’ ve got to continue to get bigger , faster , stronger to be the kind of program that we want to be , and I think that was something this year allowed us to do it . This spring was the best we ’ ve had up to this point from a weight room standpoint .”
In his first full season with the RiverHawks , Corn collected 19 total tackles , including 4.5 tackles for losses , and had 3.5 quarterback sacks and a quarterback hurry in 11 games .
Corn is a former Tahlequah High School standout that has made a big impact for NSU at the defensive end position .
“ It means everything to me ,” Corn said of representing NSU Tuesday . “ Tahlequah is where I grew up . Tahlequah is where I ’ ve lived my whole life , and to play for the university in my hometown it ’ s one of the greatest honors , especially being coached by another Tahlequah alum . It ’ s just a great feeling to have to be able to be home .”
Davis , a junior running back , rushed for a team-high 346 yards on 85 carries ( 4.1 yards per carry ) with four touchdowns . Davis , who played in all 11 games , also had 14 receptions for 129 yards and a pair of TDs .
Davis feels he ’ s made strides , along with the entire offense .
“ I think I improved by getting bigger , faster , stronger ,” Davis said . “ I feel like as a whole offense we have all taken steps in the right direction . We were young last year , so we ’ ve got a bunch of guys coming back that know the offense .”
Northeastern State finalized its coaching staff just prior to the start of fall camp when it named Mike Lucas as its defensive coordinator .
Lucas replaces Michael Conrad , who left the program just before practices were set to begin .
Lucas has 30-plus years of coaching experience . His last stop was at Northwestern State University where he served as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for four seasons .
Lucas returned to Northwestern State after spending the previous three seasons at Louisiana Lafayette where he was the defensive coordinator for the better part of the 2016 and 2017 seasons .
The RiverHawks ’ season opener is Thursday , Sept . 1 on the road against Emporia State . Their home opener is Saturday , Sept . 10 against Missouri Southern at Doc Wadley Stadium .
Gridiron Preview Fall 2022 • 7