BELTON — Eight months after Mary Hardin-Baylor’s second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Division III national championship game, the Crusaders were back on the field Sunday evening to take the first step toward putting last year’s Stagg Bowl loss — and everything else that happened in the offseason — behind them.
UMHB went through a brisk workout with 225 players at Crusader Stadium, and the first order of business for the 2016 national champion will be finding a quarterback and a new defensive front.
The Crusaders, who finished 14-1 last season after the loss to Mount Union in the title game, lost all four starting defensive linemen to graduation and are searching for a signal-caller after Kyle Jones and Carl Robinson III — last year’s starting quarterbacks — left the program.
“I feel like we’re going to be able to find some defensive linemen. There are some athletes at that position,” UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg said. “At quarterback, it’s going to take a while. What we have to do is put them in situations where they have to compete.
“It’s more than just being talented when you’re talking about quarterbacks. It’s not just about who can throw it and run it. It’s about the IQ and a bunch of intangibles.”
Top receiver T.J. Josey understands what his coach is talking about and knows the offense will be a work in progress throughout fall camp.
“It will take a lot of time in the film room and a lot of time after practice to get extra work in,” the senior said. “(Our quarterbacks) haven’t taken a snap, but we know who we have. It will just take time.”
The early front-runners for the quarterback job are Luke Poorman — a junior transfer from Mount Union — sophomore Will Chaney, who guided the UMHB junior varsity last season, and junior Abilene Christian transfer Jase Hammack.
Poorman has the most experience after appearing in 18 games and making a handful of starts for the Purple Raiders over the last two seasons, when he was 72-of-100 passing for 1,078 yards and 12 touchdowns with only one interception.
“It’s a competition every day, regardless of whether the starter was returning or not,” Poorman said. “It’s football. You compete every day. That’s how everybody has to look at it.
“I have to lead by example and show guys that I’m here to work. Coming from Mount Union, that’s all in the past now. I’m a newcomer again and I have to prove myself.”
That’s the kind of outlook offensive coordinator Stephen Lee likes to see in his quarterbacks. Now it’s his job to sort things out and find a player who can lead the Crusaders.
“It’s an open competition. You have to go daily and chart those guys on everything they do,” Lee said. “Ultimately, we have to see who our leader can be. We were deficient in that aspect last year.
“I don’t care who has the strongest arm and who can run the fastest. We want to see when the whistle blows, who can give us the end result we’re looking for.”
UMHB is ranked No. 2 nationally entering the season and is coming out of an offseason in which the school self-reported two major NCAA violations. Fredenburg was suspended for three months during the spring and early summer and will not coach the Crusaders in their first three games.
The school is still awaiting word of the results of the NCAA’s investigation, but Sunday gave the players and coaches a chance to finally focus on football.
“It feels incredible to get back on the field,” Fredenburg said. “It’s great therapy for everybody.”
His players concurred.
“This is a fresh start and a new season,” said senior Raylon Hickey, who is making the switch from cornerback to safety. “We’re ready to get back to work.”
UMHB opens the season Sept. 8 against Albright in Reading, Pa.