By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
When Missouri Western head football coach Tyler Fenwick signed his first recruiting class with the Griffons last year, he had only been on the job for a couple of months.
Having now been in St. Joseph for over a year, Fenwick and his staff made the most of that time, signing a class of 28 players on National Signing Day Wednesday.
The Griffons signed six receivers, five offensive and defensive linemen, three tight ends, three defensive backs, one linebacker, one running back, one quarterback and a kicker, long snapper and punter.
The Griffons lose two veteran defensive linemen - C.J. Ravenell and Dakari Streeter - both of whom have long lists of MIAA and all-American honors.
Western also loses four starting offensive linemen from last season. Fenwick says reloading up front was one of the top priorities. That's why he also signed three O-line transfers this offseason as well.
"We crushed it with the offensive line," Fenwick said of his signees. "Feel good about the future. Now, bringing in three transfers, it'll help us replace some guys, have some of the guys who were redshirt freshmen this year who played a little bit get in the mix and be able to compete."
Fenwick also expressed the desire to recruit more speed in the wide receiver room. The Griffons have done that, signing six pass catchers in this class - the most recruited position by the staff this year.
Missouri Western signed nine transfers at semester - two of them receivers.
Griffons' wide receivers coach Aaron Bell has plenty of talent coming back in 2024, namely all-MIAA receivers Jonas Bennett and Traveon James. They also bring back Jake Berrey and Tyler Carey. Those guys were the top four receivers in 2023.
But, Bell is excited about the new crop coming in.
"It's going to be good to watch these guys grow together," Bell noted. "They're going to have a foundation of what's expected in this room, because I've been here for a year. So now, the older guys like Jonas and Tray (Traveon James), those guys can tell the younger guys what to expect and can go out and do it. So, it's going to be fun to watch."
Missouri Western signed two immediately local players - North Platte tight end and linebacker John Winkler and St. Joseph Central defensive lineman Lance Peters.
"He's got a frame that he's going to fill out and grow," Fenwick said of Peters. "He's a homegrown guy that loves Missouri Western. I got a chance to watch (Central) play a little bit. He's got a lot of untapped talent."
Winkler had 395 receiving yards, two touchdowns to go with 33 tackles and two pass breakups in a 12-2 state runner-up season with the Panthers this past fall.
The quarterback situation will be an interesting one for Missouri Western this spring and fall. Veteran and dual threat Reagan Jones transferred to MIAA rival Nebraska-Kearney in the offseason.
The Griffons have six quarterbacks on roster. They signed Southeastern Oklahoma State transfer Kane Donovan, and Blue Springs product Ben Baker.
St. Joseph native and Lafayette graduate Jaron Saunders, who played in three games in 2023, is back, along with Ty Baker, Brody Meyer and Eli Scott.
The big question right now is 2023 starter and all-MIAA QB Armani Edden, who transferred in from Hawaii last summer and started every game under center last fall for Missouri Western.
Edden, who started his playing career in 2018 at the junior college level, submitted a waiver to play an extra year in St. Joseph. That waiver was apparently denied by the NCAA, but Missouri Western has appealed. They're waiting for an answer on that.
Whatever happens, Fenwick looks forward to a strong QB competition this year.
"If Armani is back, he'll still have to compete for that spot," Fenwick said, "and improve and get better and take the next step in the offense. We'll see when that comes down, but we have a plan in case that doesn't happen."
The Griffons released their 2024 schedule Thursday. Missouri Western opens with a Week 0 game on Thursday, August 29 at Northeastern State. That will count as a non-conference game, as the Riverhawks will be independent in football for the time being.
Kickoff times are to be determined. The full schedule is below.
Missouri Western will have a bye week on October 26 and will host Quincy to end the regular season on November 16 - a Great Lakes Valley Conference and Super Region III opponent.
The NCAA, during its January meetings, approved legislation that now allows Division II football teams to play a "Week 0" game. It also allows them to have a bye week. In other words, schools are given 12 weeks to play 11 games.
"For us to be able to play a Week 0 and have a bye week...this conference is just so physical and can be exhausting," Fenwick admitted. "To be able to give us a chance, as a conference, to be able to get healthy and recharge and finish up strong and hopefully catapult us into the playoff race. I think that's a huge advantage for us."
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.