Pittsburg State opened its spring drills — no fooling — at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday and practiced for approximately 2 1/2 hours.

"There's a lot of excitement," Pitt State head coach Tim Beck said in the parking lot after practice. "Coaches have been excited for a couple months and the players, they're excited because we're past the offseason conditioning stuff they have to do in the mornings and they're just excited to get back out on the field.

"There's a lot of energy this morning. The speed and everything was really good. They really have to learn to work together, especially on these days with just helmets. It's important that we understand what we're trying to get done and work together as a team."

"We're really excited," senior quarterback Anthony Abenoja said. "We haven't played since the Mineral Water Bowl, so we're all excited. We broke it down a little bit differently at the beginning of practice, trying some new things out, and everybody's pretty excited, everybody's playing pretty fast."

"It was all good," junior defensive tackle Taye Irvin said. "It's been a long time. Offseason was great. We broke the team record on the overall team strength, we broke it by at least 40 pounds. We feel like we're faster this year. We've got more younger guys coming off the bench and helping out with the team on defense."

Pitt State graduated both its all-time leading tackler (Nate Dreiling) and its all-time leading receiver (John Brown) but among its approximately 110 players in spring camp, several return with at least five starts in 2013, a 10-2 season which culminated with a 90-28 win over Southwest Minnesota in the Mineral Water Bowl.

Those several include Abenoja, senior defensive end Avery Adair, junior cornerback DeVante Bausby, junior receiver Marquise Cushon, junior receiver Austin Daniel, senior linebacker Tyler Disney, senior cornerback Aries Herrion, senior offensive lineman Boston Higgins, Irvin, senior defensive end Deaven Jensen, senior offensive lineman Cale Karigan, senior receiver Gavin Lutman, senior safety Jason Peete, junior running back Jeff Seybold, senior safety Keeston Terry, senior offensive lineman Ollie Venegas and junior safety Deron Washington.

The Gorillas return both the offensive and defensive MVPs of the Mineral Water blowout — Abenoja, who tied his own school record with five TD passes, and Tyler Disney, who made 12 tackles and returned an interception 99 yards for a touchdown.

Disney started half of the Gorillas' games last season and finished second behind Dreiling in tackles with 101.

Abenoja passed for nearly 3,000 yards, 30 touchdowns and five interceptions, good for an efficiency of 179.98. He added 340 yards and five TDs on the ground.

Abenoja touched on missing the playoffs his first two seasons as starting QB.

"I definitely want to end on a good note," Abenoja said. "Since I've started, I haven't been to the playoffs. . . . I'll take it one game at a time and hopefully, get to K.C."

"We're very hungry," Irvin said. "This morning, we had something up on the Jungletron that said 'It's nothing until you get the trophy.' Coach Wiemers (defensive coordinator Dave Wiemers) said he's going to keep talking about winning the NCAA championship but we ain't proved nothin' 'till we get the hardware. Usually, we don't talk about championships . . . it will motivate us more every practice to get up and get it going."

"Well, the big thing is, we want our guys to play at an extremely high level every game," Beck said. "We still talk about doing things one game at a time, one step at a time. Bottom line is, we also want to have some vision on where we'd like to be. We want them thinking about playing at a championship level every single game and so, I think it's important, everybody knows what everybody's trying to get to and everybody wants to try to get to the playoffs."

Pitt State last made the Division II playoffs in 2011.

The Gorillas play their annual Spring Game on Apr. 26.