Pittsburg State graduated its all-time leading receiver John Brown on the offensive side of the football and on the defensive side, the Gorillas graduated linebacker Nate Dreiling, their all-time leading tackler who led Division II in tackles his freshman season (2010).

"Oh, it's going to be difficult but it's not going to be that hard, you know what I'm saying," junior defensive tackle Taye Irvin said. "We miss Nate. There's never going to be another Nate Dreiling but we've got lots of kids that are going to come up like Eric Brantley and Tyler Disney. We're young and explosive and just ready to play. We feel like we've got something to prove. It's no more Nate Dreiling, it's just Pitt State Gorilla defense now."

Irvin mentioned Tyler Disney, a converted safety who enjoyed a breakout junior season at linebacker. Disney finished second behind Dreiling in tackles at 101, second in quarterback sacks at 3 1/2 and he earned Defensive MVP of the Mineral Water Bowl with 12 tackles and his 99-yard interception return.

Pitt State also returns most of its defensive line, including the 6-foot-1, 327-pound Irvin, and its secondary.

"It's a new phase and it's just something new to get used to," Irvin said. "We've just got to get to know each other better."

The defense feeds off the fever-pitched nature of the Brandenburg Field/Carnie Smith Stadium. The Gorillas play five home games this season — beginning with the season opener Sept. 6 against Northeastern State.

"Ah man, it's going to be crazy," Irvin said. "It's going to be wild. For me, personally, this is my third spring ball. This might be my last but it's going to be a good time, man. I feel like I'm home now and every time we come out for a Pitt State game, it's nothing but love, love in the air.

"It gets you hyped up on the Gorilla Walk. Like the first time, I had chills because there were so many people and so much love. It's just like the whole community's here cheering you on. The first home game, it's going to be crazy, it's going to be wild. Just make sure you get your tickets."

Now, with Lincoln and Southwest Baptist playing football in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association shifts into an all-MIAA 11-game schedule. No scrambling for nonconference opponents.

Kansas rivals Emporia State, Fort Hays State and Washburn return to the schedule after a two-year absence and the Gorillas will play Nebraska-Kearney for the first time since 2005.

Also, Pitt State and Northwest Missouri will play their first on-campus game against each other since 2001, after the dissolution of the Fall Classic at Arrowhead for at least the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Northwest hosts in 2014.

BROYLES, GAMMON ON MIAA INSIDER: MIAA Insider No. 74 featured former Pitt State head football coach and athletic director Chuck Broyles and former Pitt State football player Kendall Gammon, both 2014 MIAA HOF inductees.

Broyles: "Very fortunate at Pittsburg State. It's a great place to work and great administration, so we didn't have a lot of turnover in our staff. Once you establish the kind of players that you're looking for and I always thought in Division II, if you can have five players on both sides of the ball, five offense and five defense, that's as good as everybody else, then there's lot of players that can be developed and redshirted and play five years."

Broyles on Gammon: "Kendall is a great example of a Division II player. That's why you have Division II. Out of high school (Rose Hill), he was tall, he wasn't extremely strong but he was a good athlete. He could dunk a basketball. . . . But Kendall grew into being a good football player. Size wise, he went from a tall, skinny tight end to a dominant offensive lineman in our conference and of course, he was a great long snapper. He parlayed that into a 13-, 14-year (NFL) career, he played in the Super Bowl and had a great career."

Gammon: "You know what, my time in Pittsburg was just fabulous. Of course, when I went there in '87 and redshirted, we were NAIA and then they announced they were going to move to the Division II level and I believe we moved there in '89. Came into this new conference from the CSIC and were able to really enter it in a big way. That's a tribute to the type of coaching I had, certainly with Coach Broyles and even (Dennis) Franchione before him. More impressive was the type of players that I was able to play with. None of this would be happening if I hadn't been surrounded by all the great players there at Pittsburg State."