It's not exactly been a rocky mountain high for the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers since leaving the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference for the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.
However, it has been rocky.
Since joining the MIAA in 2012, the Lopers have posted a 6-16 overall, 5-14 MIAA record in two seasons, this after going 10-2, 8-1 in their final RMAC season and qualifying for the Division II playoffs in 2011.
The Lopers were picked in the bottom third of the conference Tuesday.
"I probably know less about my football team than anybody here today," Nebraska-Kearney head coach Darrell Morris said. "We have at least 20 transfers on our football team. We don't know a whole lot about. We won't know until we get to practice. We're excited to do that. We have a tremendous challenge, play Northwest Missouri right out of the gate."
Looking at the Lopers roster, one will notice multiple FBS transfers — quarterback Bronson Marsh from Nebraska, wide receiver Allen Sampson from Hawaii and running back Dezden Petty from Washington.
"We felt like we needed to bring in some impact players on our football team to change the way our team looked and performed on the field," Morris said. "I think we've done that but we still have to wait and see."
Morris looks for the Lopers to return to past success.
"When we've been good in years past, especially offensively, we have what I like to call the three-headed dragon," Morris said. "We had a quarterback that could hurt you with his arm and his feet, we had a running back that could make you pay attention and we had vertical threat wide receivers. . . . We'll be able to do that and we'll be able to alleviate the pressure on Bronson Marsh or whoever our quarterback might be."
In his first season in Kearney, Marsh enjoyed ups-and-downs, more down than up, and missed six games. He passed for 763 yards, two touchdowns and eight interceptions on 78-138 accuracy and rushed for 428 yards and four TDs on 76 carries, averaging 5.6 yards per carry.
"Well, I don't know if it's the way Bronson plays," Morris said. "But Bronson does need to be a smarter football player. He has to get out-of-bounds when he has the opportunity, he has to slide into second base so to speak when he has the opportunity. What we have been able to do, I hope, is to give Bronson some supporting cast, not only the wide receiver position but the tailback position that will take the football out of his hands and hopefully, he will buy into the fact that he doesn't have to do everything all by himself."
With senior offensive tackles Cole Manhart and Pete Trausch at the heart of the offensive line, the Lopers enjoyed success on the ground despite a limited passing game. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound Manhart is already considered one of the best small school prospects for the 2015 NFL Draft.
Hutchinson native Romero Cotton rushed for 801 yards and five TDs on 176 carries during his sophomore year and took over as the featured back for the Lopers, rumbling for 215 yards on 36 carries against Lindenwood.
"We have Romero Cotton coming back," Morris said. "Romero Cotton was our running back last year. He's also a national champion wrestler. He's a good football player and excellent young man. Has a great story about him, having actually been in prison at one time for a crime but tremendous young man, great player. He's a banger so I think him and Dez Petty will treat each other well as a 1-2 type punch at the running back position."
California native Petty spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons in Washington. He rushed for 99 yards on 29 carries in 2012, including 54 yards on 16 carries against Portland State and 34 yards on five carries against Oregon. Petty played in games against LSU, USC and Arizona.
Last season's leading receiver, Andre O'Neal, caught only 26 passes for 191 yards and no touchdowns.
Morris looks for that to change with the addition of transfer Sampson.
"Allen Sampson is a young man that played at Plant High School in Tampa, Florida and then played at the University of Hawaii," Morris said. "Allen is a legitimate vertical threat, played in games at Hawaii."
Sampson caught 18 passes for 186 yards in the 2011 season, making four starts for the Rainbow Warriors.
On the defensive side, linebacker Tyke Kozeal established a school single-season tackles record with 118 as a redshirt freshman.
"Tyke is a good football player," Morris said. "He's the son of a high school football coach. Tyke is a guy that will get better and better as he continues to understand football. He runs extremely well, he hits very hard, he's athletic, he's versatile, you can move him inside, you can move him outside, even walk him down and rush the passer on third down."
Sept. 4 — at Northwest Missouri
Sept. 11 — vs. Washburn
Sept. 20 — vs. Missouri Southern
Sept. 27 — at Central Missouri
Oct. 4 — vs. Central Oklahoma
Oct. 11 — at Northeastern State
Oct. 18 — vs. Lindenwood
Oct. 25 — at Pittsburg State
Nov. 1 — vs. Fort Hays State
Nov. 8 — at Missouri Western
Nov. 15 — vs. Emporia State