Dayton Sealey

Dayton Sealey rushes the ball in a game for the UNK Lopers last season. The Lopers finished 5-6 a year ago and hope with a plethora of experience returning that they can record their first winning season since 2011.

KEARNEY — This season, University of Nebraska at Kearney football returns seven defensive and five offensive starters from last year’s roster.

The wealth of experience has raised the expectations for the Lopers, who hope to exceed last season’s 5-6 record and seventh-place finish in the MIAA.

UNK opens preseason practice Monday under coach Josh Lynn, who is in his third year with the Lopers.

"It’s always beneficial when you have guys in your system for three years," Lynn said. "The players have done things the same way and have had a lot of reps of the same things."

The biggest offensive position battle will come at wide receiver. Lynn believes the Lopers have around eight guys who could contribute at the position.

In the offseason, the Lopers added 5-foot-9 receiver Xavier Jackson, who spent the last two years at a junior college in Illinois. He will compete for playing time and provides the Lopers with an additional explosive vertical threat.

The Lopers also are moving redshirt senior Cody Summers from quarterback to receiver. Summers has previous experience playing receiver in college and gives the Lopers an athletic 6-3, 205-pound outside option.

"He is big, fast and smart," Lynn said. "He’s a football player. You can only play with one quarterback, and we need to get him on the field. And that is a good opportunity to get him on the field."

This season, the Lopers will try to post their first winning record since 2011. The Lopers had opportunities to break that barrier last season but lost three games where they led at halftime.

They open the season against Missouri Southern State at 6 p.m. Sept. 5 in Joplin, Mo.

"I think the goal is to win those close ones that we didn’t win last year," Lynn said. "You look at third down, we have to be better.

"I think the big thing in those close games is you have to look at the turnover margin. We didn’t turn the ball over too much, but we didn’t create enough turnovers."

@DanZielinski3