KEARNEY — Running the football came naturally for the University of Nebraska at Kearney last year.
With an offensive line featuring size, athleticism and experience and a running back group that had depth and versatility, the Lopers gashed opposing defenses for major yardage week after week. The Lopers led the MIAA and ranked ninth in Division II with 268.9 rushing yards per game last year.
Despite some turnover on the offensive line, the Lopers return every running back from last season, including redshirt junior Dayton Sealey, who will play a prominent role in the offensive game plan.
“Dayton is a unique player because he can do a lot of different things,” coach Josh Lynn said. “He can block. He can play H-back, he can run the ball and catch the ball. In that running back room, he’s the bigger back that’s kind of the bruiser.”
Although Sealey ranked fourth in rushing for the Lopers last season, he provided the team with versatility. He impacted the rushing attack while also serving as a reliable option in the passing and return games.
He rushed for 395 yards and two touchdowns on 61 carries and hauled in nine passes for 62 yards and one touchdown. He also returned three kickoffs for 70 yards for an average of 23.3 yards per return, which was the best mark of the four players who returned kicks last year.
Sealey said he worked on his speed and blocking skills in the offseason. He wants to play a meaningful role this season, but admits a successful season won’t necessarily be determined off statistical numbers.
“I just try to be that dude that’s picking people up,” Sealey said. “I just need to continue to lift people up and work hard every play and just make sure I am pushing the other running backs to do their best.”
That approach is one reason why teammates voted him one of the four team captains for this season. Senior inside linebacker Rakid Hill, senior safety Dallas Vaughn and redshirt junior right tackle Corey Hoelck also are team captains.
“It’s pretty important to me,” said Sealey on being a team captain. “I wasn’t expecting it. It shows my teammates look up to me and listen when I speak.”
Besides Sealey, redshirt seniors Luke Quinn, Darrius Webb and David Goodwin, redshirt sophomore Garrett Meyer and redshirt freshman Joe Stiffend are on the running back depth chart.
Webb led the team in attempts (162), rushing yards (998) and rushing touchdowns (10) last year. Quarterback Alex McGinnis ranked second in rushing for the Lopers, while Goodwin and Quinn combined for 126 carries, 723 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Lopers rely heavily on the run in their pistol option offense, which will allow for all the running backs to receive opportunities this season.
“The great thing about our offense is we play a lot of two-back offense,” Lynn said. “You look at five running backs, but essentially we sometimes even have three running backs on the field. You just have to keep track of it because you want to give all those guys carries. Everyone is fresh when they do carry the ball.”