University of Nebraska at Kearney linebacker Kellen Werner is 85 tackles away from the school record.
Not an insurmountable goal, he said, for a guy who likes to hit.
“I think I’m going to do it,” he said. “I think it’s a pretty good shot.”
Topping that 283-tackle mark and making all-conference would be the perfect ending for the 6-foot-1, 230-pound senior from Grand Island, one of the few Lopers who suited up as a true freshman and has played ever since.
He’s been around so long that he’s practically a coach on the field, coach Darrell Morris said. In fact, the sports management major is thinking of coaching after he graduates.
Werner is knowledgeable about the defense and runs and tackles well, Morris said.
“He’s had a great career,” Morris said. “He could teach our defense, too. He has a ton of reps and snaps under his belt.”
Werner ranked second on the team last fall with 82 tackles, 34 solo. He ranks 14th in school history with 199 for his career, including 25 for loss.
D.J. Vokolek, now the associate head coach and defensive coordinator at Missouri State, holds with school record of 283.
Werner will be doing some teaching this fall as the only inside linebacker with Division II game experience. Redshirt freshmen Dexter Becker of Southern Valley and Tyke Kozeal of Sargent likely will start next to Werner and back him up.
Both had a good spring, Werner said, and seemed to have learned the defense. He’s ready to answer any questions they might have as the Lopers gear up for their home opener Sept. 5 against Washburn.
“I’ll try to help them with the plays and all that,” he said.
UNK struggled to a 3-8 record last fall (2-8 in the MIAA), using several quarterbacks to get through its first season in the MIAA.
If the new crop of quarterbacks can stay healthy and if the secondary improves, Werner and Morris are expecting a better conference performance. The Loper secondary gave up numerous plays of 25 yards or longer last season.
“I think we are going to surprise a lot of people,” Werner said. “I think we are going to be a lot better than they think.”
It helps that UNK, with 10 starters back, is now familiar with the MIAA. Werner said unlike the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, where there was a big divide between the teams at the top and the bottom, all the teams in the MIAA are good.
That made the injury situation at QB even tougher for the Lopers.
“It’s going to be pretty easy to build on it this year,” Werner said, “knowing we were able to get through last season.”
That subpar debut could actually be an advantage this year, Morris said, with teams thinking they’ll beat UNK easily.
“We hope that’s actually the case,” he said.