It was a short but eventful offseason for Avila football head coach Marc Benavidez. He returns for his fourth season, newly married in July and coming off the most successful season in team history.
The Eagles lost one game, the first of the season, to Bethel College. The two teams were eventual co-champions of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference. That was the only loss of the season for Avila, going on an eight-game undefeated streak from there that never ended.
“It was a successful year, but that was last year,” Benavidez said at the KCAC coaches’ media day. “In this conference we had a bunch of close games and a bunch of teams have an opportunity to have a huge year this year.”
Avila kicks off this season at home against Tabor College on September 4th. The Avila Eagles are ranked No. 21 in the NAIA top-25 coaches preseason poll as players report for practice Friday, August 6.
It’s the first time in school history the Eagles are ranked to start a season. Four total teams from the KCAC are ranked in the top-25, with Bethel highest at No. 12.
Senior running back Malik Nesbitt returns after what may have been the best season for any player in Avila history. Nesbitt set school records with 128.4 yards per game and 19 touchdowns last season.
He was one of four players in the KCAC selected to the College Football America Yearbook’s 2021 NAIA Preseason Starting Lineup, an All-American team put together by the publication.
“He’s a guy who had a tremendous season last year,” Benavidez said. “And he’s been here most of the summer, working out, conditioning, running, on top of working a job, everything.”
Last season was stretched over almost eight months, from September to April. The NAIA began play in September with replacement dates scheduled in case of Covid outbreaks. Soon those replacement dates had been filled.
The season was put on hold, and a couple of months later teams were given the decision to continue their season or vacate those games played to that point. The decisions they made may have very effects on how the teams come into this season.
“We’re coming out of maybe the most complicated year in the history of college athletics, let alone the KCAC and the NAIA,” KCAC Commissioner Scott Crawford said. “I’m very proud of what we did last year. It was never easy. It wasn’t always pretty. But it was always worth it.”
The KCAC will follow how the NAIA operated last season, giving schools “institutional autonomy.” The schools themselves will be able to determine how game day will look at their own home games.
Crawford’s focus is on the KCAC playing all games on the schedule, and hopefully this year squeezing them into a timeline more fitting of a football season. Vaccines help with that, but the KCAC is using a soft touch with that.
“We’re encouraging, we’re not requiring, but we’re encouraging vaccinations,” Crawford said.
2021 KCAC Media Preseason Poll
Team, Points (First Place Votes)
1. Bethel College 177 (9)
2. Kansas Wesleyan University 168 (6)
3. Avila University 155 (1)
4. Southwestern College 139 (1)
5. Ottawa University 117
6. Tabor College 84
7. McPherson College 83
8. Friends University 78
9. Sterling College 63
10. Bethany College 35
11. University of Saint Mary 23
2021 KCAC Coaches Preseason Poll
Team, Points (First Place Votes)
1. Bethel College 95 (7)
2. Kansas Wesleyan University 87 (2)
3. Avila University 86 (1)
4. Southwestern College 73 (1)
5. Ottawa University 63
6. Tabor College 44
7. McPherson College 43
8. Friends University 38
9. Sterling College 37
10. Bethany College 20
11. University of Saint Mary 19
2021 NAIA Football Coaches’ Top 25 Poll – Preseason (August 2)
|RANK||POSTSEASON POLL||SCHOOL [1ST PLACE VOTES]||RECORD||FINAL POINTS|
|1||1||Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) ||11-0||418|
|5||5||Grand View (Iowa)||7-1||356|
|10||9||Olivet Nazarene (Ill.)||8-1||279|
|11||11||Dickinson State (N.D.)||9-1||244|
|16||17||Saint Francis (Ind.)||2-2||180|
|19||18||College of Idaho||3-1||131|
2021 College Football America NAIA Starting Lineup
Pos., Name, School, Class
QB Tyson Kooima, Northwestern (IA), Sr.
RB Malik Nesbitt, Avila, Jr.
RB Ke’Von Johnson, Roosevelt, Jr.
WR Reid Jurgensmeier, Morningside, Sr.
WR Anthony Turner, Grand View, Sr.
TE Austin Harris, Midland, Jr.
OL Keegan Martin, Bethel (KS), Jr.
OL Andrew Rupcich, Culver-Stockton, Sr.
OL PJ Schubert, Eastern Oregon, Jr.
OL Alex Huisman, Dordt, Sr.
C Matt Dey, Dickinson State, Sr.