EMPORIA (KSNT) – The Hornets are coming off of back-to-back bowl appearances, but that isn’t enough.

Emporia State was one play away from a playoff spot in 2022 and it’s determined to make that spot in 2023. Head Coach Garin Higgins brought two seasoned leaders to MIAA Day, including one of Division II’s best quarterbacks, Braden Gleason. The Hornets also return most of their defensive power.

“I think it’s just about finishing for our guys,” Higgins said. “I think they understand that we’re close, but they also understand that you can’t be satisfied and there’s a lot of work to be done. I think our guys have done a great job this summer.”

Gleason won’t have Corey Thomas to throw to, but Emporia State’s spread offense has prevented him from relying on one receiver.

“Everybody can make a play on offense, I feel like, being as explosive as we are,” Gleason said. “It’s really just still playing our game, still trusting in our offense and our system.”

On the other side of the ball, the team returns its entire defensive line. The defense allowed just 6.6 yards per pass in 2022, and is still continuing to work on its pass rush.

“We don’t want to be complacent,” defensive lineman Jordan Williams said. “That’s the one thing we’ve been trying to stay on; not being complacent. I just think that taking it day-by-day each and every day, we’ll be just fine.”

The Hornets’ secret weapon, their specialists, also return. Ross Brungardt’s All-American punts helped the defense a lot the past season.

“We’re trying to keep him on our side,” Williams said. “I think [in practice] he has a white jersey on, but we’re trying to change that to black because he puts us in good positions all the time, like inside the 10-yard line. We couldn’t ask for anything better than that. That’s what you want as a defense.”

Higgins preaches to his players: earmuffs and blinders. Stop thinking about the past and move forward. However, the Hornets are thinking about their 2022 season in preparation for 2023 to prove they’re close to a playoff spot.

Emporia State opens its season on Thursday, Aug. 31 against Lincoln.