As fall two-a-days came to an end and the regular-season began, anticipation was high for what the 1996 edition the Bulldogs could accomplish.
Shortly after the season commenced, one player made an indelible mark on the pages of not only Truman's record books, but those of the conference and the nation as well. By mid-November, tailback Jarrett Anderson had a share or ownership of five NCAA, 12 Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association and 15 Truman rushing and scoring records. He also claimed the prestigious Harlon Hill trophy, which signifies the NCAA Division II Player of the Year (see page one for Anderson story) after leading the nation in rushing and scoring.
Anderson's remarkable performance helped the Bulldogs to a third-place Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association finish with a 7-2 mark and a 7-4 overall record. Truman's only two league losses were to the teams which would share the MIAA title in '96, Pittsburg State (Kan.) and Northwest Missouri. Both teams advanced to the playoffs only to be knocked out by eventual NCAA Division II champion Northern Colorado, PSU in the first round and Northwest in the next.
The Northwest Missouri defeat hit hard as the Bulldogs gave up the "Old Hickory Stick", a prized possession as the oldest DII trophy which had found a home at Truman since 1985.
The memorable season opened with two non-conference road contests, the first in the sweltering heat of Georgia against Valdosta State and the second under the lights at NCAA Division I-AA Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield. Valdosta set the stage for the top two player of the year candidates, Anderson and Lance Funderburk of Valdosta, to battle head-to-head for the early edge in Harlon Hill voter's minds. A high-scoring, 49-35, battle proved both teams had talent, with VSU hinting that one game played and the home advantage may be of benefit.
Southwest provided the 'Dogs with a final measuring stick before opening the always competitive conference season. Truman fell, but Anderson started a trickle of record-breaking performances that, with the aid of a trio of all-MIAA offensive linemen, turned into a virtual waterfall by the end of the season. And freshman running back Deric Johnson made a statement to all that the 'Dogs had an able replacement for Anderson.
The Bulldogs began the conference schedule with two wins over Missouri-Rolla and Washburn, Anderson's glory game, before notching the last two losses of the season and only MIAA stumbles. Despite winning their last five games and playing one of the toughest DII schedules, the 'Dogs didn't even get a smell in the Midwest poll until the last week of the season.
Defensively, Truman stepped up its play with a more experienced and talented squad, of which nine of the top-10 tackles will return in '97, while the offense struggled with the decision of which talented junior quarterback to go with, an athletic Nate Minnis or a solid Mike Vaughn. Minnis seemed to have an edge early with his ability to make things happen when needed, but Vaughn took the position mid-season, only to loose it after a season-ending shoulder injury in the seventh game.
Besides Anderson, three other Bulldogs received all-Midwest region honors, junior middle linebacker Zac Allison, and senior offensive linemen, Jim Guntli, a guard, and Bill Crews, the center, were second-team picks. Allison led the defense with 103 tackles for the year, while the two linemen had been an integral part of the Bulldog's offensive wall that provided the initial push and formed the holes for Anderson to showcase his talents the past four years.
Guntli also received first-team all-MIAA accolades along with being named to Don Hanzen's Football Gazette All-America honorable mention team. Allison and Crews garnered second-team all-conference recognition.
Ten other 'Dogs joined them on the all-MIAA squad. Senior kicker Kyle Fischer and senior defensive tackle Christian Hutson were also second team picks, while the all-MIAA honorable mention team tapped junior receiver James Ross, junior offensive guard Mark Irby, junior offensive tackle Chad Murray, junior outside linebacker Jason Rollison, defensive backs Tommy Hernandez, a sophomore, and Ryan Ludwig, a junior, and senior punter Marion Smith. Truman also placed nine athletes on the conference's all-academic team.