SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The Missouri State defense is loaded with leaders for the 2022 season.

“You heard Coach (Bobby) Petrino talk about the transition since we’ve been here, since we arrived to now. And the leadership from within is I think, one of our biggest assets,” Bears defensive coordinator Ryan Beard said.

Talent and depth that breeds competition.

“There’s plenty of talent on that roster that you can be replaced,” Beard said.

The talent begins upfront with Kevin Ellis. A first-team all Valley defensive end.

“He’s a leader by his work ethic,” Beard said. “He’s a professional on and off of the field. We’re going to have to do some things for Kevin package wise and schematically to get him some more one on ones and make sure that he keeps his numbers where they need to be. And there’s no reason that he shouldn’t be the sack leader in the in the best conference next year, two years straight.”

And rolls through a talented secondary with key pieces Montrae Braswell and Kyriq McDonald both entering year three in Springfield.

There will be some big gaps to fill, trying to replace Eric Johnson, who was drafted by the Colts, and Titus Wall who is shining in the CFL.

“It’s going to be a hassle,” Ellis said. “But I feel like we’ll be definitely fine. We’ve got some guys that’s going to step up and we’re going to get the job done.

For the players, it’s not as much trying to replace the two as much as it is looking to them for inspiration. And that there is a track from Springfield to professional ball.

“Just playing next to him and seeing and like working with him every day and knowing like we went through the same things and just knowing like it’s just possible he’s just right there and like, it’s definitely motivation,” Ellis said.

“I mean, changing your family’s life is always a motivation, you know what I mean,” McDonald said. “And I try not to look too far ahead. I try to look in where my feet are, be with my feet. And that’s what Coach (Nick) Saban always told me. And just take it one day at a time. Everything is going to handle itself as long as you giving all your effort and putting all the tools in”

But first, want to see this season end in Frisco.

“I mean, it’s it’s a good feeling seeing the confetti come down from the ceiling, as I already know,” McDonald said. “So I want to get everybody, you know, seeing that again. I mean, there’s no better, better feeling than winning a national championship. All the hard hours and hard work and, you know, missing sleep and doing all that stuff is not, you know, that’s the end goal.”