BOLIVAR, Mo. — When the calendar turns to August, the attention turns to football.

“There’s a lot of excitement,” SBU head coach Robert Clardy said. “We have a lot of returners coming back into this season. A lot of unfinished business from last year.”

SBU is picked to finish fourth in the GLVC preseason poll behind Indianapolis, Truman State and McKendree.

The Bearcats are looking to build off made progress from 2021, and it all starts under center.

“To have the quarterback back is always a great first step into the success of the season and we couldn’t be more excited to have Cooper (Callis) leading that offense,” Clardy said.

Callis is back for his senior season. He’s the only two-time GLVC Offensive Player of the Year in conference history. He finished last season with the third most passing yards in all of D-II football.

“Everything from last year just gave us confidence, but it also we know that we have a lot we had a lot of work to do and still have work to do,” Callis said. “And so it gave us motivation along with the confidence they gave us from this past season.”

The Bearcats also have among the nation’s best returning on the other side of the ball.

“Any time you can have the the nation’s leading tackler come back to kind of, you know, lead that defense, it’s always a great first step,” Clardy said.

That is senior linebacker Coleton Smith.

His 162 total tackles the most in the country by 30 tackles.

“Getting that first full season in and experiencing that I think will help a bunch,” Smith said. “But I like to think that last year was kind of like just last year and that it’s a new year moving forward. We’ve got different goals in mind and we’re looking to win some bowl games.”

The Bearcats open on the road at Texas Permian Basin, the home opener follows against West Florida, which leads into a road trip at the University of Findlay in Ohio.

They alternate home-away for most of the season with the exception of playing FCS opponent Tarleton State on October 22.

Clardy, who is entering his 8th season in Bolivar, will have to navigate a schedule with a 7-4 away-to-home game ratio.

His team will be tested early and often.

“Those are long trips and you find out a lot about a team whenever you face the adversity and just travel to start the start the trip out there, whenever you get there as a football team, it’s a business trip. So we’re going to be a big, big challenge for us. Obviously, we’re excited about it and ready to get going.”

SBU kicks off against UTPB on Saturday, September 3.