KEARNEY, Neb. — The Ryan Held era begin Thursday night in Edmond, Oklahoma.

The UNK football team starts the season with a crucial matchup against Central Oklahoma. The preseason coaches poll had the teams tied for fifth in the MIAA standings.

The Lopers, coming off an 8-3 season, will look significantly different this year. Held has an entirely different staff than his predecessor, Josh Lynn, and will be turning to more than 25 transfers to bolster the roster. Compared to last season’s home finale against UCO, UNK will start just four of the same players on offense and three of the same players on defense. 

Among the returning starters, sixth-year quarterback T.J. Davis is once again on preseason watch lists for national player of the year. Left guard Hunter Hays, defensive tackle Tell Spies and safety Tre O’Guinn are likely to be in contention for all-conference honors.

Among the newcomers, Joko Willis transferred in and starts at linebacker, Wayne Tei-Kirby has experience at Oregon and BYU and starts at defensive tackle and Lincoln Southeast product Sev Foster starts at wide receiver after spending time at McNeese State.

The specialists include many familiar names. Two-time all-conference pick Hunter Kraus will be the starting punter for his final season, Kyle Failing — who was the kickoff specialist last season — will be the starting kicker and Josh Churchill remains as the long snapper.

UNK will open up its home schedule on Saturday, Sep. 9 against Northeastern (OK.) State. All five Loper home games will be televised on News Channel Nebraska.