Beaver football ready to push to the top of Heartland Conference
By Rustin Pickett, sports information assistant
August 25, 2005
BlufftonUniversity football will be looking to build off a solid 2004 season; with a good core of starters coming back on defense and offense the Beavers look to be in good shape. Head coach Greg Brooks will be entering his third year as the man in charge and will push Bluffton towards a successful 2005 campaign.
The Beavers started the 2004 season off with a great win over the colonels of Centre at Salzman Stadium. After the upset victory the squad was hit with an unexpected injury to their starting quarterback senior, Jared Owens (Van Wert/Crestview). Most teams would have looked at the situation and panicked, but the Beavers did just the opposite. Two backup quarterbacks, Aaron Krieger and Tim Koontz, split the duties of leading the offense and along with other leadership the team grew stronger as the season progressed. With the focus on everyone doing their part and giving the extra effort the Beavers mustered up a 5-5 overall record and a 3-3 record in the HCAC, which tied them for third place in the Heartland Conference.
"The key to me in our overall success is in the growth process of our team. We have to mature in our thinking and action in not being satisfied with anything less than a total effort," Brooks said. "It's a team game played by mature men and the maturing challenge is what we have this year to improve."
This past off-season had a different twist than the others. The Beavers were able to hold 10 spring practices to prepare for their across-seas competition in Italy. Each of the players needed to meet the cross cultural requirement for graduation from BlufftonUniversity, and while in Italy the team got the chance to play an exhibition game against the Italian National squad. When the Beavers returned to Ohio they started their summer workouts which consisted of three days to lift and two days to focus on agility and conditioning. To round off the summer, the team started their big brother program to help ease the transition for incoming freshman and help give them a head start.
Beaver football will stick to their time management scheme and keep the opposing offense off the field by running the ball between the tackles. With the return of All-Heartland Conference running back senior Ben Dodds (West Liberty/Bellefontaine) 957 yards rushing, nine touchdowns, 4.4 yds. per run and junior fullback Ben McCullough (Bluffton/Bluffton),(245 yards, 5.4 yds. per run) the team feels confident that the rushing game will do its part. Also returning for the Beavers is the starting quarterback Owens, who missed last season due to injury. Owens was coming off an All-HCAC performance in 2003 and now will look to do the same as he returns in full strength. With the loss of leading receiver Mark Gable, All-HCAC selection, the team will be looking towards some new faces to contribute in the offensive strategy.
"The strength to our offense is in the backfield. We hope to improve our passing game to compliment our veteran running backs," Brooks said. "We look for major contributions from Dodds, Ben McCullough and Owens along with Terence Clayton and Edward Jackson. Jared Owens is our trigger man on both the run and pass."
The defense roars back into 2005 with nine returning starters. The defensive line will lead the attack with seniors Rashid Morton (Detroit, Mich./Ypsilanti) 39 tackles, three sacks and Bryan Lloyd (Elida/Bath) (52 tackles, one sack). The secondary will return two All-HCAC performers in Jeremy Anderson (South Richwood/Airport), junior (65 tackles, three interceptions) and Heartland Conference freshman-of-the-year Ryan Christy (Snellville, Ga./South Gwinnet), sophomore (57 tackles, two interceptions). The Beavers lost their big contributor and All-HCAC linebacker Scott Steiner, but look to rely on sophomore linebacker Sam McCullough (Bluffton/Bluffton), (82 tackles, one sack) to help plug up the middle. Seniors Jon Mershman (Ottawa/Ottawa Glandorf) and Brett Cordy (Archbold/Archbold) will also contribute to the defensive scheme.
"Defensively, we feel we have enough depth and experience for it to be our team strength. Anderson, Lloyd, Morton, Sam McCullough and Christy all contribute significantly as leaders and performers on the defense," Brooks said.
The kicking game will stay strong as national player-of-the-week and All-Heartland Conference kicker/punter senior Seth Burkholder (Bluffton/Bluffton) who posted eight field goals and averaged 35.1 yards per punt, returns for his final season.
"We emphasize on a daily basis the importance of our kicking game. Seth Burkholder is the pivotal player in making our punt and kick units strong," Brooks said. "We consider him to be as good as any in the Heartland Conference."
Coach Brooks enters this season with two years as head coach and looks towards a slightly different staff to help produce an HCAC championship team. Three new coaches were hired this summer to fill the void positions. At assistant coach and strength and conditioning coach, Steve Rogers, begins his 13th year of as a football coach. First year coach Brent Burkheimer will coach the receivers and graduate assistant Mark Spencer will head up the running backs.
Last years 3-3 record was a complete turn around from the previous year in conference play. This year the Beavers will look for experience and team work to push them over the top towards another successful year of play in the HCAC.
"The HCAC remains extremely balanced from top to bottom in my estimation. Several key players on either side of the ball make a big difference in tipping the scales from one team to another," Brooks said.