Seniors have high expectations for 2011 Bluffton football team
August 16, 2011
Coming off its best season since 2004, the Bluffton University football team has a
vast array of experience and depth as Coach Tyson Veidt embarks on his fourth season
leading the Beavers. 24 seniors who took a chance on Bluffton three years ago have
put in the work that has the 2011 squad poised to compete with the top teams in the
Heartland Conference. With a squad size that has doubled since Coach Veidt took over,
Bluffton has the depth needed to take the next step.
An exciting finish to 2010 has Bluffton football fans ready to come out and watch a team that sports 24 seniors who were all a part of Coach Veidt's initial recruiting class three years ago. "Our senior class is larger than the seniors classes of the last three years combined," remarked Coach Veidt. "It marks the first time that our initial two-deep will have all returners on the chart." This year's seniors have been instrumental in helping keep underclassmen in the program by the examples they set on the field and off of it.
A defense that has kept Bluffton in games the past few seasons will again set the tone in 2011 as 10 starters return to Coach Veidt's odd stack alignment. The anchor is senior nose tackle Justin Crosier (Columbus/Hamilton Township) who was recently named pre-season Second Team All-American following his dominating junior campaign. Crosier led the team with 63 tackles, including a conference-high 19 tackles-for-loss and 7.5 sacks to go along with his two forced fumbles. Seniors Jerry Stone (Cardington/Cardington-Lincoln) and David Himmeger (Grove City/Central Crossing) saw significant time up front for the Beavers in 2010 while junior Steven Miller (Logan) finished with 33 tackles en route to his second consecutive All-HCAC honor. Providing Bluffton experienced depth on the defensive line are seniors Bryan Heckathorn (Hartville/Lake) and Mark Herge (Elida) as well as junior Preston Huddleston (Benton Harbor, MI/Eau Claire).
Three senior linebackers with plenty of experience return for their final campaign. Shane Hubbard (Johnstown/Big Walnut), who led the Beavers in stops as a sophomore, racked up 53 tackles last season. Close on his heels was fellow backer Jake Luthy (Ida, Mich./Ida) who tallied 50 tackles, including 31 solos. Rounding out the trio is middle linebacker Geoff Yost (North Canton/Jackson) who picked up 27 tackles in 2010. Senior Jordan Burdue (Liberty Center), and juniors Joe Maldonado (Dade City, FL/Zephyrhills) and Ben Kaufman (Ottawa/Ottawa-Glandorf) also bring back experience at the linebacker position.
Ready to direct the secondary from his free safety position is senior Steve Sealscott (Van Wert) who has 140 career stops, including a team high 71 as a freshman. Sealscott has been honored by the HCAC following each of his three seasons at Bluffton. Juniors Dominique Chester (Mansfield/Madison Comprehensive) and Justin Hahn (Rocky River) are a pair of heavy hitters in the secondary while seniors Oscar Vazquez-Dyer (Findlay/Carey), Challen Stewart (Antwerp), Spenser Smith (Wilmington) and Jesse Herr (Bluffton) have all started for Bluffton at defensive back. Sophomore Joshua Hadley (Harper Woods, MI/Harper Woods) also saw action at safety in his first season of college ball.
With the leading tackler from each of the past three seasons among the 2011 seniors, Bluffton has a wealth of experience to draw on this year. For the first time during Coach Veidt's tenure, the leading tackler, Justin Crosier, came from the defensive line. That marks a stark change from the previous campaigns when Hubbard and Sealscott were forced to make more plays downfield. The Beavers will again count on the defensive line to set the tone, forcing turnovers and creating opportunities for sacks and hurries.
A pair of versatile quarterbacks will handle the play-calling duties for the Beavers in 2011. Senior Chris Byrd (Detroit, MI/Detroit University Prep) has the tools to attack opposing defenses with his arm and his feet. Byrd went for 396 yards on just 80 carries (4.9 yards per rush) while passing for 681 yards. He threw for six touchdowns and ran for five more. Just a freshman in 2010, Tyler Wright (Troy) led the Beavers with 611 yards on the ground and 764 yards passing in his first collegiate season. Being able to switch quarterbacks freely following taxing runs is a luxury Bluffton has with Byrd and Wright who will both duel it out for the starting nod this season.
First Team All-HCAC performer Todd Trotter (Cincinnati/Aiken University) is a dual threat for the Beavers, starting at wide receiver and returning kicks on special teams. He hauled in a team-high 38 receptions while returning 29 kicks for 589 yards. Fellow senior receivers Jason A. Johnson (Lansing, MI/Eastern) and Shane Swisher (Findlay/McComb) give the Beavers a wealth of talent and experience vertically down the field. They combined for 40 catches and seven touchdowns in 2010, accounting for 528 receiving yards. Junior Ryan Sabin (Canal Winchester) is an outstanding athlete who will see time at both tight end and wide receiver, giving Bluffton a solid blocking presence who can also make plays with the ball.
Looking to return following a season-ending ankle injury that sidelined him for the entire 2010 campaign is senior tailback Jason G. Johnson (Cleveland/Collinwood) who led the team in rushing his first two seasons. Sophomore Airic Steagall (Hillsboro) worked his way into the starting linuep late in his freshman campaign, tallying 200 yards and two scores on the ground. Junior Jason Brown (Napoleon) gives the Beavers three capable ball carriers who are just as likely to go through tacklers as they are to go around them. Senior fullback Jeff Gehring (Parma/Trinity) is an excellent blocker who has started for the past two seasons.
A pair of senior lineman will provide experienced protection for a Bluffton offense that returns all of its top skill players. Russell Krouse (Huntsville/Indian Lake) and David Mango (Fishers, IN) both have All-HCAC hardware on their shelf, while junior Thomas Gingrich (Goshen, IN) was on his way to joining them in that category last year before a season-ending injury. Fellow junior Hayden Vogely (Columbia City, IN) took over as the starting center last season and he showed consistent improvement throughout the year. Junior Yale Reames (Rushylvania/Benjamin Logan) and sophomore Jake Kendall (Cincinnati/LaSalle) also saw significant time up front with Gingrich missing much of last season.
Sophomore Austin Sweeney (Adrian, MI/Whitmer) and junior punter Heath Underwood (Mansfield/Ontario) took care of the kicking duties for the Beavers in 2010 and they have the inside track to continue with the special teams this season. Sweeney converted 7-of-9 field goal attempts and finished the season with 33 points, while Underwood punted 52 times for 1887 yards.
An experienced group of coaches provides a continuity that will serve the Beavers well in 2011. Assistant Head Coach Chris Kreig is starting his fourth season as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. 22-year veteran Lou Stokes will serve as running-backs coach, Associate Head Coach and Director of Academic Success while Jason Diller is back for his fourth year as quarterbacks coach. Denny Phillips is in his 23rd season as defensive backs coach. Kyle Coleman, starting his third season on Bluffton's staff, coaches the safeties and is the team's video coordinator, while fellow graduate assistant Brian Mason directs the defensive line and serves as the equipment coordinator. Craig Smith II took over as the special teams coordinator, pass game coordinator and wide receivers coach a year ago and he will handle those same duties in 2011.
Franklin was once again picked to finish first in the pre-season HCAC coaches poll after claiming the title and automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in three of the past four seasons. Defiance and Hanover were selected second and third while Bluffton and Anderson tied for sixth in the pre-season poll.
"I am excited about the number of seniors and starters we have back for this season," quipped Coach Veidt. "We have solidified our depth to a point that we have intense competition for playing time thanks to the efforts of our 24 seniors who have been exceptional leaders, allowing us to make significant strides during their time at Bluffton. All of the seniors are on target to graduate and that is a credit to their work ethic and to the efforts of Coach Stokes."
Bluffton kicks off its 2011 campaign when it hosts MIAA foe Kalamazoo College in Salzman Stadium on September 3. Following a trip to national-power Trine, the Beavers open conference action at home against Franklin on September 17. A Homecoming battle with Earlham is slated for October 1. Bluffton wraps up its regular season with a short trip to long-time rival Defiance College on November 12.