2008 Football Preview
Date: August 15, 2008
Sixteen seniors and 21 juniors return in 2008, making up the most experienced team in the eight year tenure of head coach Nick Fletcher.
The senior-laden squad, that has ended each of the last two seasons by winning three out of their last four games, enter 2008 with hopes of breaking back into upper half of the North Coast Athletic Conference standings.
Over the past four seasons the Denison ground game has totaled 7,365 yards highlighted by last season's 1,913 yards rushing, the most by a Denison team since 1992. Every contributor from that rushing attack in 2007 returns to the fold in 2008. The group is led by senior Jon Berg (Washington, Pa./Trinity) who rushed for a team-high 721 yards and finished fourth in the conference. He was followed close behind by Dan Crawford (Upper Arlington, Ohio/Upper Arlington), who as a freshman led all conference running backs with 5.2 yards per carry average. Crawford's 551 yards and seven touchdowns ranked him sixth in the NCAC. Add junior Nick Krempasky (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente) and sophomore David Brade (Boston, Mass./Charleston) into the mix and it's easy to see where the strength of this year's team is centered.
"This is by far the best group of running backs that I have and at any point in my career," said Fletcher. "Jon is our workhorse back. The more you give him the ball the better he is going to get. With Crawford he has sneaky power. He really learned how to use his legs to gain extra yardage late in the year. He came up with some big plays in key situations."
Amplifying the running game will not be a problem for senior quarterback Michael Barnes (Gates Mills, Ohio/Mayfield), who enters his first full season as the Big Red signal caller. Barnes took over quarterback duties in the third week of last season and the 2008 NCAC Indoor Track Sprinter of the Year, kept defenses on their heels with his all-purpose ability.
"Our passing game is rather complex and Mike picked it up so quickly last year. His legs make him dangerous but he reads defense so well we know we are going to have to use his arm to be successful," said Fletcher.
Backing up Barnes will be senior Jordan Linck (Washington, Pa./Trinity) and sophomores Colin McKelvey (Kittanning, Pa./Kittanning) and Tom Czarnecki (Cedarburg, Wis./Cedarburg).
Blocking for Barnes and the Big Red stable of running backs will be a revamped offensive line that will look to fill the void left by three graduating four-year starters. Sophomore Borden Marshall (Marysville, Ohio/Marysville) will make the switch from defense and takes over one of the guard positions. Senior Will Minor (Washington, Pa./Trinity) will make the shift from tight end to right tackle. Two more returning starters in sophomore Mike Muldoon (Mason, Ohio/St. Xavier) and junior Bobby Fresch (Westerville, Ohio/Central) are back in the fold. Junior Chris Pappas (Westlake, Ohio/Westlake) will see time along with sophomores Kevin Drake (Norwalk, Ohio/Norwalk) and Tony Capetillo (Cincinnati, Ohio/Anderson). Four freshman recruits will also get an extended look in training camp but one of the biggest impacts could be made by the return of junior Derek Ulsh (Fredericksburg, Pa./The Hill School) who was sidelined for the final seven weeks of the 2007 season with a broken ankle.
Fletcher has always believed in rotating plenty of different players on the offensive line and this season should be no different.
"Playing a lot of guys allows us to get fresh legs into the game and it helps reduce the size advantage some other teams have on us. Frank Little does an outstanding job coaching our linemen and our system has worked for us. It's great for player moral. The competition keeps practice intense and it protects us from injury situations," said Fletcher.
Tight end is another position where the depth has allowed a three-year starter (Minor) to move to tackle. Seniors Tyler Freriks (Norwalk, Ohio/Norwalk) and Jon McDermott (Cincinnati, Ohio/Anderson) along with sophomore Shawn Eagle will split time and bring their respective strengths to the position.
The team's instability at the quarterback position over the last two and a half seasons has slowed the production of the receiving corps. That is not to say the cupboard is bare. With Barnes entering his second year under center the play of a senior laden group of wide receivers is critical to the success of the offense.
Senior Nick Thompson (E. Grand Rapids, Mich./E. Grand Rapids) led all pass catchers with 27 receptions a year ago. Peter Jarowey (Newton, Mass./South) has 43 career receptions and is coming off a career-high 17 catch season. Junior Brandon Taylor (Cincinnati, Ohio/Anderson) and senior Mike Brienzo (Monte Sereno, Calif./Los Gatos) will also see time at receiver.
In 2007 the Big Red posted one of the top rushing defenses in the league but struggled against the pass. With eight returning starters mostly at linebacker and in the secondary, that lingering problem could be a thing of the past.
Seniors Joe Ulrey (Marengo, Ohio/Highland) and Jim Minor (Washington, Pa./Trinity) lead a stellar cast of linebackers for the Big Red. Ulrey has led the team in tackles in each of the last two seasons after making the move from fullback after his freshman year. Minor, a four-year starter for both the football and men's lacrosse team, adds to toughness already present at the position.
"I love our group of linebackers," exclaimed Fletcher. "Joe is the heart and soul of that defense and what Jimmy has done, playing two very high-impact sports at such a high level is pretty amazing."
Another player that Fletcher expects big things out of is junior Bill Aukerman (Greensburg, Pa./Greater Latrobe) who has battled injuries in each of his first two seasons in Granville. Joining Aukerman, Ulrey and Minor will be juniors Dan Risko (Lodi, Ohio/Cloverleaf) and John Zanner (Bexley, Ohio/Bexley) who both garnered plenty of playing time a season ago and according to Fletcher, were two of the most improved players on the team.
Senior defensive ends Josh Hamperian (Lexington, Ky./Lafayette) and Tim Dukovich (Gibsonia, Pa./Hampton) will handle the pass-rush responsibilities. Hamperian posted three sacks and eight tackles for a loss last year while Dukovich is back after spending his junior season studying abroad. With last year's nose guard, Marshall, making the move to the offensive line, junior Adam Lewis (Clearwater, Fla./Dunedin) will step into an expanded role in the middle of the line. Drew Hanna (Hunting Valley, Ohio/University School), Doug DeVol (Chelsea, Mich./Chelsea), Andrew Murray (Zionsville, Ind./Zionsville) and Mike Barnum (LaGrange, Ill./LaGrange) will round out the top-seven returnees up front.
The defensive backfield will have to replace four-year starting safety Jason Wright, but thanks to senior strong safety Bert Bathiany (Ft. Thomas, Ky./Ft. Thomas) and junior free safety Drew Homyk (Chicago, Ill./St. Ignatius Prep) the position will continue to be a major strength of this year's team. Junior Caleb McFerren (Zanesville, Ohio/Zanesville) will also see time at safety in addition to his punting duties.
Three of the Big Red's four cornerbacks last season were freshman and at times it was trial by fire. Nick Weiss (Cincinnati, Ohio/Anderson) managed to record 44 tackles and two interceptions in 10 games while Tyler Lambert (Ranger, Ga./Gordon Central) led the NCAC in interceptions with seven in only seven games. Senior Mike Trzaska (Sagamore Hills, Ohio/St. Ignatius) and junior Will Doss (Ft. Gratiot, Mich./Cardinal Mooney Catholic) will see significant action at cornerback as well.
Sophomore Kevin Schneider (Upper Arlington, Ohio/Upper Arlington) returns to handle placekicking duties after a stellar rookie season. Schneider was 5-7 on field goals attempts, including a season-long 47-yard field goal versus Earlham in week 10. McFerren and Murray will once again split the punting duties. McFerren provided the distance, averaging 40.1 yards per kick last year while Murray was asked to provide accuracy, dropping seven of his 10 punts last year inside the 20-yard line.
Punt returns will be handled by Weiss who averaged 15.9 yards in 12 returns last year. He will share the kickoff duties with Krempasky.
The Big Red will open the season on Sept. 6 at Kalamazoo College. This season will begin the conference's agreement with the University Athletic Association which will result in non-conference match-up's with 2007 NCAA Playoff qualifier Case Western Reserve and University of Chicago. Also, for the first time since the 2006 Piper Stadium renovation, the Big Red will play The College of Wooster under the lights on Sept. 27.