August 7, 2013
Five conference wins in each of the last two seasons has the Bluffton football team hungry to hit the gridiron in 2013. Competing in the Heartland Conference seemed improbable just a few short years ago, but Coach Veidt and his staff have Bluffton moving in the right direction following a 6-4 finish a season ago. The Beavers knocked off Rose-Hulman on the road in their first-ever three-overtime game before taking down Defiance in double-overtime.
With a squad that boasts 80 returners, Bluffton has experience and depth that have been crucial to its recent revival under Coach Veidt. Although the Beavers sport just one quarterback with game experience, Bluffton will count on first-year co-offensive coordinator Terry Peebles to develop junior Nicholas Sheehan (Monroeville, IN/Heritage) as he takes over under center this year. A two-time All-American quarterback and 1995 Don Hanson's Football Gazette NCAA Division III National Player of the Year at Hanover, Peebles takes over at Bluffton after five years as the offensive coordinator at Carthage College where he engineered an offense that broke 50 school records under his leadership.
The offense will take its direction from a pair of offensive coordinators who have played and worked for the top NCAA Division III programs in the country. Peebles played and coached at Hanover and then at Carthage while co-offensive coordinator Ricky Ciccone won two national championships as a player at Mount Union. The offensive line must replace three starters who played a huge part in Bluffton’s resurgence. Academic All-American Thomas Gingrich, David Mango and Yale Reames all graduated after outstanding careers in the trenches. Ready to fill their shoes are captain Marquis Brown (University Heights/Cleveland Heights) and fellow senior Bryan Kress (East Pointe, MI/East Detroit) along with sophomore Colton Kelso (Coshocton/River Valley) who all started for the Beavers in 2012. Johnny Ballom (Cleveland/Glenville), Vincent Dombrow (Roseville, MI/Transfer), Nathan Collins (New Boston, MI/St. Mary CC) and Austin Speice (Paulding/Wayne Trace) will also compete for time up front this season.
Bluffton’s top receiving threat from a year ago, senior captain Shawn Frost (Edison/Mt. Gilead) is back for his final season with the Beavers. Frost hauled in 34 receptions for 498 yards and three touchdowns, while also returning 18 punts for 134 yards in 2012. Senior Javelle Eaton (Cleveland/John Marshall) and juniors Donovan Brown (Cincinnati/Purcell Marian) and Jonathan Ballom (Cleveland/Central Catholic) combined for 30 catches and nearly 300 yards a season ago, giving Bluffton viable weapons on the outside. Drake Harrington (West Bloomfield, Mich./West Bloomfield), a 6-6 tight end known for his blocking, also caught six balls for 86 yards and a score as a junior.
Junior Nicholas Sheehan will take over for Tyler Wright under center this season after Wright spent the past three seasons calling plays for the Beavers. A traditional pocket passer, Sheehan was voted a captain for the 2013 season after an outstanding spring. In limited action, he threw a pair of touchdowns, including a 75-yarder against Hanover.
HCAC Freshman of the Year Calib Alexander (Ocala, FL/St. John Lutheran) provides a security blanket for Sheehan in his first year as the starting quarterback. Alexander flourished in his initial campaign, piling up a team-high 936 all-purpose yards to go along with his five touchdowns. He rushed for 445 yards and added 10 catches for 189 yards. All-purpose back and captain C.J. Sewell (Lima/Shawnee) and Eric Fox (Brunswick) will find the ball in their hands as well, both on offense and special teams. Fullbacks Tyler Carroll (Napoleon) and Jon Fent (Rockford/Parkway) are ready to open holes for Alexander and company in 2013.
A defense that has steadily improved during Coach Veidt’s time at Bluffton is again forced to replace starters who logged many of the plays the previous season. Like in the past, Coach Veidt is confident that the returners are ready to step into new roles that they have been preparing for. Despite losing six top-notch linebackers to graduation in just the past two years, the Beavers return leading tackler Josh Runda (Lima/Bath) to the middle of their defense. Fellow senior linebackers Derek Baksa (Paulding/Wayne Trace) and Ronald Carney (Warren, MI/Harper Woods) have both seen time on the defense and special teams as well. Sophomore Jake Michaels (Republic/Seneca East) along with juniors Wyatt Herman (Edgerton) and Paul Shroyer (Pataskala/Watkins Memorial) have also contributed to Coach Veidt’s linebacking unit.
How much damage the linebackers can inflict on opposing offenses will depend on how well the defensive line does up front. An experienced group returns to the trenches for Bluffton in 2013. Juniors Ryan Leopold (Ottawa/Ottawa-Glandorf), who suffered a season-ending injury in week one last year, and Ben Schamp (St. Marys/Urbana) have started for the Beavers, while fellow juniors Hunter Bosch (Ottoville/Shawnee) and Jacob Huber (Findlay/Van Buren) combined for 27 tackles last season. Schamp finished with 36 stops, including 5 TFL’s in 2012. Sophomore Ryan Aelker (New Bavaria/Holgate) and senior Jon Dixon (Detroit, MI/Harper Woods) add depth to Bluffton’s rotation across the front.
Despite losing four of five starters from the 2012 secondary, the Beavers bring back junior Jeff Parker (Bristol, IN/Northridge), their top playmaker in the back. Parker, a two-time HCAC javelin champion, racked up 51 tackles, seven passes defended and three forced fumbles as a sophomore. Senior Josh Hadley (Harper Woods, MI/Harper Woods) and junior Brad Swavel (Marion/Ridgedale) return with experience at safety, while juniors Travaun Reaves (Berkley, MI) and Mike Shroyer (Pataskala/Watkins Memorial) saw time at free safety and cornerback, respectively. Eric Bohlen (Lancaster, PA/Mannheim Township), Ricky DeBone (Detroit, MI/Lincoln Park), Delano Whidbee (Flint, MI/Flint Northern) and Matt Holden (Convoy/Crestview) also saw time in Bluffton’s secondary a year ago.
Senior Austin Sweeney (Adrian, Mich./Whitmer) and junior punter Josh Mattoon (Rawson/Cory-Rawson) have the inside track for the kicking duties this season. Sweeney has been a mainstay at kicker during his first three seasons, while Mattoon will see his first real action after Heath Underwood handled much of the punting during his four years as a Beaver.
While the offense will continue to move at a similar pace, Coach Peebles and Coach Ciccone will call on their experiences at Hanover and Mount Union to carve out larger chunks of yardage while putting more points on the board. Ciccone is in his second season after directing the wide receivers and special teams last year. Also returning for 2013 is Associate Head Coach and 24-year veteran Lou Stokes who will serve as the offensive line coach and Director of Academic Success. Jason Diller, who took over the running backs in 2012 after previously working with quarterbacks, is back for his sixth year. Recent graduate Tyler Wright will move to the sidelines where he will coach the tight ends this season.
Coach Veidt will continue to handle the linebackers while Denny Phillips is in his 25th season as defensive backs and punters coach. Graduate assistants Jon Wheat is back for his second campaign as the defensive line coach and video coordinator while Matt Grieb will direct the safeties and serve as the equipment manager.
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 five of the past six seasons. The Beavers were slotted sixth despite back-to-back seasons with five wins in conference action.
Bluffton opens its 2012 season when it travels to Ohio Wesleyan College for a night game on Sept. 7. A week later the Beavers open up in Salzman Stadium when they host Baldwin-Wallace. Bluffton will kick off conference action at home with Earlham on September 21. Following road games at Mount St. Joseph and Manchester, Bluffton welcomes Rose-Hulman for Homecoming on October 12. The Beavers wrap up their regular season when they travel to long-time rival Defiance College on November 16.