Bluffton excited to start Coach Dorrel era
August 6, 2014
Three straight wins to end the year and a new leader, Head Coach Denny Dorrel, have the Bluffton University football team excited to hit the gridiron in a few short weeks. A stunning 24-17 victory over a Franklin team that went 31-1 in the Heartland Conference the past four years followed by a fourth consecutive win over rival Defiance College capped off a 15-day stretch that saw the Beavers go from 1-6 to 4-6. With Coach Dorrel set to make his first impression at Bluffton, the Beavers will be all systems go when they kick off 2014 against Ohio Wesleyan in Salzman Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 6.
With over 70 returners set to descend on Bluffton in mid-August, Coach Dorrel will have an experienced group when he makes his first appearance as head coach. A defensive line that showed flashes of brilliance a season ago and a group of offensive skill position players with the ability to stress their opponents give Bluffton a solid foundation as the Beavers embark on the Coach Dorrel era. A fast-paced approach on both sides of the ball will give the Bluffton fans in Salzman Stadium much to cheer about as the Beavers utilize their speed and athleticism in 2014.
Back for his final season under center after a shoulder injury ended his 2013 campaign prematurely is fifth-year senior Nick Sheehan (Monroeville, Ind./Heritage). A leader both on the field and in the weight room, Sheehan completed 99-of-178 passing attempts with 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions in five starts a year ago. He threw for 1,182 yards despite missing the second half of his junior season. Providing the senior captain with a formidable challenge under center is none other than his sophomore brother, Conner Sheehan (Monroeville, Ind./Heritage). As a freshman, the younger Sheehan guided the ship when Nick’s season ended. He completed 90-of-175 passes for 1,158 yards with 10 scores while leading Bluffton to three straight wins at the end of the 2013 season.
Headlining the talented receiving corps is fellow senior Donovan Brown (Cincinnati/Purcell Marian) who established a new school record with 10 touchdown receptions, including the game-winning grab with just 35 seconds left in Bluffton’s win over Franklin last season. Brown hauled in 44 catches for a team-best 676 yards, the seventh-highest single-season total in school history.
Leading rusher Eric Fox (Brunswick) gives Bluffton a versatile threat out of the backfield after churning out 439 yards on 109 carries (4.0 yards per carry) to go along with 34 receptions for 290 yards. He finished with five touchdowns thanks to his ability to go through and around the defense. Also a threat on special teams, Fox was a First Team All-HCAC selection as a junior.
An offensive line that was beset with injuries in 2013 looks to be much improved with Colton Kelso (Coshocton/River Valley) and Nathan Collins (New Boston, MI/St. Mary CC) back on the field alongside All-HCAC tackle Austin Speice (Paulding/Wayne Trace). Sophomore Jamison Inskeep (Decatur, Ind./Bellmont), who moved into a starting lineup at tackle late last season, and junior fullback Devante Thomas-Wright (Kings Clint.Twp., Mich./Chippewa Valley) were both key members of Bluffton’s offense a year ago.
The strength of Bluffton’s pressure defensive foundation will come from its line. The transition from an odd stack to a more standard 4-3 alignment has Coach Dorrel excited about the pressure his linemen can elicit. Seniors Ryan Leopold (Ottawa/Ottawa-Glandorf) and Ben Schamp (St. Marys/Memorial), along with junior Ryan Aelker (Holgate/New Bavaria) and sophomore Link Laroche (Dola/Hardin Northern) wreaked havoc on opposing offenses a year ago and with Coach Dorrel directing them now, the sky is a the limit. “We have a defensive line that is intact from last season and moving to a 4-3 will allow us to pressure opposing quarterbacks and make them as uncomfortable as possible,” stated Coach Dorrel. As a sophomore, Aelker racked up 13.5 tackles for loss, including a team-high 6.0 sacks. He was tied for the fourth-most tackles with 47 stops en route to being named Second Team All-HCAC. HCAC honorable mention selections Schamp and Leopold added 37 and 35 tackles, respectively, while Laroche came up with the game-ending sack of Franklin All-American Jonny West in Bluffton’s win over Franklin.
The loss of First Team All-HCAC linebacker Josh Runda (118 tackles) leaves a significant hole to fill in the middle of the defense, but seniors Wyatt Herman (Edgerton) and Paul Shroyer (Pataskala/Watkins Memorial) came in just behind Runda with 56 and 55 tackles, respectively. They combined for nine TFL’s and each had an interception a season ago. Herman was named honorable mention All-Heartland Conference as a junior. Senior Travaun Reaves (Berkley, MI) and sophomore Tyrone White (Orrville) saw significant time in the secondary last season and they will be counted on heavily with the loss of both starting cornerbacks from 2013. Reaves and White, a two-sport standout who starred for the track team in the spring, both finished with 46 tackles a year ago.
Although Franklin will be the favorite until proven otherwise, the Heartland Conference looks to be very balanced thanks to group of recently-graduated signal-callers who departed following 2013. The Beavers open the season at home against Ohio Wesleyan on Sept. 6 before trips to Baldwin-Wallace and Franklin sandwiched around a bye week on Sept. 20. Homecoming on Oct. 4 will be fitting for Coach Dorrel as Bluffton welcomes Hanover, the school that he played for and his last stop before taking over the Beavers. Road contests at Rose-Hulman and Earlham set up a final month that includes three home games in four weeks, culminating with rival Defiance College coming to town on Saturday, Nov. 15.
With a bevy of new faces on the sideline, Coach Dorrel’s primary concern is that his 2014 squad improves every day. How quickly his team can learn the new terminology will greatly impact the progress on the field. He has built his coaching career on energy and that energy shows up on the field in how his players attack their opponents. The combination of experience, talent and leadership has the Beavers excited about the prospects for the 2014 season.