Ryan Aelker named HCAC Defensive Player of Year
November 18, 2015
BLUFFTON, Ohio - Consecutive winning seasons by the Bluffton University football team for the first time since 2000-01 paid dividends when the Heartland Conference handed out its post-season hardware following the 2015 season. A Bluffton record-tying seven Beavers (2000) earned First Team All-Conference honors while three were selected to the Second Team and two captured Honorable Mention honors. For the second straight season, senior end Ryan Aelker (New Bavaria/Holgate) blitzed his way to HCAC Defensive Player of the Year acclaim. He is the only defensive player in Bluffton University history to be named the HCAC Player of the Year and now he has accomplished that feat twice!
Four of his fellow seniors joined Aelker on the First Team. Brad Swavel (Marion/Ridgedale), Austin Speice (Paulding/Wayne Trace), Colten Kelso (Coshocton/River View) and Devante Thomas-Wright (Kings Clint. Twp./Chippewa Valley) were all named First Team All-HCAC along with sophomore Micah Roberson (Ada) and freshman Isaac Zickafoose (Middlebury, Ind./Northridge). Juniors Linkoln LaRoche (Dola/Hardin Northern) and Ty White (Orrville) along with freshman Lorenzo McLaurin (Hilliard/Darby) secured Second Team All-Conference honors while senior Matt Holden (Convoy/Crestview) and junior Conner Sheehan (Monroeville, Ind./Heritage) were both named Honorable Mention All-HCAC.
Franklin's Chase Burton (Corydon, Ind./Corydon Central) has been named the HCAC Offensive Most Valuable Player, while Earlham's Jalen Kenner (Reserve, La./East St. John) was honored as Special Teams Most Valuable Player. Mount St. Joseph University's Garrett Weaver (Cincinnati, Ohio/Amelia) was named Freshman of the Year for his efforts this fall.
Earlham head football coach Nick Johnson has been named the HCAC Coach of the Year in his first year as head coach of the Quakers. This honor was out of respect for Johnson and his dedication to his profession, his program, and his personal life. Coach Johnson instills life lessons to his student athletes on the field while embodying real life challenges. Off of the field, Johnson continues to head the football program while his wife, Melissa, battles illness. Melissa has been in the hospital for over 500 days in the last two years. Johnson attended every practice and missed only one game this season.
With all eyes on him and with 10 offensive coordinators scheming to keep Aelker away from the ball, all the senior did was go out and lead the nation in sacks for the second straight season while adding the most tackles-for-loss in NCAA Division III to his resume. His school record 13 sacks from 2014 stood for just one season as Aelker dropped opposing quarterbacks for an NCAA-best 15.5 sacks this season. He broke his school record of 22 TFL's with 24 TFL's as a senior, giving him the top two single-season marks in both sacks and TFL's at Bluffton. Aelker led the conference with three forced fumbles in addition to topping the conference leaderboard in sacks and TFL's. His 60 tackles were second for the Beavers and he stuffed the stat sheet with an interception, four breakups, two quarterback hurries and a blocked kick. It marks the third straight year that Coach Dorrel has directed the player who has topped the NCAA in sacks. Hanover's Jake Stillwell led the nation with 15 sacks in 2013 when Coach Dorrel was the defensive coordinator and line coach for the Panthers.
Aelker expanded his repertoire as a senior and he gave Bluffton's offense another weapon at tight end. He caught two passes, both for touchdowns as Bluffton took advantage of the former high school quarterback's versatility and athletic ability. He will leave Bluffton as the most decorated defensive player in school history. In addition to his back-to-back HCAC Defensive Player of the Year awards, Aelker tops Bluffton's career lists with 35 sacks for 214 yards, 60 TFL's for 286 yards, eight forced fumbles and 11 quarterback hurries. He finished his career with 165 tackles (110 solos), two interceptions, 11 breakups, two fumble recoveries and a blocked kick. Aelker was a Second Team All-HCAC selection as a sophomore before earning First Team All-HCAC honors the past two season. He was a three-time HCAC Defensive Player of the Week, once as a sophomore and twice this season. Aelker is the first player to earn HCAC Defensive MVP honors twice since Matt Lawless from MSJ in 2004 and 2006 and is the only the second player to win the award consecutively following Hanover linebacker Kevin O'Donohue in 1995-96.
The Bluffton record books also saw their share of adjustments on the offensive side of the ledger thanks to the outlandish numbers Micah Roberson put up. The sophomore needed just over six games to knock Eric Metz and Jack Tomlinson out of the top spot for reception in a single season. Roberson's 10 catches at Manchester gave him 70 and eight more than the previous mark of 62 receptions. He went on to haul in an even 100 for the season, tying him for #1 in the nation with 10.0 receptions per game. His 1,096 receiving yards also surpassed the previous school record of 1,063 set by Eric Metz in 1999. Roberson equaled Donovan's Brown's school record of 10 receiving touchdowns. He was named the HCAC Offensive Player of the Week after hauling in 10 catches for 143 yards and two touchdown's in Bluffton's 28-20 win at Manchester when he broke the season receptions record. Roberson sits at 19th in the nation with his 1,096 receiving yards. With two years of eligibility left, Roberson is closing in on two major career marks. He has 155 receptions, just eight away from the all-time mark of 163 currently held by Eric Metz. His 1,637 career receiving yards are fourth all-time with Eric Metz also topping that list with 2,677 career receiving yards. Roberson needs eight touchdowns to overtake Andy Nowlin's school mark of 20 touchdown catches. He also established a new single-season record at Bluffton with six games of at least 100 yards receiving this year.
Senior linebacker Brad Swavel wrapped up his second straight First Team All-Conference honor after leading the Beavers in tackles the past two seasons. He finished with 67 stops, including 49 of the solo variety. His 8.5 TFL's were tied for 13th in the conference and he also added 1.5 sacks. Swavel picked off two passes, had four breakups and chipped in with a quarterback hurry for a Bluffton defense that ranked third in scoring (21.2) and total yards allowed (314.1). Another former quarterback in high school and his first year at Bluffton, Swavel showed a nose for the football with 161 career tackles, 17.5 TFL's and three sacks. He finished his career with four interceptions, seven breakups, three fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
Devante Thomas-Wright had a breakout season as a senior, taking over as the featured running back after handling the fullback duties last season. He took advantage of the opportunity, rolling off 725 yards on 147 carries (4.9 yards per carry). Thomas-Wright topped the HCAC with 12 rushing touchdowns and he was fifth in the conference with 725 yards on the ground. His 72 points scored place him in a tie for 14th on the all-time single-season scoring list. For his career, Thomas-Wright picked up 817 yards on the ground and 165 through the air with 13 rushing touchdowns.
Paving the way for Wright and giving Roberson time to work his magic, senior Austin Speice provided the toughness for an offensive unit that led the Heartland Conference with 205.6 yards per game on the ground. A Second Team selection as a junior, Speice helped the Beavers put up 462.1 yards per game, over a hundred more per contest than they did in 2014. The left tackle also made it a family affair, providing protection for brother Colby Speice (Paulding/Wayne Trace) who threw for 1,185 yards and nine touchdowns while splitting time with Conner Sheehan. He played a huge part in Bluffton's allowing just 10 sacks all season, one more than conference leaders Franklin and Rose-Hulman.
Joining Speice as a First Team All-HCAC selection was senior center Colten Kelso who was an integral part of Bluffton's much-improved offense this season. He helped Bluffton to HCAC-bests of 43 percent on third down conversions (68-of-157) and 63 percent on fourth down opportunities (15-of-24). HIs work up front also allowed Bluffton to lead the HCAC in time of possession at a ridiculous 33:50 per game, over two minutes per game more than any other squad managed. However, his best move came following the 44-0 Senior Day shellacking of Anderson when, surrounded by his teammates, he asked Raven Wilson to be his bride. And she responded YES to the jubilation of everyone on the field and in the stands!
Six TFL's and four sacks in the final two games propelled freshman defensive tackle Isaac Zickafoose to First Team All-HCAC honors in his first year as a Beaver. His 7.5 sacks were third in the conference while his 11.5 TFL's ranked seventh in the HCAC. They also placed him fifth on Bluffton's single-season sack list and 11th on the TFL list. Zickafoose was named to the D3football.com Team of the Week following his three sacks and four TFL's in the 44-0 shutout of Anderson when the Beavers limited Anderson to -9 yards on the ground and just 83 yards of total offense. He finished the season with 33 tackles, two breakups, a fumble recovery and five quarterback hurries (2nd all-time).
Picking up his first piece of All-HCAC hardware was junior Linkoln LaRoche who gave the Beavers all-conference performers at both defensive end positions. The Second Team selection was sixth in the HCAC with 12 TFL's while his five sacks placed him fifth in the conference. He is tied for ninth on Bluffton's single season TFL list with 12 stops behind the line of scrimmage this year. LaRoche finished the season with 45 tackles, including 34 solos for a Bluffton defense that was near the top of the conference in every major category. He has 70 career tackles, seven sacks, 19 TFL's, three hurries, a breakup and a fumble recovery.
Freshman Lorenzo McLaurin earned Second Team All-HCAC acclaim after a first season that saw the talented tight end haul in 37 catches for 500 yards, 28th on the all-time list for single-season receiving yards. His 37 receptions were tied for 15th in the conference while his 500 yards were 13th in the HCAC. McLaurin's 10-yard TD reception where he trapped the ball on a Rose-Hulman defender’s back was nominated for the GEICO Play of the Year.
Headlining the back end of Bluffton's defense was junior defensive back Tyrone White who picked off three passes for 59 yards (12th all time for interception return yards). He tallied 24 tackles (18 solos) and six breakups for a Bluffton defense that ranked third in the conference in points allowed and total yards. His six breakups were tied for ninth in the conference. For his career, White has a 141 total tackles (103 solos), 6.5 TFL's, one sack, 12 breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. His eight career interceptions are tied for 15th all-time at Bluffton and his 145 return yards are fourth. The two-time Second Team All-HCAC selection has been a mainstay for the Beaver defense the past three years.
Defensive back Matt Holden picked up his first Honorable Mention All-HCAC honor following a senior campaign in which he wrapped up 49 tackles (38 solos). He ranked third for Bluffton in tackles. Holden paced the Beavers with seven breakups and three interceptions for 10 passes defended. He also recovered a fumble and added 2.5 TFL's. His seven breakups and 10 PD's are tied for fifth all-time on Bluffton's single-season list. Holden was tied for seventh in the HCAC in pickoffs and breakups.
Although Conner Sheehan shared the signal-calling duties with Colby Speice and missed the final two three games with a broken foot, his body of work earned him Honorable Mention All-HCAC recognition. Despite playing roughly half of Bluffton's snaps, Sheehan finished the season just one touchdown shy of the school record for touchdowns. He tossed 17 TD's after his brother Nick Sheehan tied Joel Parrett's school record (18) last season. His completion percentage of 63.9 is third all-time while his pass efficiency (155.83) is also third at Bluffton. He tossed for 1,364 yards (14th all-time) and his single season offense total of 1,580 yards is 13th all-time. Sheehan is sixth all-time with his 7.38 yards per play average this season. With his senior season still ahead of him, Sheehan ranks 14th all time with 2,796 yards of total offense. His 2,639 career passing yards are ninth all-time and he also ranks near the top of the career lists for completion percentage (third at 57.8 percent), touchdown passes (sixth at 28) and interception percentage (fourth at 3.97).
In conjunction with the All-HCAC selections, the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference also announced the All-HCAC Sportsmanship Team for the fall of 2015. Senior Aron Gibson (Caledonia/River Valley) was selected to the All-Sportsmanship Team from Bluffton. This award has been developed as part of a conference-wide sportsmanship initiative. Members of the All-HCAC Sportsmanship team are selected by the coaches and their teammates as individuals who demonstrate the ideals of positive sportsmanship both on and off the field/court of competition.
The Beavers put together their sixth straight victory over Defiance, equaling the run from 1985-1990 that was the second-most consecutive Bluffton victories in the series. The Beavers won 11 straight from 1955 through 1965. Bluffton wrapped up its season at 6-4 (5-3 HCAC) for the second year in a row under Head Coach Denny Dorrel. The 22 victories put up by the senior class were the most since the 2001 seniors went 24-16. The 2015 seniors were also the third straight class to go undefeated in the Bluffton-Defiance rivalry. Bluffton's second straight six-win season under Head Coach Denny Dorrel marked the first time the Beavers have had consecutive winning seasons since 2000-01!