August 10, 2016
BLUFFTON, Ohio - Bluffton is excited to build on its first back-to-back winning seasons since 2000-01 when the Beavers hit the gridiron in 2016. Head Coach Denny Dorrel is working to establish a tradition of excellence despite it being just his third season at the helm. Although two-time HCAC Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Aelker (Holgate/New Bavaria) is no longer terrorizing opposing quarterbacks, the cupboard is far from bare with experience returning on both sides of the ball.
A legitimate Heartland Conference MVP candidate, junior Micah Roberson (Ada) gives the Beavers an opportunity to move the chains on every down. Roberson led the nation with a Bluffton-record 100 catches in 2015 and his 1,096 receiving yards also broke the former mark held by Eric Metz.
Roberson will have a pair of experienced signal callers to work with when he lines up this fall. Senior Conner Sheehan (Monroeville, Ind./Heritage), who led the Beavers to their colossal win over Franklin in 2013, completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,364 yards and 17 touchdowns before going down with an injury in game seven. The other half of Bluffton’s two-headed monster is junior Colby Speice (Paulding/Wayne Trace) who threw for 1,185 yards and nine touchdowns.
Returning to maintain the foundation of Bluffton’s rapidly-improving offense are senior linemen Jamison Inskeep (Decatur, Ind./Bellmont) and Hayden Clark (Waldo/Mt. Gilead). Although he is just a sophomore, Ian O’Donnell (Tiffin/Columbian) adds to Bluffton’s might on the line after opening massive holes for the Beaver ground game in his first collegiate season. The Bluffton offensive line has worked diligently in the off season, lifting weights and improving techniques as the Beavers have the ability to move the ball efficiently both through the air and on the ground.
Another strength for the Beavers this season is in the backfield with seniors Dustin Fisher (St. Marys/Memorial) and Dante Carroll (Gahanna/Lincoln) ready to carry a heavy load. Fisher netted 518 yards last season, averaging five yards per carry with three touchdowns. Carroll added 265 yards on 61 attempts, including a pair of scores as a junior.
Senior Link LaRoche (Dola/Hardin Northern) has the tools to continue Coach Dorrel’s tradition of coaching the HCAC Defensive Player of the Year. LaRoche racked up 12 TFL’s and five sacks as a junior after missing much of his sophomore season with a knee injury. Anchoring the other end of the line is sophomore Isaac Zickafoose (Middlebury, Ind./Northridge) who earned First Team All-HCAC honors thanks to six TFL's and four sacks in the final two games of the 2015 season.
Providing leadership in the back end are safeties Thaddeus Phillips (South Bend, Indiana/Riley) and Tyrone White (Orrville).White picked off three passes and was in on six breakups for the Beavers as a junior. Outside linebacker Gino Spadaro (Macedonia/Nordonia) gives the Beavers experience in the middle of the field after totaling 27 tackles, including 21 solos, three breakups and a forced fumble as a sophomore in 2015.
Jordan Watkins (Reynoldsburg) will handle the kicking duties for the Beavers this season after a sophomore campaign when he was a perfect 38-of-38 on extra point attempts.
The challenge once again in the Heartland Conference is to knock Franklin College from its perch atop the HCAC. The Grizzlies have won six straight HCAC titles with Bluffton’s win over FC in 2013 the only conference loss by Franklin during that span. Bluffton has the talent and motivation to compete with the conference heavyweights and Coach Dorrel will have his troops ready when the Beavers welcome Wilmington College for the home opener on Saturday, Sept. 3. The Grizzlies once again topped the HCAC coaches pre-season poll, but Bluffton was one of three other schools to receive a first place vote. The Beavers were fourth in the poll, following Rose-Hulman and Mount St. Joseph who were separated by just two points for second and third.
Also on Bluffton’s radar is continuing to rule the rivalry with Defiance College. The Beavers are winners of six straight over the Yellow Jackets as three straight classes have posted perfect marks against Defiance. Come out and support the Bluffton University football team when it hits the field this fall!