Football Season Preview
August 9, 2017
BLUFFTON, Ohio - The Bluffton University football team is coming off a third-straight winning season and is ready to continue that success when they hit the gridiron in 2017. Head Coach Denny Dorrel has the Beavers clicking on all cylinders heading into his fourth year at the helm. Bluffton’s 7-3 mark in 2016 pushed the Beavers to 19-11 during the three years since Head Coach Denny Dorrel came on the scene. A third straight winning season under Coach Dorrel marked the first time the Beavers have accomplished that feat since 1985-88!
Bluffton looks to jump on the back of Heartland Conference MVP candidate Micah Roberson (Ada). Roberson had another excellent year, finishing fourth in the nation with 98 receptions. He led the team with 1,030 receiving yards in 2016, leaving him just 10 yards shy of Eric Metz who ranks number 1 all-time with 2,677 career yards.
Roberson and Dell will have an experienced signal caller coming back when they take the field this fall. Senior Colby Speice (Paulding/Wayne Trace) looks to get back to his 2015 form when he threw for 1,185 yards and nine touchdowns. Speice will have the opportunity to run the show after splitting time the last two years with 2017 graduate Conner Sheehan.
Returning to maintain the foundation of Bluffton’s rapidly-improving offense are junior linemen EthAn Williams (Van Wert/Van Wert) and Ian O’Donnell (Tiffin/Columbian). Both Williams and O’Donnell helped pave the way for a Bluffton offense that ranked second in total offense as well as rushing. The Bluffton offensive line has worked diligently in the off season to continue that improvement under first-year offensive coordinator Aaron Krepps.
Bluffton will also be looking for big things from junior wideouts Lucas Espitia (Lincoln Park, Mich./Lincoln Park) and Keyon Camden (Wayne/Elmwood). The departure of both running backs Dustin Fisher and Dante Carroll opens up room for Espitia to make an impact on the outside. Espitia finished last year with 286 yards receiving and four touchdowns.
Another strength this season will be on the defensive line where juniors Issac Zickafoose (Middlebury, Ind./Northridge) and Ollie Moorer (Warrensville Heights/Warrensville Hts.) are ready to anchor Bluffton’s pass rush. Zickafoose was named HCAC Defensive Player of the Year after putting up huge numbers with 11.5 sacks (10th in the country) and 20 tackles for loss (10th in the country. Those numbers place the defensive tackle third on Bluffton's single season list for both categories, behind just Ryan Aelker's historic 2014 and 2015 campaigns. Zickafoose finished the season with 46 tackles, including 33 solos. Moorer looks to bounce back from some injuries and return to his 2014 form when he tallied 7 TFL’s and 6.5 sacks.
The middle of the defense will be led by senior linebacker Giovanni Spadaro (Macedonia/Nordonia). Spadaro gives the Beavers experience in the middle where he had 36 tackles, 22 solo, 4.5 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and an interception. Defensive back Tyler Showalter (Haviland/Wayne Trace) finished 2016 with 31 tackles, 20 solos, 1.5 tackles for loss and an interception, while freshman Kobe Russell (Wooster) added 21 stops and a pickoff.
Senior Jordan Watkins (Reynoldsburg) will handle the kicking duties for the Beavers this season after a junior campaign when he was a 36-of-41 on extra point attempts. Watkins sits atop the all-time list in extra points made (104), extra point percentage (.945), and field goal percentage (.652).
The challenge in the Heartland Conference is once again to knock Franklin College from its perch atop the HCAC. The Grizzlies had won six straight HCAC titles before Rose-Hulman represented the conference in the NCAA Tournament last season. Franklin was the nearly unanimous choice to finish first in the coaches poll with 2016 champion Rose-Hulman second and the Beavers close behind at third thanks to one first place vote. Bluffton has the talent and motivation to compete with the conference heavyweights and Coach Dorrel will have his troops ready when the Beavers travel Wooster for the 2017 opener on Saturday, Sept. 2.
Bluffton is also anxious to get back in the win column against rival Defiance College. The Beavers lost to the Yellow Jackets for the first time in seven years, making the all-time series 45-45-2. Come out and support the Bluffton University football team when it hits the field this fall!