A new era of Bluffton football begins
By Ben Risinger, Sports Information Director
The 2003 season looks to bring many changes to the Bluffton gridiron. The most prominent of these changes is the coach - Greg Brooks. Brooks replaces longtime football coach and athletic director, Carlin Carpenter who retired last spring.
Brooks has quite a task ahead of himself too, returning only 11 starters (5 offensive, 6 defensive) and losing some quality core players from the roster. Bluffton finished the 2002 campaign at 3-7 overall and 1-5 in the Heartland conference. Gone are quarterback Brad Moore and running back Jovan Johnson from the Beaver's offense. A good part of the defense line has also graduated. Even with a challenge ahead of him, Brooks is ready to face it head on.
"I'm nervous but very excited about being head coach," Brooks said. "I've been around long enough to know that just because now I'm in charge, not everything is going to be perfect. To be able to give my twist to the program makes it a very exciting time for me. We will be doing some different things this year that some people might not expect."
Brooks understands that taking over an athletic program is a very long and lengthy process. He is excited to be able to run and implement his own strategies and lead assistant coaches in the way he feels is needed. Regardless of what the record might be at the end of November, Brooks wants to make sure that he and his staff did the best job possible and that the team ended on a positive note.
"I've never really worked with assistants like I am now. I have some background from working under coach (Carpenter) on how to successfully make a group work well together," Brooks said. "We have solid, good individuals who coach here; you can't say that about a lot of small college football programs. At the end of the year, I want our staff and players to be able to say we are playing the best football that we can."
The Beavers face a new challenge this year as former quarterback Moore and running back Johnson are gone. Moore ended his career at Bluffton by becoming the first ever three-time All-HCAC quarterback. He amassed 5,997 yards in total offense during his career and threw for 37 touchdown passes, which both rank third all-time at Bluffton. Bluffton returns three potential quarterbacks (Owens, Koontz, and Krieger) and will let pre-season camp determine who will be at the helm for 2003. "We are going to see how they react to pressure, make decisions, and see how the team reacts to them (quarterbacks)," Brooks said. "We may play one or two quarterbacks during the game and let him run (the option) more too."
At running back things will look different with the early departure of Johnson. Johnson led the HCAC in 2000 and 2001 in rushing, and was fourth on the list last season. Bluffton had led the conference in rushing for the past four years until 2002. (Tyson Goings led the HCAC in rushing from 1998-2000). Ben Dodds (597 yds. rushing) will be the lone returning running back for the Beavers.
The offensive line will see new faces as well this season as the Beavers only return Alan Estep and Nathan Kreider. The line lost All-HCAC guards Luke Sorrell and Travis Lepley. The offensive line in 2002 gave up only nine sacks totaling 48 yards on the season. "You will see a total restructuring of the offensive line this season," Brooks said.
In receiving Bluffton brings back Jim Dwenger (423 yds. receiving) and Michael Kingsley (131 yds. receiving) to pull the long balls out of the air. Ben Dodds may also see some time sprinting down the field.
Brooks will place a new emphasis on special teams this season looking for key players to help out with kickoffs and punt returns. Another major hole for Bluffton will be kicking. David Samsal, the kicker/punter from last year's squad is gone leaving the Beavers looking for a new foot.
Coach Brooks stresses how his defense will play a very integral part of his teams plan for the season. Returning for the Beavers is two-time All-HCAC player Chris Sommers. Sommers led the conference in 2002 with 116 tackles and 5 TFL's. In the linebacking corps Pat Craun (62 tackles, 5 TFL), Scott Steiner (2nd team All-HCAC, 65 tackles), and Andy Tabler (51 tackles) are back to provide good coverage for Bluffton. "I've always looked at linebacker being one of those critical positions due to the responsibilities on the run and pass," Brooks said.
The defensive line has holes to fill for Bluffton as they lost both defensive ends in Lucas Wilson and Brian Steiner to graduation. Brooks will hunt eagerly for new ends as he says they, too, are a critical part of the defense. Luke Shipp returns as the lone defensive front starter for Bluffton.
"My goal is to have a defensive line that will put pressure on the quarterback without having to always blitz our linebackers," Brooks said.
The secondary coaching duties will be split this season as Brooks looks to give some new light to the cornerback and safety positions. Matt Chiles (59 tackles, 2 int.), Darin Riffle (49 tackles, 2 int.), and Brian Asher return to lead the Beavers. "The secondary is so important to us due to the fact that we have a passing conference. We have to match up better in the secondary this season," Brooks said.
Even with the many new faces on the Beaver squad this season, Brooks knows that no matter what happens, his team will be ready at the first game to start the season.