Beavers looking optimistic heading into 2004 campaign
By Bill Hanefeld, Sports Information Intern
August 17, 2004
With one season under his belt, second-year head coach Greg Brooks leads the Beavers
into their first season as Bluffton University .
While success has traditionally been measured in victories, Brooks feels that 2003 was successful based on intangibles that are harder to measure. The team not only played hard, it exhibited enthusiasm, improved chemistry and built relationships. The Beavers' 2-8 record (0-6 HCAC) was no indication of the effort that was put forth on and off the field. While the loss of linebackers Pat Craun and three-time All-HCAC Chris Sommers leaves holes in the middle of the defense, a structure change in the secondary may help to compensate in the upcoming season.
Coach Brooks feels the turnover margin last year played a huge part in the final 2003 record. "We turned the ball over too much last year and we also failed to force turnovers on the other side of the ball," Brooks said. Although the Beavers avoided penalties, Brooks feels that there was not enough emphasis on protecting the football, especially considering the ball control offense that the Beavers ran in 2003.
Inexperience was a major factor last season, but seven starters return on each side of the ball this year, providing a brighter outlook. "More men will play that have game experience," Brooks stated.
The team focused on improving functional strength and agility during the off-season. With outstanding attendance and work ethic at spring workouts the coaching staff is confident that physical improvements made during the off-season will lead to victories in 2004.
The 2004 edition of the Beavers will look to keep opposing offenses off the field
by doing what they do best, running the football and managing the clock. "As an offensive
line we know that we are better run blockers, but we also need to do a better job
of protecting our quarterback," Brooks said.
With the exception of graduate Nathan Kreider, the entire offensive line returns. Tri-captain and four-year starter Alan Estep will look to anchor the o-line along with senior Ben Mahas, junior Kevin Schelb and sophomore center James Fay. Having played as a unit for much of 2003, this group will be counted on to help improve the consistency of the offensive attack this year.
One of the challenges facing Brooks and the Beavers this year is getting the playmakers into position to make big plays. With first team All-HCAC running back junior Ben Dodds (1,049 yards rushing, 266 yards receiving) returning, the Beavers have their leading rusher from 2003 back. He is joined in the backfield by junior quarterback and second team All-HCAC selection Jared Owens (1388 yards passing, 445 yards rushing). Last year's number one option through the air, second team All-HCAC tight end Mark Gable (35 receptions for 518 yards), returns for his senior season. Coach Brooks is also looking for contributions from sophomore running back Ben McCullough (214 yards) and sophomore tight end Jeremy Haselman.
The strength of this year's defense lies in the defensive line. With the loss of only one starter, Luke Shipp, the defensive front of junior Rashid Morton (28 tackles, 6 sacks), and a pair of All-HCAC performers, senior Andy Tabler (34 tackles, 3 sacks) and sophomore Bryan Lloyd (30 tackles) brings valuable experience to the line. They will be counted on to pressure opposing quarterbacks as well as stop the run in 2004.
The loss of three time first team All-HCAC middle linebacker Chris Sommers and second team All-HCAC linebacker Pat Craun may lead to a structural change in the defense. Scott Steiner (65 tackles), a two time second team All-HCAC selection at linebacker, returns to the Beavers as a captain this year. Junior Rob Bailey and sophomore Tyler Schwab will compete for playing time at linebacker.
According to Brooks, the Beaver secondary will have to play more of an impact role. "With the proliferation of passing offenses in the HCAC, a solid secondary is a necessity," Brooks said. Senior captain Matt Chiles (66 tackles) is joined by senior Jon Mershman (41 tackles), junior Brett Cordy, and junior Tim Koontz in a secondary that may feature five defensive backs at times. This group of defenders will be counted on to create turnovers and stop opponents on third down with more consistency.
The kicking game is improved with the addition of former All-Ohio Athletic Conference kicker Seth Burkholder. He is joined by sophomore punter Tim Berta.
While Brooks enters 2004 with only one season of head coaching under his belt, he feels that the staff he has assembled will lead the Beavers in the right direction. A sense of community has been formed as only one member of his 2003 staff did not return this year. There is mix of experience and youth on this staff as Denny Phillips, Allen Curtiss, and Lou Stokes have worked together for the past 16 years. James Grandey, Darrin Fox and graduate assistant Andy Bentley all joined Coach Brooks' staff in 2003.
Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference
Although the Beavers finished 0-6 in conference play in 2003 Coach Brooks feels that the experience the team gained and its commitment to taking care of the ball will make it more competitive in league play this year. Keeping the offensive unit on the field and being productive is the key to success in the HCAC.