August 5, 2015
BLUFFTON, Ohio - A superb finish to the 2014 season has Head Coach Denny Dorrel and his staff energized for their second year at Bluffton University. Six wins in the final seven games pushed the Beavers into third place in the Heartland Conference and the six conference victories established a new school mark in the process. A 24-0 shutout at Anderson followed by Bluffton’s fifth straight win over rival Defiance College punctuated Coach Dorrel’s first year at the helm, setting expectations even higher for 2015.
An experienced group of 70 returners along with Coach Dorrel’s first recruiting class give Bluffton the talent and depth to create havoc in a balanced Heartland Conference that once again features five-time defending champion Franklin College. With the coaching staff meeting most of the team in the middle of August at the inception of camp, it was a crash-course for everyone involved. However, week-by-week the improvements added up and a 0-3 opening chapter quietly transformed into a 6-4 climax as the Beavers navigated their way through a rewarding first year under Coach Dorrel.
After sliding out to wide receiver as a sophomore with older brother Nick Sheehan under center, Conner Sheehan (Monroeville, Ind./Heritage) moves back to quarterback for his junior campaign. As a freshman, Conner assumed the controls when Nick’s season ended. He completed 90-of-175 passes for 1,158 yards with 10 scores while leading Bluffton to three straight wins at the end of the 2013 season, including the 24-17 shocker of Franklin on Senior Day.
Junior Micah Roberson (Ada) gives Bluffton a proven threat at wide receiver despite the graduation of All-HCAC performers Jack Tomlinson and Donovan Brown. Roberson finished with 55 grabs for 541 yards and three touchdowns. A group of returners as well as a solid corps of freshmen receivers will vie for touches in Coach Bryan Moore’s high-octane offense which promises to be even more explosive thanks to an offensive line that put extensive work in during the off-season.
The offensive line features five experienced bulldozers who have all started for the Beavers. Led by senior left tackle Austin Spiece (Paulding/Wayne Trace), Bluffton’s blockers made significant strides both on the field and in the weight room this spring. Spiece is a two-time All-Heartland Conference selection who helped Bluffton's ball control offense go for 356.9 yards per game. Also returning up front is fellow senior Troy Chieffo (Newton Falls/LaBrae) along with juniors Jamison Inskeep (Decatur, Ind./Bellmont), Colton Kelso (Coshocton/River Valley) and Hayden Clark (Waldo/Mt. Gilead).
An injury to All-HCAC standout Eric Fox allowed Bluffton to demonstrate its depth on the ground last season. The carries by 2015 juniors Dustin Fisher (St. Marys/Memorial) and Dante Carroll (Gahanna/Lincoln) in 2014 will prove beneficial when the Beavers hit the field in September. Senior Devante Thomas-Wright (Kings Clinton Twp./Chippewa Valley) and sophomore Seanquez Frye (Lima/Elida) add to Bluffton’s list of formidable weapons at running back.
Seniors Austin Siefker (Lima/Bath) and Jon Fent (Rockford/Parkway) have both seen action at tight end, giving Bluffton additional blocking as well as a pass catching threat over the middle. Siefker made the transition from linebacker to tight end following camp last August and stepped into a starting role that he never relinquished.
Providing leadership in the defensive backfield are senior safeties Travaun Reaves (Berkley, Mich./Berkley) and Matt Holden (Convoy/Crestview). Holden finished the 2014 season with 40 tackles, 31 solos, and a team-best seven breakups. Despite missing six games due to injury, Reaves added 25 stops and forced a fumble. Senior Craig Miller (Plymouth/Plymouth) and juniors Joel Jacobson (Franklin/Carlisle) and Colt Royer (Convoy/Van Wert) give Bluffton experience at cornerback.
With First Team All-HCAC honoree Brad Swavel (Marion/Ridgedale) back to anchor the middle of Bluffton’s defense, the Beavers have the personnel to make life difficult on opposing offenses. Swavel topped the team with 83 tackles, including 7.0 TFL’s for 22 yards. He recovered three fumbles and forced one in 2014. As a freshman, Gino Spadaro (Macedonia/Nordonia) chipped in with 28 tackles and a sack. Also vying for playing time at linebacker are seniors Jake Michaels (Republic/Seneca East) and Derrick Bowman (Lima/Bath) along with juniors Jake Harmon (Van Wert/Crestview) and Aaron Letinski (Allen Park, Mich./Allen Park).
With no disrespect to the aforementioned linebackers and defensive backs, all eyes will be focused in on the line and specifically defensive end Ryan Aelker (New Bavaria/Holgate) after a junior campaign when he led the nation with 13 sacks for 83 yards and he ranked in the top five in Division 3 with 22 TFL’s for 109 yards. Bluffton’s first HCAC Defensive Player of the Year was a Second Team All-Region selection by DFootball.com and an All-American honoree by USA Football. Aelker stuffed the stat sheet with 54 tackles, six breakups, six hurries, four forced fumbles, two recoveries and an interception. Opposite of Aelker on the other end of the line will be Link LaRoche (Dola/Hardin Northern) who finished with 19 tackles and five TFL’s despite being hampered by an injury. Senior Edgar Gonzalez (Melvindale, Mich./Melvindale), junior Hayden Thomas (Perrysburg) and sophomore Ryan Schindler (Sherwood/Paulding) add to Bluffton’s already formidable presence up front heading into the 2015 campaign.
Senior Dylan Mann (Camden/Preble Shawnee) and sophomore Jordan Watkins (Reynoldsburg) will handle the kicking duties while Roberson and Fisher give the Beavers a pair of seasoned kick returners on special teams.
Winners of five straight conference titles, Franklin will once again enter as the favorite in 2015, but as the Beavers showed in 2013 even the giants can be toppled. The pre-season coaches poll had Mount St. Joseph slotted in at number two with the Beavers placing third. Rose-Hulman and Manchester rounded out the top five. Bluffton will travel to Wilmington on September 5 to kick off the season against the Quakers. Home contests with Baldwin-Wallace and Franklin around a bye week set up Coach Dorrel’s first trip back to his alma mater, Hanover. Bluffton returns for Homecoming with Rose-Hulman and another home contest with Earlham a week later. Following trips to Manchester and Mount St. Joseph, the Beavers host Anderson on Senior Day. Bluffton wraps up 2015 when it travels to rival Defiance College seeking a sixth straight win over the Yellow Jackets.
With his first season in the rear-view mirror, Coach Dorrel is excited to welcome his team back to campus in preparation for their 2015 campaign. Not only do the players know what to expect this August, but likewise for the coaches. Being able to expand the playbook will be an added bonus one year after the meet and greets have concluded. Expectations have been ramped up and now it is time for the fun to begin as the Beavers look forward to breaking in their new turf field at Salzman Stadium on September 12 when they host Baldwin-Wallace!