When head coach Stacy Adams took over the Valparaiso University football program prior to the 2005 season, he began rebuilding a program that has won nine conference titles in the 87 seasons of collegiate competition.
After back-to-back 3-8 seasons, the Crusaders saw the program’s growth begin to take shape in 2007, as the Brown and Gold finished 5-6 overall, tying the most victories for a Valpo team since the 2003 Pioneer Football League championship season.
When the Crusaders take to Brown Field for the first time in 2008, Valpo will see even more growth, as a new playing surface has been installed. The new ProGrass field couples with a new 37-foot high scoreboard to enhance the game day excitement of Crusader football.
The football program continues to grow as Valpo heads into the 2008 campaign, which may be the most optimistic season yet for the Crusaders under Adams’ guidance. Nineteen starters return for Valparaiso, including nine on the offensive side of the football and 10 on defense.
Senior quarterback Warren Arnold is a multi-versatile threat for the Crusaders. He finished 2007 ranked 22nd in all of NCAA I-FCS in total offense racking up 242 yards per game. He was fourth in the Pioneer Football League in rushing, tallying nearly 70 yards per game on the ground. Through the air, Arnold recorded 13 touchdown tosses while throwing for 1,912 yards. Arnold enters the 2008 season just 26 yards shy of 10th all-time at Valpo in total offense with 3,046 career yards.
Classmate Zack Denny is again set to back up Arnold. He appeared in seven games in 2007 after seeing action in six contests as a sophomore.
The Crusader running game should be one of the Brown and Gold’s strengths yet again in 2008. Valpo led the PFL in rushing averaging 203.5 yards per game last season, and ranked among the top-25 nationally on the ground.
A tandem of juniors, Ross Wiemer and John Popper, will handle the majority of the carries for Valpo this year. The duo combined for nearly 700 yards in 2007, and combined with Arnold’s 750 running yards on the ground give Valpo nearly 1,500 returning rushing yards.
Mozelle McHenry and Josh Lynn both return to the backfield for the Brown and Gold at fullback, after sharing the starting spot last year. Both fullbacks have been used mainly in a blocking role, although McHenry was called upon in short yardage situations last season. He found the end zone twice in 2007 after coming out of the backfield to make four touchdown receptions his first two seasons with the Crusaders.
Receivers and Tight Ends
The Crusader receiving corps sees the Brown and Gold return three of its top five wideouts from last season. Fifth-year senior Steve Ogden enters 2008 fifth all-time on Valpo’s career receiving list with 2,162 yards. Hampered with injuries last season, the Honorable Mention All-PFL selection still hauled in seven touchdown passes on his way to 669 yards receiving in just eight games.
Nicholas Henton and Bill Burgett also return at wide receiver for the Crusaders. The duo combined for 29 catches a year ago, with Henton starting all 11 games for the Crusaders.
Valpo also has a pair of tight ends that are capable of catching the ball, but also serve as solid blockers on the end of the line. Tom Oswald started every contest last year and at 6’8” tall, is a physical presence for the Crusaders. Oswald also made a name for himself on special teams, blocking four kicks last season. Matt Dorow, a fifth-year senior, also saw a great deal of action at tight end and will look for even more contributions in his final season with the Brown and Gold.
In the trenches, Valpo returns three starters while looking to replace two others. On the left side of the line, Tim Kratz started all 11 games at tackle for the Crusaders last season while fellow classmate Tristan Manvilla moved into a starting spot at left guard over the final four games of the season. Heading into preseason, a pair of red-shirt freshmen, Steve Lara and Dave Tebo, Jr., will look to back up the duo of redshirt-juniors.
At right tackle, Ryan Kozey, a First Team All-PFL pick, is set to start for the third straight season at Valpo. At 6’8”, he will look to lead the offensive line in his senior campaign. Junior Nathan Richter saw action on the offensive front in four games last year, and will look to provide more depth this season.
Dave Wisniewski is slated to take over at right guard this season along with Matthew Noffke. Wisniewski saw action in 10 of the 11 games a year ago in a reserve role, and will now make his push for a starting spot. Noffke saw his first action as a sophomore, appearing in five games, and will look to perform in a bigger role this season.
The Crusaders are looking for someone to emerge at center heading into the 2008 opener. Abdullah Pratt and Doug Keppy appear to be the early front runners for the job, replacing Brett Barry who started each of the past two years.
Valpo’s defensive front four returns a pair of All-PFL selections. Andrew Mack earned Second Team accolades a year ago after registering 34 total tackles, including 11.5 for loss. A two-year starter at defensive end, Mack heads into his senior season coming off of a season in which he sacked opposing quarterbacks 5.5 times.
Junior Adam Rundh earned Honorable Mention All-PFL accolades at the other defensive end position last year for the Brown and Gold. He tied for 20th in the nation one year ago averaging 1.45 tackles for loss per game. With a team-leading 16 stops behind the line of scrimmage, including 7.5 sacks, Rundh always seemed to be around the football.
Dominick Bellotte and Darren Kincaid, Jr. look to solidify the defensive tackle positions this season. Bellotte started nine games in 2007, while Kincaid saw action in a reserve role in all 11 contests, making eight tackles for loss.
Ian Altieri and Brian Laipple also have experience returning along the defensive front, and are working for more playing time as the season begins. A pair of redshirt-freshmen, Gabe Culkin and Chris Gardner, are also projected to see time among the front four.
The Crusader linebacking corps returns five seniors which have helped to lead the Valpo defense. Ryan Koepke, an outside linebacker, earned Second Team All-PFL honors after leading the Brown and Gold with 79 tackles on the year. The fifth-year senior enters his final season with 187 career stops, including 11.5 for loss.
Two other senior outside linebackers that made significant contributions last year return for the Crusaders. Matt Mancl started all 11 games for Valpo, ranking fifth on the team with 52 stops. Zac Griffin also saw action in every game, making 40 tackles, finishing one spot behind Mancl on the tackle charts.
In the middle, Sean Dillon is set to start for his third straight season. He made 71 tackles a year ago, tied for second on the roster. He now has 141 tackles over his first three seasons, and should surpass the 200 mark before his career is over.
Valpo also returns the services of Jeff Prange, who missed the 2007 season with an injury. Prange made 46 stops in the two years prior to last season.
In addition to the linebackers, Valpo’s secondary may be the strength of the defense as the Brown and Gold return starters at every position.
On the corners, Kyle Himmelwright and Anthony Curry started every game but one in 2007 and will look to retain their starting position this year. Himmelwright, an Honorable Mention All-PFL pick, had 56 total tackles last year, including a team-leading 43 solo stops. He also picked off three opposing passes and has four now through his first two seasons on the field.
Curry, a junior, has started 15 games in his first two seasons with the Brown and Gold, registering 50 total tackles. He led the Crusaders with five pass breakups a year ago.
Quinn Henoch will add depth on the corner. He made 22 tackles in his second year of action and hopes to see even more action this year.
At one of the safety positions, Matt Watkins returns for his final season after making 71 tackles a year ago, in addition to three interceptions. He enters 2008 with 147 career stops.
Roger Satur backed up Watkins most of last season, and will look to make even more of an impact in his second year of collegiate football.
Eli Crawford and Luke Kanclerz split the starting assignment at strong safety a year ago. The duo combined for 60 total tackles and will compete with one another for time again this year.
Valpo returns one kicker and will look for another to emerge during the 2008 year. Mitch Secrest improved his average per punt by more than a yard last season and will look to do more of the same in his junior season.
The Crusaders will look for someone to take over the place kicking duties this season. Sophomore David Hamaker is the only other kicker with experience, having punted in one game as a freshman.
Popper earned Honorable Mention All-PFL honors as a returner last year, handling the majority of the kickoff returns for the Crusaders. He averaged nearly 25 yards per return including one that he brought back 96 yards for a touchdown.
Corey Nash returned punts for the Brown and Gold as a freshman, and will be back against to handle the duties again this season. He returned 13 of the team’s 18 punts in 2008.
With 69 returnees back from last year’s squad, the Crusaders seem poised to make a run toward the upper half of the Pioneer Football League standings. If the upperclass leadership takes over, an exciting season may be in store at the newly renovated Brown Field as coach Adams continues to add growth to the Valparaiso University football program.