Change is the keyword in the search engine for the Valpo football program in 2005. Between the lines the Crusaders return 37 letterwinners from last year's squad. The changes become evident when those veterans look to the sidelines. The most prominent coaching facelift occurred at the top with the appointment of new head coach Stacy Adams. A 14-year assistant for longtime Valpo head coach Tom Horne, Adams was hired on July 27 following the surprising resignation by Horne who guided the Crusaders for 16 seasons. Adams had served as the program's offensive coordinator for eight years, including the Pioneer Football Championship seasons of 2000 and 2003.
The changes continued for the new-look coaching staff as new names occupy all three full-time assistant positions. Stan Rettew, who carries a vast resume of collegiate coaching experience, is the new defensive coordinator. Veteran Jerry Vance joins the staff while Josh Wissing, who served as a graduate assistant with the Crusaders the last two years, has been added to the full-time staff. What may best epitomize the beginning of a new era at Valpo is that Adams will welcome as many as seven newcomers as coaching colleagues.
On the field, Adams and his staff have the luxury of ten returning starters, including free safety Brad Smeja, a First Team All-PFL North Division selection. A fifth-year senior, Smeja led Valpo in tackles in 2004. Smeja and the Valpo defense led the nation (I-AA) in pass defense (128.8 ypg.) last season. Also among the six returning starters on defense are senior middle linebacker Brandon Sturman, senior strong safety Mike Jones, junior linemen James Riker and Seungyeup Ro, and sophomore tackle Doug Howard.
Offensively, two key skill position players are back, along with two, four-year starters on the line. Jeff Horton, a junior running back, topped the Crusaders with 803 rushing yards a year ago, averaging an impressive 6.4 yards per carry. In 2004, Valpo rode a carousel at quarterback until Ryan Doerffler earned the starting nod and helped guide the Crusaders to two straight wins to conclude the campaign. Perhaps the key to offensive progress is the development of the line, which features four-year starters, senior center Steven Hlady and senior left guard Ryan Palonka. Hlady earned Honorable Mention All-PFL North Division accolades as a junior.
Areas of concern include the wide receiver corps, which graduated the most productive tandem - Rob Giancola and Kevin Knutson - in the 84-season history of Valpo football. Giancola, Valpo's all-time leading scorer (242 points) and receiver (3,804 yards, 40 TDs) and Knutson (2,308 yards, 19 TDs) combined for 6,112 career yards and 59 TDs.
In addition, Adams must fill the tight end and fullback positions and replace three starters on the offensive front. On the defensive side, Rettew faces the challenge of replacing productive end Bill Marshall, a First Team All-PFL North honoree in 2004.
Doerffler heads into the 2005 season at the helm of the Crusader offense. Last year, in his rookie season for the Crusaders, he threw for seven touchdowns and over 550 yards in just 88 attempts. He will be backed up by a pair of true freshmen in Warren Arnold and Scott Dettman.
Valpo's tandem at the halfback position should be a potent one for the Crusaders this season. Horton, a junior, rushed for over 800 yards last season for the Brown and Gold and reached the end zone four times. He ripped off a long of 63 yards while serving as the workhorse in the Crusader backfield. A threat running pass routes as well, Horton made 16 receptions for over 200 yards to add another threat to the Valpo offense.
Senior Sal Washington transferred into the Crusader program before last season and appeared in ten games for the Brown and Gold. In 44 touches of the ball, he carried for nearly 200 yards on the ground, finding paydirt once.
Junior Kevin Grimoldby also should see action in the Crusader backfield this year, having averaged 4.2 yards per carry last season. A threat on special teams as well, Grimoldby returned 12 kickoffs for a 19.2 yard average last season.
The fullback spot is one of inexperience for the Crusaders heading into the season. Kevin Folk saw action in just one game last season but should vy for the starting spot this year. Freshman Mozale McHenry also will compete for time in the backfield.
WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END
Valpo's receiving corps enters the season inexperienced, but with a chance to leave a mark from the beginning. Joe Blahowicz is the Crusaders' top returning wideout, having caught 14 passes for nearly 200 yards one year ago, including a touchdown.
On the other side of center, Dustin Shamburg makes the transition from quarterback to wide receiver. The redshirt-junior worked on his new position in the fall and looks to show off what the work has done for him heading into the season.
Joel Cyrier, a return specialist, will also see time outside for the Crusaders this season. Last year he caught just one pass, but was Valpo's main punt returner, averaging 8.9 yards per return in 22 attempts. Cyrier has more experience than true freshman James Reitz, and redshirt freshmen Wade Overton and Steven Ogden who will all be making their debut in a Crusader uniform this season.
At tight end, Valpo has a pair of individuals that have various styles. Brandon Bogenschutz is more of a pass-receiving tight end who played sparingly last season while Pete Karamitos is a solid run blocker. Both should see a great deal of time this season, depending on the situation.
The Brown and Gold's offensive line is anchored by Hlady, a four-year starter at center. Palonka has also started for four years at left guard and the duo will look to pass along the knowledge they have gained over the years to the others.
Carl Simien should start at guard for the Crusaders while Matt Hoffmann and Mike Schilling look to secure the tackle spots. Waiting in the wings, however, are Justin Wiler and Ryan Kozey at the tackles and Adam Gregait at guard. Kyle Heeter looks to spell Hlady at center.
The defense for the Crusaders is strong up front. Howard and Ro anchor the middle of the line for Adams' squad and combined for 51 tackles last season, including six for loss. Transfer Omar Alexander and sophomore David Wright, who saw action in nine games last year, will look to spell the duo.
The ends see a pair of redshirt juniors, Riker and Xavier Freeman, looking to prowl after opposing backs. Riker led the Crusaders with eight tackles for loss last season while Freeman appeared in nine games and registered an interception. Kris Lieder and Noah Schroeder will look to back up the pair.
The linebacking corps is inexperienced for the Crusaders, but will look to fit into the defense from the start. Sturman leads the linebackers after finishing last season with 54 tackles, second most on the team, including six for loss. The senior also picked off a pair of passes, recovered a fumble, and forced a pair in his rookie season.
Sturman will start this season alongside a pair of newcomers. Shawntey Lopez transferrer to Valpo and will look to make a difference outside in his one season with the Crusaders. He will be joined on the other side by redshirt freshman Ryan Koepke.
Valpo's depth at the linebacking spot is young as well. Ryan Krueger, Jeffrey Prange, Matt Mancl, and Stephen Lyons all have one year's experience or less for the Crusader defense.
Smeja leads the Valpo secondary into the 2005 season. The Cruasders' leading tackler last year, the free safety brought down 79 opposing players and broke up six passes. As impressive as he was last season, that number was down from his 103 in 2003.
Jones added 31 tackles in just six games for the Crusaders last season and will look to get the starting nod this year at strong safety in his final season. John Schaekel will also see a great deal of time in the secondary, after registering 38 tackles and forcing a fumble last year.
Valpo's cornerbacks are younger, with Michael Allen seeing just eight games of action last year. Redshirt freshmen Matt Watkins and DeMarquis Battle will also see time in the secondary this season, as will junior Mike Montgomery.
Andrew McCawley hopes to be called upon a lot for Valpo this season. In his two seasons kicking for the Brown and Gold, he has converted on 16-of-23 field goal attempts, including a 52-yarder his rookie season. He was 29-of-33 on PATs last year after making 34 extra points the year prior. He will handle Valpo's kickoffs as well this season.
Blahowicz will see double-duty for the Crusaders this season. The senior punter kicked 63 times last season for the Brown and Gold and hopes to see less action in that role this year. He posted a 36.7 yard per game average with a long of 57.
Valpo sees the Crusaders kickoff the 2005 season on the road at Wisconsin Lutheran on September 3, before heading to Division I-AA scholarship foe South Dakota State the following Saturday.
The Brown and Gold's home opener is set for September 17 against Morehead State and the Crusaders will stay at home for two straight weeks as they entertain Davidson the following week.
After a trip to Austin Peay, Valpo will host Northwest Indiana rival Saint Joseph's on October 8 for Homecoming. Pioneer Football League North division play begins on the 15th of October at Butler before the Crusaders head to Dayton.
The Crusaders will conclude division play at home against San Diego and Drake, with the match-up against the Bulldogs taking place on November 5 for Senior Day. The regular season winds down at Aurora before Valpo looks to take part in the PFL title game on November 19.
The schedule, the coaches, and the players are all in place. Hlady and Palonka have been named offensive captains while Sturman and Smeja will lead the defensive side. With everyone anxious to see how the 2005 edition of Crusader football turns out, there is only one thing left for Coach Adams and his squad to do. Kickoff a new era of Valparaiso University football!