The 2007 Valparaiso University football season is set to get underway for the Crusaders and the Brown and Gold look to prove the so-called experts wrong this year. Even though head coach Stacy Adams’ squad was picked to finish eighth in the Pioneer Football League in the preseason polls, the talent and experience of 35 returning letterwinners has the Crusaders poised for their first winning season since 2003.
Thirteen starters, seven on offense and six on defense, return to Adams’ squad which entered the off-season on a positive note following a 20-7 victory over Aurora to close out the 2006 campaign. Adams also has nearly his entire coaching staff together again this season, giving Valpo’s staff a wealth of knowledge with which to tutor the players.
Valpo’s quarterback battle entering the season begins with a pair of juniors looking to take over the reigns vacated by Ryan Doerffler, who graduated after last season. Warren Arnold started one game during his rookie season and has completed nearly 50% of his passing attempts during the first two years coming off of the bench. He also carried for 138 yards last year. Zack Denny saw action in six games in 2006 for the Brown and Gold, and found the end zone rushing the ball. He averaged 6.4 yards per carry as a sophomore. The two juniors will also see a trio of freshmen looking to work their way onto the two-deep as the season goes on as well.
The Crusader running game should be one of Valparaiso’s strengths heading into 2007. Jeff Horton was granted a redshirt season after suffering an injury just two games into last season. The Crusaders’ all-time rushing leader with 2,429 yards, he has found the end zone 18 times on the ground. In 2005, Horton set the school’s single season rushing mark with 1,358 yards while scoring 10 times. Coming out of the backfield to catch the ball, the fifth-year senior also has 556 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
In Horton’s absence last season, John Popper filled in as a freshman rushing for more than 550 yards in his first year as a Crusader. In the season finale, Popper carried 29 times for 139 yards, his first 100-yard effort of his career. Ross Wiemer also saw some touches at running back for Valpo in 2006, finding the end zone three times. The duo of sophomores, combined with Horton, should make for a solid running game for the Crusaders.
At fullback, Mozale McHenry looks to shoulder the load again this year. He started nine games a year ago, and enters his junior campaign looking to be a leader. Josh Lynn also appeared in eight games as a rookie, and should see time in the backfield as well. Josh Regent-Smith also should see some action as he’s battled injuries throughout his career.
Receivers and Tight Ends
Valpo returns its top six wide receivers from 2006, setting up the potential for a potent offense when combined with the experience returning in the Crusaders’ running game. Steve Ogden leads the talented receiving corps after hauling in 55 passes for more than 1,000 yards in his second season playing for the Brown and Gold. The Honorable Mention All-PFL selection a year ago enters 2007 in 10th place on Valpo’s career receiving list with just under 1,500 yards, and is less than 150 yards away from cracking the top-five in school history.
Nicholas Henton had a solid rookie year, starting the final four contests. He averaged 17.2 yards per catch with 15 grabs including a pair of scores. Ben Faulkner made 21 catches for the Crusaders a year ago and enters his final season looking to end his career on a high note.
Bret and Trevor Jaskiw combined for 21 grabs and 270 yards while Bill Burgett also returns and should see some time at wide out for the Brown and Gold.
At tight end, Tom Oswald saw action in every game a year ago, and at 6’8” he provides a physical presence when he goes out on receiving routes. Matt Dorow also will see time at tight end in 2007 after moving over from his wide receiver position where he played his first two seasons with the Crusaders.
Valpo returns four starters along the offensive line which will look to pave the way for the Crusader running game while also offering pass protection for the quarterbacks. Brett Barry started the first eight games of last year’s campaign before suffering an injury which kept him out of action at year’s end. The fifth-year senior looks for a solid year at center to cap off his career.
Both starting guards also return from last year’s squad. Brad Schaum made nine starts on the left side while Justin Wiler anchored down right guard, winning the starting spot midway through the year. Ryan Kozey started every game for the Crusaders at right tackle one year ago and looks to secure that position yet again this year. The other tackle position will see a new face to start the year. Tim Kratz and Pat O’Malley will battle for the job to begin the year. Kratz appeared in eight games in his first season with the Brown and Gold.
Tristan Manvilla is coming off of injury and will see some action along the offensive line this year as will Dave Wisniewski, who appeared in five contests a year ago. Nathan Richter should also battle for time in the trenches.
Valpo returns a pair of starters on the interior of the defensive line. Four-year starter Doug Howard anchors the line at a tackle position. He has made 66 stops during his career, including 11.5 tackles for loss. Howard has registered six sacks over the last two years. Dominick Bellotte started most of 2006 at tackle as well for the Brown and Gold, making 21 tackles, including a pair for loss.
At end, Andrew Mack started the final six games of the year for Valpo, making 20 tackles while also intercepting a pass. Adam Rundh will compete for a starting spot at the other end after playing in eight games during his freshman campaign, hauling down a pair of ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage.
Senior David Wright along with Ian Altieri and Jake Jenrich will also see action along the defensive line. Wright has made 47 tackles during the course of his career in a Valpo uniform while Altieri got a taste of collegiate action last year.
The linebacking corps for the Crusaders saw a great deal of action last year, and return a pair of starters for the upcoming season. Sean Dillon is expected to patrol the middle of the field after making 59 tackles one year ago, second most on the team. He brought down five runners behind the line of scrimmage and is looking for another solid year this coming season.
Ryan Koepke will start on the outside for the third straight season. The team’s leading tackler with 67 stops in 2006, he has brought down 108 players in two years. Of his tackles, 6.5 have come for loss, including 1.5 quarterback sacks.
Matt Mancl appears poised for a starting roll in 2007 after serving as a reserve his first two years with the program. He has averaged more than 25 tackles per game during his first two years with the Crusaders while also forcing and recovering a fumble last year.
Zac Griffin should also see time at linebacker as a junior. He has appeared in a reserve team each of his first two years, playing a total of 12 games coming into the new season. With his experience, he should be able to rotate in without allowing Valpo to miss a beat at linebacker.
Valpo’s secondary will be young in 2007, mainly made up of sophomores. Redshirt junior Matt Watkins has the most starting experience, having made 14 starts over his first two years playing for the Crusaders. He has made 76 total tackles, including 49 during his rookie season, while registering an interception each year.
Anthony Curry and Kyle Himmelwright each started part of last year as well in the secondary. Curry appeared in all 11 games, starting the final five contests. He led the Brown and Gold with a pair of interceptions. Himmelwright started the first six contests as a rookie, before having his season cut short due to injury. He registered 22 tackles in the half of season while also picking off a pass.
The rest of the secondary will be made up of players with little to no experience at the collegiate level. Darien Jeffers and Johnny Doll each had a taste of action last year while Luke Kanclerz and Quinn Henoch each played on Valpo’s reserve team a year ago.
Mitch Secrest is the only returning kicker for the Crusaders. He handled all of the punting duties last year, averaging 33.1 yards per kick. He downed 11 of his 54 punts inside of the 20-yard line. Secrest will also compete for the place-kicking duties along with several freshmen.
Horton should be set to return kickoffs this year after bouncing back from injury. In two games last year, he returned kicks at nearly a 30-yard per return average. Trevor Jaskiw and Himmelwright each returned the majority of the kicks as well as punts. Himmelwright averaged 26.4 yards per kick return and 9.6 yards per punt return last year. Jaskiw returned 16 kickoffs, the most by a Crusader.
For the first time since 1991, Valparaiso will play all of its non-conference action prior to the beginning of league play. The season kicks off at home on September 1 as the Crusaders welcome Saint Francis (Ill.) to Brown Field for Valpo’s first season opener at home since 2002.
The Brown and Gold will then take to the road for four straight contests, including the Pioneer Football League opener at Drake on September 29. Non-conference road games see the Crusaders head to Trinity International, Kalamazoo, and Marian (Ind.).
Valpo returns to Brown Field on October 6 for its annual Homecoming contest, this year against the Toreros of San Diego. Homecoming marks the first of four straight home games. Butler visits Valpo the following week for the Battle for the Helmet with games against Dayton and Morehead State following. The latter game will mark Senior Day.
The season wraps up at Jacksonville and Davidson on November 3 and 10 respectively before the league champion hosts the Gridiron Classic on December 1 against the champion of the Northeast Conference.