As the 2011 football season gets set to kick off, the Valparaiso Crusaders look to continue rebuilding their program and moving up in the Pioneer Football League standings. Head coach Dale Carlson returns for year two at the helm of the Brown and Gold. He returns more than 40 letterwinners from one year ago, including six starters on each side of the football, and has brought in 46 freshmen as well as a couple of transfers.
Carlson has had a knack for turning programs around at every school he has coached at previously, including starting up two programs from scratch, and looks to continue doing the same at Valpo. With the talent that is on the roster, look for the Crusaders to make strides in an upward direction heading into 2011.
The Crusaders will again utilize the quick tempo offense that Carlson brought with him to Valparaiso one year ago. The offense struggled one year ago, averaging just 9.1 points and 218.7 yards per game. However, the Crusaders have now had a full year under Carlson to learn the offense, and have a host of returnees that have experienced the quicker pace for themselves, giving Valpo a strong foundation heading into 2011.
Redshirt-freshman Eric Hoffman has been battling senior Nick Malantis for the starting nod at quarterback heading into the season opener. Hoffman sat out last season learning the system, but had a solid spring reminiscent of when he threw for 3,353 yards and 34 touchdowns in high school. He set Lincoln High’s single season mark with 2,062 yards as a senior in Wisconsin.
Malantis appeared in five games for the Brown and Gold as a junior off of the bench. He threw for a season-high 61 yards in relief against Jacksonville while showcasing his running ability against Butler, running 12 times for 40 yards.
The Crusader backfield will feature fifth-year senior Bobby Wysocki leading the way. He tallied 253 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground last year after moving to running back from the quarterback position where he played in 2009. Wysocki has rushed for nearly 500 yards over the last two years and also caught 11 passes out of the backfield a year ago.
Valpo will also have to rely on newcomers to fill hole in the backfield that developed when Jabril Baker was injured in preseason and will miss the entire season. Gabe Ali-El, one of the state’s leading rushers as a prep star in Maryland, as well as transfers Sterling Summerville and Dale Cook, will look to fill the void carrying the football.
Receivers and Tight Ends
The receiving game will again be a key component in the Valpo offense with their up tempo style of play. Multiple receivers will get the opportunity to make big plays for the Crusaders this season as the Brown and Gold uses a three-receiver formation a great deal of the time. In 2010, 18 different players each caught at least one pass.
Fifth-year senior Sean McCarty led Valpo wideouts in 2010 with 43 receptions for 526 yards and three touchdowns. At six-foot-five, his size gives quarterbacks a nice target over the middle, and he earned himself Honorable Mention All-Pioneer Football League honors last season. He looks to surpass the 1,000-yard receiving mark for his career this year and add to his seven career touchdowns.
Tim Bennett, Eric Slenk, and Andrew Butts all return at wide receiver as well. Bennett’s promising 2010 season was cut short with an injury just four games into the year. He already had 11 grabs prior to the injury and will look to return to his 2009 form which saw him tally 376 yards worth of catches. Slenk saw action in 10 games as a sophomore making nine grabs for more than 100 yards. Butts got his first taste of collegiate football as a freshman, appearing in four games and making a pair of receptions.
A pair of red-shirt freshmen will also get their chance to break into the lineup after sitting out last season. Fred Gladney and Tony Taibi are both expected to see the field for the Brown and Gold early in the year and look to make an immediate impact.
With the passing game being such a major weapon for the Crusaders offensively, the tight ends are used a great deal as receivers. Junior Mike Gerton made six catches for the Brown and Gold a year ago while Kevin Becker finished third on the team with 34 receptions for 353 yards and two scores. Ryan Lehr also will see time at tight end this season after moving over from running back where he spent his sophomore year.
The offensive line may be Valpo’s strong suit heading into the new campaign. Nate Blair and Ferdinand Velez both were named Honorable Mention All-PFL for their work on the front line. Blair, the left tackle, has started all 22 games over the past two seasons while Velez, a team co-captain, has started all 22 contests as well at center.
Gavin Grillo has made 19 starts over the last two years and will join Blair and Velez as the third senior that will begin up front this season. He is expected to hold down the left guard position for the Brown and Gold.
Sean Cook also was regular in the starting lineup in 2010 for the Crusaders and looks to again start at right tackle for the Brown and Gold. Bill Bodzianowski is Valpo’s other projected starter on the offensive line. The junior right guard appeared in the first four games of his sophomore season before suffering a season-ending injury.
Matt Schroll is the only other member of the offensive line with game experience, and will be called upon as a backup. Colm Flahety and Johnathon Taylor both have also spent a year with the Crusader program, but redshirted during their freshmen year.
Carlson expects to have his defense show multiple fronts and formations in 2011 in an attempt to slow the opponents’ offense. Valpo has a wealth of returnees on this side of the ball, which hopefully leads to marked improvement for the Crusader defense this season.
Grant Bushong and Brian Plachinski were both Honorable Mention All-PFL honorees during their junior seasons and will again look to lead the Crusader defensive front. Bushong had 59 total tackles, including six for loss a year ago, and is poised to move over the 100 career tackle mark this season. Plachinski led the Brown and Gold with five quarterback sacks as part of his seven total tackles for loss, as one quarter of his total stops were behind the line of scrimmage.
Fellow seniors Nikko Carson and Brett Heber also should have a big impact on the Crusader defensive line as both made their way into opponents’ backfields a year ago. Carson has 19.5 career tackles for loss entering 2011 while Heber finished last season with a career-high 27 total tackles.
Junior Bruce Collins saw action in a reserve role in 2010 and will look to make more of an impact this year as will John Giovenco. Giovenco sat out last year as a redshirt but gained a great deal of knowledge watching from the sidelines.
Christopher Howard and Matt Osborne are able to play in a flex role, seeing time both on the defensive line as well as in with the linebacking corps. Howard made 24 stops in his first season with the Brown and Gold after transferring to Valpo while Osborne appeared in seven games as a rookie.
Cody Gokan finished second on the team with 69 total tackles and earned Honorable Mention All-PFL honors in 2010. He will again look to lead the Crusader linebackers after surpassing the 100-tackle mark in just two seasons. Gokan also has a knack for getting into the backfield, making 7.5 tackles for loss in his first two years on the field.
Francis Baker, Jr. and Cole Gridley also return to the linebacking corps for the Brown and Gold after seeing action during their freshmen seasons. Baker made three starts as a rookie while Gridley made five appearances in a reserve role. They will be called upon even more this year along with Pat Derbak. Derbak, another sophomore, saw action in seven contests during his freshman campaign.
Freshmen Colin Burke and Roberto Kelly have both had impressive training camps as well, and will look to make an impact in the middle of the field during their first season with the Brown and Gold.
The Crusaders have a youthful, but experienced secondary heading into 2011. Laurence Treadaway returns for his final season at safety after missing last year due to injury. He had a standout 2009 season finishing on the team in total tackles and looks to return to that same form after rehabbing from the injury.
Alan Porter, Jr. had a solid sophomore year in the secondary, breaking up four passes in addition to the 40 tackles he made. He will join several sophomores to make up the rest of the returnees for the Brown and Gold. Bryce LaMore and Blake Torres each had more than 20 tackles in their first season playing the corner while Alex Grask racked up 35 stops at safety.
Brandon Spinner returns to the secondary after two years away from the game of football while Keith Larson sat out last season as a redshirt and will look to make an impact in his first season on the field. Freshman Dylan Storm is also vying for action in the secondary in his inaugural season with the Brown and Gold.
Valpo’s kicking game may be another strong suit for the team heading into the season. Punter Greg Wood ranked third in all of NCAA I-FCS last season as a sophomore averaging a school record 43.6 yards per kick. The First Team All-PFL selection boomed 14 more than 50 yards, including season’s best 71-yarder in the season finale. Taylor Deloye had a solid offseason and looks to compete with Wood for punting duties. He averaged 38 yards per punt in nine attempts a year ago.
The place kicking battle may be one of the most heated competitions throughout camp. Senior Chris Smith and freshman Adam Weinel both look to secure the spot. Smith has made five career field goals and kicked off 45 times during his career.
The 2011 season opens at home under the lights of Brown Field on Sept. 3 as the Crusaders play host to instate foe Franklin. Valpo then heads to Missouri Valley Conference foe Youngstown State one week later before wrapping up non-conference play at Duquesne on Sept. 17.
The Pioneer Football League slate opens on Oct. 1 as Morehead State visits for Homecoming weekend at Valparaiso. San Diego visits one week later before the Crusaders head to Indianapolis for a tilt against Butler on Oct. 15 in the Battle for the Hoosier Helmet. The Crusaders also have home games against Dayton and Campbell as well as contests at Drake, Marist, and Davidson on tap for this year.
The 2011 season is sure to bring plenty of excitement to Brown Field. With lots of newcomers blending with an experienced corps of upperclassmen, Carlson’s squad is poised to begin the climb up the PFL standings. Every Saturday during the fall will feature a new challenge, but this year’s Valparaiso University team appears ready for the battle.