Just across the parking lot from Brown Field, the demolition of the old Porter Hospital persists. On the field, the construction continues for head coach Dale Carlson in his fourth year at Valparaiso.
"We've had a very productive offseason. We had a very good spring practice. We've had a number of players that have been around here all summer - more than what we've had in the past," Carlson said during a Pioneer Football League conference call Thursday.
Carlson feels the team is in a much better position as he mentioned the word "commitment" several times when speaking with fellow coaches and media.
"You see the desire amongst our players to get to that turning point," Carlson stated.
Coming off a 1-10 season last year, a bevy of starters return on both sides of the ball. Redshirt sophomore Jake Hutson (Blanchard, Mich./Montabella) returns after a stellar freshman campaign that saw the running back average five yards per carry en route to a 753-yard season. Hutson earned PFL Offensive Freshman of the Year accolades for his work.
"Jake obviously is going to be a focal point of what we do. But in that vein, hopefully that opens up some other things for us as well in the passing game," Carlson said.
Redshirt junior Eric Hoffman (Manitowoc, Wis./Lincoln) will operate under center fresh off a freshman year where the quarterback threw for just a shade under 2,000 yards. His 115.4 passer efficiency rating coupled with nine touchdown passes keep defenses honest. Offensive lineman Stuart Barkley (Overland Park, Kan./Blue Valley Northwest) will help protect Hoffman. Barkley received an All-PFL Honorable Mention nod last season.
Senior Alex Grask (Naperville, Ill./Central) appears set to anchor the Crusader defense. The defensive back led the Brown and Gold with 113 tackles in 2012. Grask also recovered a team-high three fumbles.
Grask will work alongside senior Patrick Derbak (Schaumburg, Ill./Schaumburg) and his 73 tackles (six for a loss) from a year ago. Furthermore, sophomore John Guilford (Spencer, Ohio/Black River) could be in store for a monster season. As a freshman, Guilford earned All-PFL Honorable Mention honors after leading the Valpo defense in sacks (3) and tackles for a loss (6.5).
Training camp officially opens Sunday morning. While predictions of win-loss records remain the hot topic in early August, Carlson insists upon focusing on the execution of fundamentals.
"Our goal right now is to step up and be competitive week in and week out. I don't have a crystal ball. I can't look out and say 'we should win this many games'. We need to play consistently, be focused, and go out and execute in our offense, defense, and kicking game," Carlson concluded.
The Crusaders open the season Thursday, August 29th as they challenge the 2011 Great West Co-Champion University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux in Grand Forks. Kickoff is at 7:00 pm.