Valparaiso (0-0, 0-0 PFL)
at Western Illinois (0-0, 0-0 MVFC)
Game #1: Thursday, Aug. 28, 6 p.m.
Hanson Field (16,368 - Matrix Turf) - Macomb, Ill.
This Week in Crusader Football: The Dave Cecchini Era begins Thursday evening in Macomb. Cecchini inherits a Valparaiso squad in search of its first multi-win season since 2008. Just as they did in 2010, the Crusaders open their season at Western Illinois. Coincidentally, that season was the last time the Crusaders operated without Eric Hoffman under center. Ben Lehman and redshirt sophomore Scott Staal are both expected to receive ample time at quarterback in Thursday’s opener. Meanwhile, the Leathernecks aim to increase their season win total for the fourth consecutive year.
On the Air: For the ninth straight season, the Valpo Sports Radio Network is home to all 12 Crusader football games in 2014. All 12 games can be heard live on WVUR (95.1FM, Valparaiso), online through www.valpoathletics.com. Todd Ickow will handle all the play-by-play, with Brad Collignon adding the color commentary this week. Live stats will also be available through www.valpoathletics.com.
Head Coach Dave Cecchini: Thursday serves as both Cecchini’s Valpo debut as well as his first game as a head coach. He most recently served as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Lehigh where the Mountain Hawks captured a Patriot League Championship in 2010. Cecchini’s path to Valpo also included stops at Harvard and The Citadel, where he mentored QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and WR Andre Roberts to eventual professional careers. While Cecchini made a name for himself as offensive coordinator at Harvard in 2003, the Crimson compiled the fourth-best offense in the nation en route to an undefeated 10-0 season and an Ivy League Championship. Furthermore, The Citadel set 16 offensive records under his tutelage. As a receiver at Lehigh, Cecchini garnered All-American honors and established numerous single-season school and Patriot League records.
All-Time Series: The Leathernecks won the only contest between these two teams, downing the Crusaders 45-0 four years ago in former head coach Dale Carlson’s Valpo debut. The Brown and Gold fumbled five times in a game best remembered for its monsoon conditions. Western Illinois enjoyed a 569-131 edge in total yards in that tilt.
Wrapping Up 2013: The Crusaders captured their only win of the season on Homecoming last year, defeating Campbell 49-42 in overtime. Valpo ended the season 1-10 and 1-7 in PFL play, but returns plenty of experience for 2014 in addition to a brand new coaching staff.
Scouting Western Illinois: The Leathernecks enter Thursday’s game with a wealth of returners on the two-deep. Western Illinois’ defense established itself as one of the best in the nation a season ago, having surrendered just 305 yards of total offense per game. Linebacker Kevin Kintzel enters his senior season as a member of the Preseason All-Missouri Valley Football Conference team in
addition to being named to the College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) Watch List. The New Lenox, Ill. native paced the Leathernecks in tackles for a loss in 2013 with 11 and finished tied for the team lead in total tackles (74). Kintzel and senior cornerback Martinez Davis both picked off three passes last year. Tackle Kris Harley is the only player yet to log snaps with WIU, but the junior played in ten games as a redshirt freshman at Virginia Tech in 2012 after redshirting the previous year. Senior DE Gino Durley, Jr. held the team watermark in sacks in 2013 with 4.0. Overall, seven seniors and four juniors comprise the starting defense for Western Illinois.
The Leatherneck offense accumulated over 4,000 yards of total offense in 2013. Penalties were an Achilles’ heel last fall, however, as WIU was whistled for 88 penalties totaling 751 yards, numbers that finished in the bottom third of FCS schools. Sophomore QB Trenton Norvell has a full year of experience under his belt and senior running back J.C. Baker will help Western Illinois craft a balanced offensive surge. Baker averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season en route to a 2013 campaign that saw the 5’8’’ speedster finish 22nd in the nation with 1,149 rushing yards. Despite just joining the Leathernecks in 2013, Baker is already 7th all-time in school history with seven 100-yard rushing affairs. Western returns ten offensive starters in all Right tackle Matt Zobrist is the only offensive starter who’ll see his first collegiate snap Thursday. Listed at 6’7’’, 325 pounds, junior Tyler Bode is coming off an All-American season while at Scottsdale Community College. Thursday’s opener marks his Leatherneck debut. The average weight of the offensive line is a tick under 300 pounds.
Special teams were an adventure at times for Western a season ago. Sophomore Nathan Knuffman was 3-for-8 on field goals, missing a couple within 25 yards early in the season, but converting on a pair of 37-yarders at Northern Iowa in the team’s season finale. Knuffman will also handle the punting duties, a post where the former Illinois All-State punter pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line on 21 different occasions.
Head Coach Bob Nielson: Nielson is in his second season at the helm of the Leatherneck football program. He began his coaching career at Division III Ripon College in 1989 before moving on to Wartburg where he went 39-14 in five seasons with the Knights from 1991-95. Nielson was later named Division III Coach of the Year at Wisconsin-Eau Claire after a 22-11 run from 1996-98. His longest coaching stint occured at University of Minnesota-Duluth where he also served as the director of athletics. At Duluth, Nielson compiled a 100-26 mark over ten seasons. He enters Thursday’s tilt with an overall coaching record of 174-67-1 in 21 seasons that include nine NCAA postseason appearances.
Valpo in Season Openers: The Crusaders are 46-44-3 (.510) all-time in season openers. The Brown and Gold are in search of their first victory in a season debut since Sept. 1, 2007, when they defeated Saint Francis (Ill.) 28-21.
New Era: Along with a new coaching staff, the football program has enjoyed a number of cosmetic upgrades in the last year. A new running track around the perimeter of Brown Field is receiving finishing touches. Also, a new weight room has been constructed and installed inside Kroencke Hall. Both upgrades have been met with rave reviews from Cecchini and Co.
Oh Captain, My Captain: Valpo has four captains for the 2014 season. Redshirt junior running back Jake Hutson and senior center Nate Koeneman will represent the offense, while junior defensive end John Guilford and junior linebacker Alex Green will represent the Crusader defense.