Valparaiso (0-0, 0-0 PFL)
at Eastern Kentucky (0-0, 0-0 OVC)
Game #1: Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, 6 p.m. CT
Roy Kidd Stadium (20,000) – Richmond, Ky.
This Week in Valpo Football: The Landon Fox Era begins on Thursday as the Valparaiso University football team kicks off its centennial season under the direction of a new head coach. An entirely new-look coaching staff will guide a group of Valpo players that is poised to combine household names with new standouts. The season opens with a considerable test as Valpo visits an Eastern Kentucky team that received 12 votes in the preseason FCS Coaches Poll.
Centennial Season: In addition to marking the start of a new head coaching tenure, 2019 is a significant season for Valpo football as the program is set to celebrate its 100-year history over the course of the campaign. Valpo Athletics is set to recognize and celebrate individuals and teams from select eras at four games this season. The program has won 11 conference championships, including six in the Indiana Collegiate Conference and two in the Pioneer Football League. It’s also the 50th anniversary of the 1969 team that won an ICC crown, an anniversary that will be celebrated at this year’s Homecoming game. In addition, Valpo will retire the numbers of two University legends at the Homecoming game on Sept. 28 at Brown Field. Garry Puetz ’73 and Fuzzy Thurston ’56 (posthumous) will become the first players in program history to have their numbers retired. The use of No. 80 will be discontinued in honor of Thurston, while No. 71 will be retired for Puetz. Both were All-Americans in college and went on to win Super Bowl rings in the NFL – Puetz with Washington in 1982 and Thurston with the Green Bay Packers in the first two Super Bowls, his fifth and sixth NFL Championships.
Head Coach Landon Fox: After spending the last 11 seasons as the defensive coordinator and secondary coach at the University of Dayton, the new man in charge of the Valpo football program is no stranger to the Pioneer Football League. Landon Fox’s teams held opponents to an average of 19 points per game during his time as the defensive coordinator at Dayton. He helped the Flyers finish with 10 winning seasons in his 11 years on staff and guided a defensive backfield that produced one All-American, four Academic All-Americans, two PFL Special Teams Players of the Year and three corners who were invited to NFL Rookie Minicamp. Prior to joining Dayton’s staff, Fox served as the linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at Wayne State University in Detroit from 2005-2007. He also spent time as a defensive graduate assistant at Ball State University (2004), Dayton (2002-2003) and Lakeland College (2001). Fox began his coaching career as an assistant varsity coach at Preble Shawnee High School in Camden, Ohio during the 2000 season. During his playing days, Fox was a team captain and all-conference performer at Defiance College in Defiance, Ohio from 1995-1999 and graduated with a degree in physical education and health in May 2000 before earning his master’s degree in education from Lakeland in May 2002.
Valpo in Openers: If Valpo can come away with a victory on Thursday night, Fox would become the program’s second coach since 1942 (Loren Ellis) to win his first game at the helm, joining Stacey Adams (2005). Valpo is also seeking to start the season with a victory for the first time since 2007, in large part because the program has played challenging scholarship opponents in Week 1 in recent years. Valpo will play a Thursday night game for the first time since 2015, also at Eastern Kentucky. The last time Valpo played under the lights was Sept. 3, 2016 at Illinois State.
Following Valpo Football: This week’s game will be carried on ESPN+, which is available on a subscription basis at the cost of $4.99 per month. In addition, all six home games will be carried on the ESPN+ platform this year. Todd Ickow (play-by-play) and Brandon Vickrey (color commentary) will have the radio call on Thursday night, which is available on 95.1 FM Valparaiso and online via the TuneIn Radio app. Links to live video, audio and stats can be found on ValpoAthletics.com.
Series Notes: This marks the fifth all-time meeting between the two teams and the first since 2015. Eastern Kentucky holds a 3-1 edge in the all-time set, which dates back to 1945. The Colonels were ranked No. 17 in the nation at the time of the most recent meeting, a 52-10 victory over Valpo to open the 2015 season in Richmond. That was the only meeting since 1947. Valpo’s lone victory over Eastern Kentucky came on Oct. 27, 1945 by a score of 7-6.
Same Face, New Place: There’s only one person who will coach in Thursday’s game who has coached a game at Valpo previously, and it’s not someone on the Valpo sideline. Eastern Kentucky defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix was the special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Valpo under Dave Cecchini during the 2015 campaign. He is also a former Valpo player who graduated in 1999 with a degree in physical education. Mattix hails from Northwest Indiana and the Portage native started his coaching career working with the offensive line and defensive line at Portage High School in 1998 and 1999.
Scouting Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels are under the direction of fourth-year head coach Mark Elder, who led the team to seven wins and a Top 3 conference finish last season. The program has a history of success, owning two national championships, 21 Ohio Valley Conference titles and 21 NCAA playoff appearances. In addition to receiving 12 votes in the FCS Coaches Poll, Eastern Kentucky registered 175 points in the Preseason STATS FCS Top 25, which would rank 30th nationally if the poll extended beyond the Top 25 teams. The team is ranked 24th in the Preseason HERO Sports Top 25 and 25th in the Lindy’s Sports Preseason Poll. Three Eastern Kentucky players – running back Daryl McCleskey Jr., defensive end Aaron Patrick and defensive back Leodis Moore III – earned spots on the Preseason All-OVC Team. The Colonels were selected third of nine in the OVC preseason poll. Eastern Kentucky ended the 2018 season on a four-game winning streak.
A Look Back at 2018: After enjoying its first winning season in 15 years in 2017, Valpo finished an injury-riddled campaign with a record of 2-9. The team topped rival Butler 35-17, beating the Bulldogs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2005. In addition, Valpo won on Senior Day for the fourth time in the last five years, sending the senior class out with a 48-30 win over Jacksonville in the home finale. The team produced a first-team all-PFL performer, a second-team all-PFL honoree, seven PFL Honorable Mention athletes, two Academic All-PFL First Team recipients, one Academic All-PFL Second Team achiever and two FCS National Bowl participants during the season.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Projected Offensive Starters
- WR-x Ollie Reese, So. – Saw action in all 11 games and made four receptions as a true freshman in 2018… Father Steve is a financial wholesaler and mother Margie works at an antique shop in the city of Franklin… Has one sister, Bailey, who is a member of the University of Tennessee Knoxville Class of 2019… Father and grandfather both played college football… Father played football and baseball at Bridgewater College in Virginia and graduated in 1985.
- LT Andrew Lundberg, R-Sr. – Started all 11 games in 2018 and has missed just two games since the start of the 2016 season… Works security for hip hop artists who perform in Chicago… Spent the 2019 summer as an intern with the Valparaiso Parks Department… Is a double major in marketing and sports management.
- LG Sam Vas, Jr. – Appeared in all 11 games on Valpo’s offensive line last season… Majoring in mechanical engineering… Loves Star Wars and is good at solving Rubik’s Cubes.
- C Jack Jarnigan, R-Sr. – Has missed just one game since the start of the 2016 season…. Has lived in Minnesota, Oklahoma, Colorado, California and Illinois… Went on an exchange trip in fifth grade to Mexico and was there for two months… Team captain.
- RG Braden Russell, R-Fr. – Majoring in mechanical engineering… Used to live in Oklahoma… Appeared in three games on Valpo’s offensive line in 2018.
- RT Aaron Byrd, R-Fr. – Made his collegiate debut on Nov. 10 of last season, his only collegiate game entering 2019… Was an all-district trumpet player in high school.
- TE Alex Kluck, R-So. – Played in seven games and made one catch for five yards in 2018… Went to a high school that made the playoffs in Wisconsin in 19 of 20 seasons at the time he graduated (Cedarburg)… Mother played a year of soccer at Green Bay in 1989 before suffering a career-ending injury… Father played rugby at MSOE from 1989-1994… Spent the 2018 summer working for his uncle’s ocean kayaking and clothing company in San Diego and giving kayaking tours… That uncle played college soccer at Vermont from 2001-2003.
- WR-z Deuce Larose, Jr. – Played in 18 career games over his first two seasons in 2017 and 2018… Played ice hockey in middle school and didn’t start playing tackle football until eighth grade… Father Dan played safety at Florida State… Majoring in exercise science/pre-med.
- WR-slot JD Koehler, R-Sr. – Recovered a pair of Valpo on-side kicks in 2018 after previously no Valpo player had made an on-side kick recovery in over a decade… There were only five on-side kick recoveries in the entire PFL in 2018 and two of them were his…. Has played in all 22 games over the 2017 and 2018 seasons including starting every game in 2018.
- QB Chris Duncan, R-Jr. –Was a child actor and made it in a Pussycat Dolls music video, “Wait a Minute”… Saw action in 10 games at quarterback and made seven starts in 2018, when he went 124-of-244 through the air while racking up 1,781 passing yards and 14 touchdowns… Ranked seventh in the PFL with 178.1 passing yards per game, sixth in pass efficiency at 123.7 and seventh in total offense at 191.3.
- QB Jimmy Seewald, R-Jr. – Enters the season with 4,491 career passing yards and 4,429 yards of total offense, ranking fifth in program history in both categories…. Team captain.
- RB Kyle Cartales, Sr. – Led the team with 419 rushing yards, 97 carries, 4.3 yards per carry and 59.9 yards per game in 2018 despite having his season cut short by an injury after six games… Shared the team lead with four rushing touchdowns.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Projected Defensive Starters
- DE Trejuan Purty, Jr. – Has transferred to Valpo after being on the team at East Tennessee State each of the last two seasons… Played in one game last year, appearing in a contest against Gardner Webb.
- DE Gavin Twigg, Jr. – Has played in all 22 games over his first two seasons in 2017 and 2018.
- DT James Reed, Sr. – Named the Valpo Defensive Player of the Week for his performance on Oct. 13, 2018 against Butler, when he racked up a career-high eight tackles, second on the team in that game… Started all 11 games on Valpo’s defensive line in 2018 and corralled 50 tackles.
- DT Drew Gedrys, Jr. – Played in all 22 games over his first two seasons on campus, 2017 and 2018.
- LB (Will) Jaxon Peifer, So. – Had seven tackles over eight games during his freshman season in 2018… Majoring in nursing.
- MLB Nick Turner, R-Sr. – Was limited to four games due to an injury in 2018, totaling 17 tackles (six solos, 1 TFL) after earning 2017 All-PFL Second Team status and reaching double figures in tackles on five occasions including the last three games of the season… Team captain.
- LB (Sam) Laddie Skarecky, Jr. – Played in 11 games and registered 30 tackles and one pass breakup as a sophomore in 2018… Majoring in exercise science with a minor in biology… Spent the 2019 summer doing an internship as a marketing assistant for Valpo Athletics.
- CB Henry Hebda, Jr. – Played in nine games and totaled 12 tackles (seven solos) in 2018… Twin brother David is also a member of the Valpo football team… Majoring in nursing.
- S Jamari Booker, Sr. – Received 2018 All-PFL Honorable Mention recognition and was a member of the 2019 Preseason All-PFL squad… Tied for fourth in the PFL with 8.2 tackles per game in 2018, accruing 91 total tackles… Racked up 20 tackles on Sept. 29, 2018 vs. Davidson, the only player in the PFL with a 20-tackle game all season and one of just six players in the entire FCS nation to do so. Became the first Valpo player since at least 2002 with 20+ tackles in a single game… Team captain.
- S Michael Scarsella, So. – Had 49 tackles, one interception and one TFL during his freshman season in 2018… Made his first career interception on Oct. 13, 2018 vs. Butler and returned it 25 yards with 5:26 left in the fourth quarter, providing the final dagger as Valpo won the Hoosier Helmet rivalry game 35-17… Native of Valparaiso and graduate of Valparaiso High School.
- CB Jalin LeAndre, R-Sr. – Appeared in four games and totaled five tackles during an injury-riddled 2018… Majoring in accounting and finance.
Specialist Quick Hits – Projected Starters
- K Dimitrios Latsonas, Sr. – Was a 2018 Academic All-PFL Second Team choice after receiving 2017 All-PFL honorable mention… Went 8-of-12 on field-goal tries in 2018, converting 36 of his 37 PAT attempts, shattering his own record for made extra points in a single season after previously setting the school record with 35 in 2017… Averaged 55.9 yards per kick on kickoffs and booted 13 touchbacks… Made a 50-yard field goal in the team’s season finale at Stetson, outdoing his previous personal best of 44 and converting the longest field goal in the PFL in 2018. It was the longest field goal by a Valpo kicker since 2003… Enters his senior season with 75 career PATs, only eight away from tying and nine from breaking the career program record.
- P Benjamin Niesner, Jr. – Joins the team as a transfer after spending the last two seasons at Portland State, where he earned the starting role at punter… Averaged 38.5 yards per punt while booting rugby-style kicks… Didn’t begin teaching himself how to punt until after his senior year of high school… Before his first year at Portland State in 2017, hadn’t played football in his life except a brief stint of youth football.
Preseason Accolades: Jamari Booker was selected to the Preseason All-PFL team, while five Valpo players were named to Phil Steele’s Preseason All-PFL Team, led by first teamer Austin Petrie. Jack Jarnigan, James Reed and Jamari Booker were second-team choices, while Dimitrios Latsonas was named to the third team.
Oh Captain, My Captain: Valparaiso enters the 2019 season with four captains: quarterback Jimmy Seewald, offensive lineman Jack Jarnigan, linebacker Nick Turner and defensive back Jamari Booker. Seewald and Turner are in their second season as team captains, while Jarnigan and Booker occupy the role for the first time.