Valparaiso (0-0, 0-0 PFL)
at Indiana Wesleyan (0-0, 0-0 MSFA)
Game #1 Saturday, Sept. 4, 5 p.m. CT
Wildcat Football Stadium (2,500) – Marion, Ind.
This Week in Valpo Football: The Valparaiso University football team will kick off the Fall 2021 season on Saturday with an instate battle against Indiana Wesleyan in Marion. Head coach Landon Fox’s team will look to build on a strong Spring 2021 season that saw the program finish with its best winning percentage since 2003 and match its best winning percentage since 1999. The bulk of the roster is intact as a returning core blends with a talented group of newcomers to form the Fall 2021 roster.
Previously: Valpo closed out the Spring 2021 season with a dramatic 20-19 victory over San Diego on April 17 at Brown Field. That snapped a 14-game head-to-head losing streak to the Toreros and marked Valpo’s first victory over San Diego since 2003. With the win, Valpo denied San Diego a share of the Pioneer Football League title, as the Toreros would have captured at least a share of the PFL championship for the seventh straight season with a win. Freshman Braden Contreras made an impressive touchdown catch in the back corner of the end zone on a 9-yard pass from quarterback Ben Nimz with 25 seconds remaining. The extra point sailed through the uprights to give Valpo the late lead in the heart-pounding triumph.
Series Notes: This will mark the first matchup between the two teams.
Following Valpo Football: The game will be streamed on Stretch Internet courtesy of Indiana Wesleyan Athletics. Live stats will also be available. In addition, Todd Ickow (play-by-play) and Brandon Vickrey (analyst) will call the game on the Valpo Sports Network, available on 95.1 FM Valparaiso and the TuneIn Radio app. For in-game Twitter updates, follow @valpoufootball. Links to live coverage will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Landon Fox: Landon Fox (5-13) is in his third season as the head coach of the Valparaiso University football program in Fall 2021. During his second season at the helm in Spring 2021, Fox was a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award – which is presented annually to the FCS National Coach of the Year – after guiding Valpo to its best winning percentage since 2003 and tying for the squad’s best winning percentage since 1999. He led his team to Pioneer Football League runner-up honors, the program’s highest finish in the league standings since the PFL championship season of 2003. Fox’s defensive roots paid dividends on that side of the football in his second year at the helm, as the team enjoyed its best defensive season in four decades. Valpo held opponents to 283.3 yards per game, the program’s best total defense in the last 40 years. Valpo limited the opposition to 172.2 passing yards per game, the program’s best passing defense since 2008. In addition, the squad boasted its best rushing defense (111.2 yards per game) and scoring defense (18.7 points per game) since 1999. In Year 1 of the Fox Era in 2019, Valpo ranked in the Top 5 in the PFL in scoring defense (32.0, fifth), total defense (381.6, fourth), rushing defense (184.2, fourth) and passing defense (197.3, fifth). After spending the previous 11 seasons as the defensive coordinator and secondary coach at the University of Dayton, Fox was named the head football coach at Valpo prior to the 2019 season. 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.
A Look Back at Spring 2021
- Finished with the program’s best winning percentage since 2003 (.666), tying for the squad’s best winning percentage since 1999.
- Held its best record through the first six games of a season (in this case, the only six games of the season) since 1999 and its best record through six league games since 1964.
- Won four PFL games in the same season for the second time ever (five, 2017) and four league games in any conference for just the second time since 1968.
- Snapped a 14-game losing streak to San Diego, earning the program’s first victory over the Toreros since 2003.
- Snapped a 17-game head-to-head skid by picking up its first win over Drake since 2003 and its first-ever win in Des Moines.
- Beat a San Diego team that was receiving votes in the latest STATS FCS Top 25 and AFCA Coaches Top 25 at the time of the matchup. The Toreros were nationally ranked earlier in the season. The loss marked San Diego’s second in its last 42 PFL games.
- The final four games of the season were all decided by four points or fewer, and all six games were dictated by 11 points or fewer.
- Completed a significant turnaround, going from 1-11 during the 2019 fall slate to 4-2 in Spring 2021 and a second-place finish in the PFL, the team’s highest finish in the PFL standings since the 2003 season.
- Five players earned all-PFL First Team honors, the team’s most since 2005.
- Placed 56 on the academic honor roll, a 15 student-athlete jump from the previous year and the second-most in program history (60, 2018).
- Outrushed opponents 910-668, the team’s first time gaining more yards on the ground than its opponents since 2007.
- Eclipsed 150 rushing yards per game for the second time in the last 12 seasons and the first time since 2014.
- Held opponents to 283.3 yards per game, the program’s best total defense in the last 40 years.
- Held opponents to 172.2 passing yards per game, the program’s best passing defense since 2008.
- Held opponents to 111.2 rushing yards per game, the team’s best rushing defense since 1999.
- Held opponents to 18.7 points per game, the team’s best scoring defense since 1999.
Scouting the Opponent: Indiana Wesleyan is an NAIA institution and a member of the Mid-States Football Association. The Wildcats were picked to finish fourth of eight in the MSFA preseason coaches poll. Indiana Wesleyan posted a 6-4 overall record and 4-1 home mark during the 2019 season and played a close game against PFL member Butler, falling 30-27 in Indianapolis. The Wildcats went 2-3 overall and 2-1 at home during the Spring 2021 season. Indiana Wesleyan is under the direction of Jordan Langs, who is the program’s first head coach. This will mark the program’s fourth season of competition as Indiana Wesleyan launched football in 2017 and began competing in games during the 2018 campaign.
Valpo in Openers: The Beacons will attempt to open the season with a victory for the second straight season. The Spring 2021 slate got underway with a 24-14 win at Butler, the program’s first season-opening triumph since 2007. The last time Valpo won the season opener multiple years in a row was 2005-2007, a string of three straight season-opening victories. This marks the ninth consecutive season that Valpo has started the year with a road game.
Fall 2021 Preseason Picks
- Valpo was picked to finish sixth of 11 in the Pioneer Football League preseason poll.
- Davidson was projected to win the league, edging out perennial favorite San Diego.
- Valpo boasted five players on the Preseason All-PFL team – running back Robert Washington, linebacker Jaxon Peifer, defensive back Keyon Turner, kicker Brian Bartholomew and punter Ben Niesner.
- Washington was named the Phil Steele PFL Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, while Niesner and Bartholomew joined Washington on the Phil Steele Preseason PFL First Team. Valpo’s second-team honorees included offensive lineman Aaron Byrd, defensive lineman Trejuan Purty, Turner, Peifer, kick returner Chuck Maxwell and long snapper Doug Haugh. In addition, linebacker Evan Annis was named to the third team.
- Niesner was also named to the FCS Punter of the Year Preseason Watch List by the Augusta Sports Council.
Spring 2021 Awards/Honors
- Landon Fox – Finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award, presented annually to the FCS National Coach of the Year
- Keyon Turner – Finalist for Jerry Rice Award, presented to the FCS National Freshman of the Year… Named a Freshman All-American by HERO Sports
- Chuck Maxwell – Named a Freshman All-American by HERO Sports
- Robert Washington – PFL Offensive Player of the Year, first in program history (since the award began in 2001)
- Ben Niesner – co-PFL Special Teams Player of the Year (first in program history, conference began handing out the honor in 2015); FCS National Punter of the Year semifinalist (one of 10 nationally).
- PFL Players of the Week - Drew Gedrys – co-Special Teams Player of the Week (April 18); Robert Washington Offensive Player (March 28), Keyon Turner co-Defensive Player (March 28), Niesner co-Special Teams Player of the Week (April 4), Niesner Special Teams (March 21).
- College Sports Madness Players of the Week – Washingon (O – March 15), Washington (O – March 29)
- STATS FCS Perform National Team of the Week Honorable Mention on April 20 after win over San Diego.
- STATS FCS Perform National Player of the Week Honorable Mentions: Drew Gedrys (ST, April 20), Chuck Maxwell (ST, April 20), Ben Niesner (ST, April 20), Keyon Turner (D, March 30), Robert Washington (O, March 23).
- All-PFL First Team: Robert Washington, Jaxon Peifer, Ben Niesner, Keyon Turner, Brian Barthlomew
- All-PFL Second Team: Evan Annis, Chuck Maxwell
- All-PFL Honorable Mention: Aaron Byrd, Trejuan Purty, Doug Haugh, Jadarius Horton
- Cade Bishop – CoSIDA Academic All-District 5 Team
- Academic All-PFL First Team: Drew Parrish, Evan Annis, Cade Bishop, Ben Niesner; Academic All-PFL Second Team: Aaron Byrd & Kohlton Sherman
Spring 2021 Individual Achievements
- Ben Niesner finished with a season punting average of 43.6 yards per punt, tying Greg Wood’s 2010 program record for single-season punting average (when rounded to the nearest 10th of a yard). When taken to the next decimal place, Wood’s 2010 mark is slightly ahead of Niesner’s Spring 2021 mark at 43.63 and 43.85, respectively. Wood’s 2010 mark is also the PFL record with Niesner now second in PFL history.
- Niesner’s career-long 72-yard punt against San Diego was only the fifth punt of 72 yards or more in FCS during the Spring 2021 season, tied for the fourth longest in the nation.
- Drew Gedrys had two blocked kicks against San Diego, becoming only the third player in the FCS nation with multiple blocked kicks in a single game in the Spring 2021 season.
- Keyon Turner was part of a turnover in all six games with four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He finished the season as the outright leader in takeaways. He was one of only five players in the nation with four or more interceptions… Lone freshman on all-PFL First Team… One of only five Valpo players with four or more interceptions in a single game over the last 12 years despite the fact that the slate was shortened to six games. He ranked in the top 10 nationally in interceptions per game, led the nation in interceptions among freshmen and became the first Valpo player with an interception in four straight games in over two decades and the first Valpo freshman with four interceptions in a season in over 20 years.
- Robert Washington – ranked eighth nationally in FCS in rushing yards per game at 108.8. Accrued 100 or more rushing yards on four occasions including a season-high 199 on 39 carries in the March 13 season opener at Butler, the highest single-game rushing output by a Valpo player since 2012. His 199-yard performance marked the ninth-highest single-game rushing number in the nation during the Spring 2021, and he was one of three players nationally with multiple games of 180+ rushing yards. Had the most rushing yards in a season by any Valpo player since Brandon Hall’s 855 in 2014 despite the Spring 2021 slate being shortened to six games… Ranked 11th nationally in total rushing yards (653) and 12th in all-purpose yards per game (129.33)…. One of seven unanimous All-PFL selections… First Valpo player with four 100-yard rushing games in the same season since Jeff Horton had six in 2005.
- Brian Bartholomew – Boasted the league’s best field-goal percentage at 87.5 percent, converting seven of his eight attempts. He had the most PATs without a miss in the league, going a perfect 13-for-13 on PATs. The redshirt sophomore ranked sixth in the PFL in scoring at 5.7 points per game. His season-long 49 yard field goal came at a critical time as it represented the first points of an eventual 10-7 win over Drake. He had Valpo’s best single-season field goal percentage in over 15 years.
- Chuck Maxwell finished his season as the FCS national leader in kickoff return average at 29.8 yards per return. He had 151 kickoff return yards in Week 6 vs. San Diego, the most by any PFL player in a single contest during the season. The 86 yarder marked the second-longest return by a PFL player in Spring 2021.
- QB Chris Duncan finished among the program’s career leaders in both passing yards (4086, sixth) and total offense (4,902). He finished his career ranked 21st in yards of total offense among active players in Division-I FCS.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Projected Offensive Starters
*Based on two-deep, starters subject to change
- WR-z #13 Braden Contreras, So. – Two-time all-conference selection at Hinsdale Central High School… Father Steve played football at Amherst from 1995-1999… Earned all-state second team status and named his team’s Offensive Player of the Year Award in high school… Recovered a Butler onside kick in the final two minutes to help seal a 28-25 victory on March 27, 2021… Had his first career touchdown catch on April 17, 2021 vs. San Diego, hauling in the go-ahead score to put his team up 20-19 with seconds left on the clock in the game against the Toreros, an eventual upset over a team receiving votes nationally.
- LT #68 Aaron Byrd, R-Jr. – Majoring in bioengineering with a strong interest in prosthetics… The launch of Valpo’s bioengineering program within the school’s nationally-ranked College of Engineering attracted him to the University… Has performed undergraduate research in the Human Movement Research Laboratory under Craig Goehler, Ph.D., an associate professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering… Serves as a student tutor in the Hesse Learning Center on campus… Was a starter in 2019 and saw action in all 12 games… Started again in Spring 2021 and received All-PFL Honorable Mention, Academic All-PFL Second Team and the Sever Award, which is presented to the team’s top offensive lineman.
- LG #70 Jeremiah Orr, So. – Appeared in all six games and made four starts in Spring 2021… Four-year varsity letter winner in high school… Owns Drone Pilot Certification.
- C #72 Drew Parrish, R-So. – Did not see game action in his first season on campus in 2019… Started his collegiate debut on March 13, 2021 at Butler… Received the award given to the player with the highest GPA on his high school football team… Played six years of baseball including two in high school… Received numerous academic honors in high school… Majoring in electrical engineering… Enjoys hiking in Arizona when on vacation to visit his family there… Goes on a fishing trip every Thanksgiving to Branson, Mo. and stays at Lazy Valley Resort… Tutors other engineering students at Valpo’s Hesse Learning Resource Center… Named to the Spring 2021 Academic All-PFL First Team.
- RG #73 Danny Files, R-So. – Did not see action in his first season on campus in 2019, retaining four years of eligibility… Started his collegiate debut on March 13, 2021 at Butler… Played in all six games during the Spring 2021 season.
- RT #75 Jon Stone, So. – Engineering major… Two-time first-team all-conference pick and two-time Detroit Free Press all-state pick in high school… Also competed in basketball, track & field and wrestling in high school… Brother Dan competes in track & field at Michigan State and brother Nate plays rugby at Air Force Academy in Colorado.
- TE #82 Alex Conlin, R-So. – Played football and basketball for all four years at duPont High School, where he was Vice President of the Best Buddies Program, an international nonprofit organization… Played in one game during his freshman year in 2019... Appeared in all six games and made one start in Spring 2021.
- WR-x #6 Ollie Reese, Jr. – Had a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on Oct. 12, 2019 vs. Dayton… 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… 2019 All-PFL Honorable Mention, Spring 2021 Preseason All-PFL Watch List… Appeared in all 12 games in 2019 and led Valpo in receptions (34), receiving yards (545) and receiving touchdowns (five) while averaging 16.0 yards per catch and 45.4 receiving yards per game… Established career highs in both receptions (8) and receiving yards (86) on March 20, 2021 vs. Drake, earning the team’s Offensive Player of the Week Award.
- Slot #12 Jordan Bingham, R-So. – Appeared in all six games in Spring 2021 after appearing in four games during his first season on campus in 2019… Played the drums when he was younger.
- #5 Ben Nimz, R-Jr., QB – Helped his high school team to a 23-3 record in 26 career starts… Took over at QB midway through the April 10, 2021 game at Morehead State and nearly led Valpo to its biggest comeback since 1995… Made his first career start on April 17, 2021 vs. San Diego and led Valpo to an upset victory over a team that was receiving votes nationally, the program’s first win over the Toreros since 2003… His first career TD pass was the go-ahead score with 21 seconds remaining against San Diego, a 9-yard toss to Braden Contreras that put Valpo ahead 20-19.
- #8 Teryn Berry, Jr., QB – Saw action in two games for Weber State during the Spring 2021 season and was part of a team that won the program’s fourth straight Big Sky Championship and advanced to the FCS playoffs… Joined the Valpo program as a transfer after spending the last three seasons at Weber State.
- #3 Robert Washington, Sr., RB – Played in 12 games and made three starts at Old Dominion in 2019… Previously spent the 2016 season and part of the 2017 campaign at Charlotte… Was rated a four-star recruit by ESPN.com out of high school… Ranked as the 13th-best running back prospect nationally by ESPN.com out of high school... Earned the following honors in Spring 2021: PFL Offensive Player of the Year, All-PFL First Team, (unanimous), 2x College Sports Madness PFL Offensive Player of the Week (March 15, March 29), PFL Offensive Player of the Week (March 28), Team Offensive Player of the Year, Valparaiso University Male Athlete of the Year (ARC Awards), Valparaiso University Male co-Newcomer of the Year (ARC Awards)… Was the first player in Valpo history to earn PFL Offensive Player of the Year honors… Ranked eighth nationally in FCS in rushing yards per game at 108.8… Rushed for 653 yards and five touchdowns… Accrued 100 or more rushing yards on four occasions including a season-high 199 on March 13, 2021 at Butler.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Projected Defensive Starters
*Based two-deep, starters subject to change
- DE #4 Trejuan Purty, Sr. – Transferred to Valpo for the 2019 season after spending the previous two years at East Tennessee State… Finished 2019 tied for sixth in the PFL with 3.5 sacks… Had six tackles for loss totaling 31 yards and racked up 31 tackles including 14 solos in 2019… 2019 All-PFL Honorable Mention and Spring 2021 Preseason All-PFL Watch List… Spring 2021 All-PFL Honorable Mention after starting all six games… Had 20 tackles including a team-high 5.5 tackles for loss in Spring 2021.
- NG #93 Kurt Kessen, So. - Appeared in all six games during the Spring 2021 season.
- DT #94 Nathan Orlandini, Sr. – Majoring in mechanical engineering… Competed in all 12 games in 2019 and totaled 28 tackles (12 solo) during his junior campaign…Started all six games on Valpo’s defensive line in Spring 2021.
- #46 Austin Martins, DE, R-Sr. – A junior college transfer from Modesto JC… Started his collegiate career as a Division-III running back… Had 2 ½ sacks to lift Valpo to the April 3, 2021 win at Drake, the most sacks in a single game by a Valpo player since 2015… Was named the Marines Valpo Valor Player of the Game following that performance…. Played in all six games and made two starts during the Spring 2021 slate.
- LB #2 Evan Annis, R-So. – Appeared in four games in his first season on campus in 2019, retaining four years of eligibility… Also a four-year letter winner in lacrosse in high school… Member of a fraternity on campus and majoring in bioengineering while playing football… Maintained a 4.0 GPA all through high school… Shared the team lead in tackles with nine including 1 ½ TFL on March 20, 2021 vs. Drake… Again tied for the team lead with nine tackles on March 27, 2021 vs. Butler… Led the team in tackles for the third straight game and had eight or more for the third consecutive contest with an eight-tackle output in the April 3, 2021 win at Drake… Finished the Spring 2021 season ranked second on the team and eighth in the league with 6.8 tackles per game… Earned Spring 2021 All-PFL Second Team, Academic All-PFL First Team and the team’s Koenig Award, which is presented to an individual who displays outstanding sportsmanship and character.
- LB #10 Jaxon Peifer, Sr. – Had 10 tackles in his first career start, the 2019 season opener at Eastern Kentucky, earning the team’s Defensive Player of the Week nod that week… Majoring in nursing… Registered 62 tackles (31 solos) over 11 games in 2019, notching 3.0 tackles for loss… Forced a pair of fumbles while also receiving credit for two QB hurries and a pass breakup during his breakout 2019 season… Tied for fourth in the PFL in forced fumbles per game and tied for 23rd in the league at 5.6 tackles per game… Accumulated eight tackles in the Spring 2021 opener at Butler, his third collegiate game with eight or more stops… Named the team’s Defensive Player of the Week for his March 20, 2021 performance vs. Drake, when he had six tackles, 0.5 TFL and a QB hurry… Tied for the team lead in tackles on March 27, 2021 vs. Butler with nine including six solos and one sack… Had a team-high nine tackles on April 10, 2021 at Morehead State… Finished the Spring 2021 season as the team leader in tackles with 42, raking seventh in the PFL at 7.0 tackles per game… Named Spring 2021 All-PFL First Team and team Defensive Player of the Year after earning 2019 All-PFL Honorable Mention.
- LB #20 Austin Chilton, R-So. – Appeared in three games and made one start in Spring 2021… Racked up seven tackles including 0.5 TFL on April 10 at Morehead State… Had six tackles in the April 17 finale vs. San Diego… Lives a few minutes from Walt Disney World and can hear the Magic Kingdom Fireworks from his neighborhood every night… Mechanical engineering major whose career goal is to design and build roller coasters for Disney World.
- CB #1 Keyon Turner, So. – Spring 2021 finalist for Jerry Rice Awards (FCS National Freshman of the Year), HERO Sports Freshman All-American, All-PFL First Team and Team Newcomer of the Year… Led the FCS nation in takeaways with six (four interceptions, two fumble recoveries)… Had a takeaway in all six games he played.
- S #29 Kohlton Sherman, Sr. – Spring 2021 Academic All-PFL Second Team… Spring 2021 Team Outstanding Hitter… Ranked third on the team with 28 tackles and second on the squad with 19 solo stops… Grabbed an interception in the Spring 2021 finale vs. San Diego.
- S #21 Anthony Sciarroni, Jr. – Appeared in four games and had a season-high four tackles and an interception in his collegiate debut on March 13, 2021 at Butler… Had eight tackles and seven solos during the Spring 2021 season… Transferred to Valpo from Alderson Broaddus at Findlay prior to 2020-21.
- CB #3 Jadarius Horton, Sr. – Transferred from Southwestern College prior to 2020-21… Earned All-PFL Honorable Mention… Started all six games and finished the season with 15 tackles (13 solos) and three pass breakups.
Specialist Quick Hits – Projected Starters
- K #87 Brian Bartholomew, R-Jr. – Did not seen game action in either of his first two seasons on campus (2018 and 2019)… Started his career as a walk-on and evolved into a First Team All-PFL kicker in Spring 2021, earning the team’s Most Improved Player Award… Went 7-of-8 on field-goal tries and 13-of-13 on PATs in Spring 2021… Ranked fifth in the league in scoring at 5.7 points per game, second in field goals per game at 1.17, first in made PATs without a miss and first in field-goal percentage at 87.5… Boasted Valpo’s best single-season field goal percentage in over 15 years.
- P #33 Ben Niesner, Sr. – Joined the team in 2019 as a transfer after spending the previous two seasons at Portland State, where he earned the starting role at punter… Started school at Oregon State in 2016-17 before transferring to Portland State, where he beat out a scholarship punter to become the starter for the final game of 2017 and all of 2018… 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… Named All-PFL Honorable Mention in 2019… Earned the following honors in Spring 2021: PFL co-Special Teams Player of the Year, All-PFL First Team, FCS National Punter of the Year Semifinalist, Academic All-PFL First Team, 2x PFL Special Teams Player of the Year (March 21, April 4), Stats FCS Perform National Player of the Week Honorable Mention (April 5), Team Special Teams Player of the Year… Led the PFL and ranked eighth nationally in FCS in punting average in Spring 2021 at 43.58, that mark ranked second in PFL and program history or tied for the PFL record in both categories when rounded to the nearest 10th.