Valparaiso (0-0, 0-0 PFL)
at Butler (0-0, 0-0 PFL)
Game #1 Saturday, March 13, 11 a.m. CT
Sellick Bowl (5,647) – Indianapolis, Ind.
This Week in Valpo Football: At long last, the Valparaiso University football team will kick off the season on Saturday. A lot is different about this six-game Pioneer Football League spring slate, but the positive energy that has surrounded head coach Landon Fox’s program in recent years remains unchanged. After going through a typical spring practice schedule during the fall, Valpo will hold its competitive season this spring. The anticipation for the team’s first game since fall 2019 was already high, but the opponent makes it even higher. Valpo will match up with Butler in the latest rendition of the PFL’s long-standing rivalry on Saturday in the state capital.
Previously: This will mark the first time Valpo has taken the field in a game situation since Nov. 23, 2019 vs. Marist, a 26-14 setback at Brown Field. The game was closer than the final score would indicate, as Valpo trailed by five and had a chance to take the lead in the final minute before a pick six sealed the win for the Red Foxes.
Series Notes: This year’s season opener marks the continuation of a rivalry that dates all the way back to 1927. Valpo is 27-51 all-time against Butler including two wins in the last three seasons. This matchup has occurred every year since 1951. The most recent showdown was the penultimate game of the 2019 season, a heartbreaking 24-21 defeat for the Brown & Gold in Indianapolis. Valpo put together a valiant effort that featured a game-tying touchdown drive to even the score at 21 with 19 seconds to play. A game seemingly destined for overtime took another dramatic turn over the final 19 seconds of regulation, as Butler worked its way into field-goal range following a kickoff return, two plays and two Valpo penalties. The second of those flags was an offside call against Valpo on a missed 43-yard field goal attempt, giving the Bulldogs an untimed down for a 38-yard try. That attempt narrowly had the distance to give Butler the win. The most recent matchup marked the closest Hoosier Helmet game since 1997, when Valpo went south to Indianapolis and came home with a 19-17 triumph.
Following Valpo Football: A free video feed will be available for Saturday’s game via YouTube courtesy of Butler Athletics. The game will also be broadcast on 95.1 FM Valparaiso and the Valpo Sports Network (available on TuneIn Radio) with Todd Ickow describing the action. For in-game tweets, follow @valpoufootball on Twitter. Links to live video, audio and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Landon Fox: Landon Fox completed his first season as the head coach of the Valparaiso University football program in 2019. In Year 1 of the Fox Era, 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). The defense also thrived in critical down-and-distance situations, as the team’s opponent third-down conversion percentage of 32.4 ranked second in the league and its opponent fourth-down conversion percentage of 46.2 was third. 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 2020 season. His 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.
A Look Back at 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). The defense also thrived in critical down-and-distance situations, as the team’s opponent third-down conversion percentage of 32.4 ranked second in the league and its opponent fourth-down conversion percentage of 46.2 was third.
- Valpo ranked in the Top 5 in the PFL in scoring defense for the first time since the 2004 season. The team finished fourth in the PFL in total defense, its best ranking in that area since 2007. The rushing defense (fourth) and passing defense (fifth) cracked the top five in the league for the first time since 2007 and 2008, respectively. On third down, the Valpo defense permitted opponents to convert just 32.4 percent of the time, the team’s best third-down defense since holding opponents to 28.7 percent in 2000. The 2019 campaign marked the first time Valpo finished in the top five in the PFL in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense and passing defense all in the same season since at least 2001.
- Valpo’s defense had a knack for dropping opponents behind the line of scrimmage as the team racked up 70 tackles for loss, the program’s most since 2007 and tied for the fourth-most in a single season in program history. Valpo had seven or more tackles for loss in four different games, a feat the team had achieved just once in the previous three seasons combined.
- Jamari Booker racked up 101 tackles and five interceptions, earning All-PFL Second Team honors.
Scouting the Opponent: Butler was picked sixth in the PFL Preseason Poll, one spot behind Valpo. The Bulldogs went 3-9 (2-6 PFL) in the most recently completed season of 2019. They had one Spring 2021 Preseason All-PFL selection, offensive lineman Skyler Spetter.
Valpo in Openers: The Brown & Gold will attempt to open 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’s last Week 1 victory was Sept. 1, 2007, a 28-21 triumph vs. Saint Francis (Ill.). Valpo has lost the PFL opener each of the last three seasons, most recently falling 35-6 at Drake to start PFL play in October 2019. Valpo is 2-11 over its last 13 PFL openers with the wins coming vs. Davidson in 2016 and vs. Campbell in 2013. This will mark the first time Valpo opens the season with a league contest since Sept. 5, 1992 vs. Ashland, the team’s final season in the Midwest Intercollegiate Conference before joining the PFL.
About the 2021 PFL Spring Season
- This marks the 28th year of the Pioneer Football League, an NCAA Division-I Football Championship Subdivision conference.
- Seven teams will compete for the PFL title this spring: San Diego, Davidson, Drake, Stetson, Valpo, Butler and Morehead State.
- Presbyterian College (Clinton, S.C.) and the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, Minn.) will both join the PFL for the fall 2021 season.
- Presbyterian will play a PFL schedule during the 2021 spring season but will not be eligible for the league championship.
- Dayton and Marist have opted out of the PFL’s 2021 spring season.
- The Spring 2021 Division-I FCS Championship will feature 16 teams with 11 FCS conferences – including the PFL – receiving an automatic bid.
- San Diego was tabbed as the PFL preseason favorite for the 10th consecutive season, while Valpo was picked to finish fifth based on a preseason survey of the league’s head coaches. The Brown & Gold are picked to finish ahead of Butler and Morehead State.
- Five Valpo players were named to the Spring 2021 Preseason All-PFL Watch List – wide receiver Deuce Larose, punter Ben Niesner, linebacker Jaxon Peifer, defensive end Trejuan Purty and wide receiver Ollie Reese.
- All five were 2019 All-PFL Honorable Mention selections and were named Phil Steele Preseason All-Conference in July 2020.
- Reese led the team in receptions (34), receiving yards (545) and receiving touchdowns (five) while averaging 16.0 yards per catch and 45.4 receiving yards per game in 2019. He finished 10th in the PFL in receiving yards per outing and sixth in all-purpose yards at 110.7. The Tennessee native finished seventh in the league in kick return average at 22.0.
- Reese had the most all-purpose yards by a Valpo player – both total (1,328) and per game (110.7) – since 2008. He jumped from four receptions for 35 yards as a freshman in 2018 to 34 receptions for 545 yards as a sophomore in 2019.
- Purty played in 12 games in his first season on campus after joining the program as a transfer. He finished tied for sixth in the PFL with 3.5 sacks and had six tackles for loss totaling 31 yards. Purty snagged the first fumble recovery of his Valpo career on Oct. 26 vs. Stetson and had a season-high five tackles on Nov. 2 at Davidson.
- Peifer saw action in 11 of the team’s 12 games a year ago and registered 62 tackles (31 solos) and 3.0 tackles for loss. He forced a pair of fumbles while also receiving credit for two QB hurries and a pass breakup. Peifer tied for fourth in the PFL in forced fumbles per game and tied for 23rd in the league at 5.6 tackles per contest. After having seven tackles over eight games during his freshman season, he exceeded his 2018 season total with 10 in the season opener at Eastern Kentucky and later equaled that season high on Nov. 9 vs. Morehead State.
- The 2019 campaign saw Niesner average 39.4 yards per punt over 65 punts, the best mark by a Valpo punter with at least 20 attempts since Greg Wood’s 40.9 yard average in 2012. He ranked fifth in the league in yards per punt and knocked 12 punts inside the 20 while booting six punts 50 yards or longer.
- Larose recorded 30 catches for 484 yards, averaging 16.1 yards per catch and 48.4 yards per game. He hauled in three touchdown passes on his way to ranking 10th in the PFL in receptions per game at 3.0 and ninth in receiving yards per game at 48.4. He finished the season on a high note, accruing 90 or more receiving yards in each of his final three games including a career-high 112 on Nov. 9 vs. Morehead State.
Close Calls: One key for Valpo during the 2021 spring season will be getting over the hump to win close games. Valpo lost three straight games by six points or fewer late in the 2019 season before closing the year with a 12-point setback that was closer than the final score would indicate. The team played its best football of the year over the final five weeks of the season, but fell just shy in four of those contests. Valpo lost three straight by seven points or fewer for the first time since 1960 in early November 2019.
Duncan in the Record Book: Valpo quarterback Chris Duncan enters the season already ranked in the Top 10 in program history in both passing yards and total offense. He has accrued 3,725 passing yards during his time in a Valpo uniform, good for eighth in program history. Duncan is 275 yards away from becoming the eighth player in program history to reach 4,000. Ryan Doerffler (2004-2006) is currently seventh at 4,016. Duncan’s total offense of 4,374 is seventh on Valpo’s all-time list with Dave Lass currently sixth at 4,416.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Projected Offensive Starters
*Based on initial two-deep, starters subject to change
- 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… Set career highs in receptions (six) and receiving yards (78) on Oct. 19, 2019 at San Diego… 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… Four of his five receiving touchdowns came over the final three weeks of the season… Finished 10th in the PFL at 45.4 receiving yards per game and sixth in all-purpose yards per game at 110.7… Had the most all-purpose yards by a Valpo player – both total (1,328) and per game (110.7) since 2008, when John Popper totaled 1,356 and averaged 123.3.
- LT #68 Aaron Byrd, R-So. – 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.
- LG #70 Jeremiah Orr, Fr. – Also played three years of basketball in high school… Owns Drone Pilot Certification… all-region selection in high school in 2018 and 2019.
- C #69 Stone Dixon, R-Fr. – Did not see game action in his first season on campus in 2019… Also competed in lacrosse and track & field in high school… Majoring in mechanical engineering… His father Bruce was one of his high school coaches… Earned 2018 all-conference honors in high school and helped his team to a 2018 conference title.
- RG #73 Danny Files, R-Fr. – Did not see action in his first season on campus in 2019, retaining four years of eligibility.
- RT #72 Drew Parrish, R-Fr. – Did not see game action in his first season on campus in 2019… 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.
- TE #84 Brett Bittner, R-Jr. – Played all 12 games in 2019 and had six catches for 24 yards… Had a season-high three receptions on Nov. 9, 2019 vs. Morehead State including his first career touchdown catch, a six-yard grab from Chris Duncan.
- WR-z #17 Deuce Larose, Sr. – Played ice hockey in middle school and didn’t start playing tackle football until eighth grade… Father Dan played safety at Florida State… Followed his career-high 112 receiving yards against Morehead State on Nov. 9, 2019 with 99 at Butler on Nov. 16, 2019… 2019 All-PFL Honorable Mention… Spring 2021 Preseason All-PFL Watch List… Accrued 90 or more receiving yards in each of his final three games of the 2019 season… Had 30 catches for 484 receiving yards in 2019, 16.1 yards per catch and 48.4 yards per game… Ranking 10th in the PFL in receptions per game (3.0) and ninth in receiving yards per game (48.4) in 2019.
- H-back/slot #48 Holden Hodge, R-SR. – Graduate transfer from Taylor University
- QB #14 Chris Duncan, R-Sr. – Captain… Had a 76-yard TD run in the 2019 game against Dayton, Valpo’s longest touchdown run since 1995… Was a child actor and made it in a Pussycat Dolls music video, “Wait a Minute.”… On Sept. 14, 2019 vs. Central Connecticut, went 24-of-47 through the air, the most completions by a Valpo quarterback since 2017 and the most pass attempts by a Valpo player in a single game since 2015… Rushed for 154 yards and passed for 148 on Oct. 12, 2019 vs. Dayton, putting together Valpo’s top rushing performance in seven years and the team’s highest rushing total by a QB since 2007… His late grandfather Mike Shatusky also wore #14 and was the quarterback at Michigan in the late 1950s… Had a career-high 304 passing yards on Nov. 9, 2019 vs. Morehead State, throwing for three touchdowns and no interceptions. He completed 30 passes in the game, the second most in a single game by a PFL player during the 2019 campaign… Enjoyed his first career game with 200+ passing yards and 100+ rushing yards on Nov. 16, 2019 at Butler… Finished the 2019 season as the team’s leading rusher (386 yards on 113 carries) while accounting for six of the team’s nine rushing touchdowns… Completed 151 of 307 passes in 2019 while throwing for 1,658 yards and 10 scores… Entering the Spring 2021 campaign already eighth in program history in career passing yards (3,725) and seventh in total offense (4,374)… Ranked seventh in the PFL in passing yards per game and fifth in total offense (204.4 yards per game) in 2019.
- RB #15 Doug Haugh, R-Jr. – Team captain… Played in 12 games at running back and long snapper in 2019… Father Kevin is a teacher and assistant football coach at Redlands High School, while his mother Kim is a registered nurse at the University of Redlands… Spent the 2020 summer as the sports performance coach at FiTrain in Valparaiso, where he trained middle and high school students… Is a member of Valpo’s Pi Kappa Alpha… Serves as the community service liaison for the Valpo football team… Career goal is to be the head strength & conditioning coach at a major university… Started classes for his master’s degree in Fall 2020 through the Early Entry Sports Administration program… Has played the drums since fourth grade.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Projected Defensive Starters
*Based on initial two-deep, starters subject to change
- DE #45 Trejuan Purty, Sr. – Transferred to Valpo for the 2019 season after spending the previous two years at East Tennessee State… Recovered a blocked punt on Sept. 14, 2019 vs. Central Connecticut… Had a fumble recovery on Oct. 26, 2019 vs. Stetson… 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.
- NG #99 Evan Satoski, R-Fr. – Did not see action in his first season on campus in 2019, retaining four years of eligibility.
- 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… Notched a season-high five tackles on Nov. 2, 2019 at Davidson.
- DE #46 Austin Martins, R-Jr. – Played in 11 games and accrued 32 tackles during his first season on Valpo’s campus in 2019 after joining the program as a junior college transfer… Enjoyed a season-high five tackles including three TFL on Oct. 5, 2019 vs. Drake… Forced a fumble for the first time in his Valpo career on Oct. 19, 2019 at San Diego.
- LB #42 Evan Annis, R-Fr. – Appeared in four games in his first season on campus, retaining four years of eligibility… Had eight tackles for the season including five in his debut on Sept. 21, 2019 at Truman State… Had three tackles including a sack for a 10-yard loss on Oct. 5, 2019 vs. Drake… 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.
- LB #10 Jaxon Peifer, Jr. – 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.
- LB #24 Trey Psota, R-So. – Finished third on the team with 69 tackles and had the most tackles among non-seniors in 2019… Had two tackles for loss, a pass breakup, a QB hurry, a fumble recovery, a forced fumble and a blocked kick during his redshirt freshman season… Had a season-high 11 tackles on two occasions, Sept. 28 vs. Charleston and Oct. 26 vs. Stetson… Played in the 13U Little League World Series during his youth, taking on teams from all over the United States as well as Mexico, Puerto Rico and other international opponents.
- CB #11 Henry Hebda, Sr. – Had a strong performance on Sept. 21, 2019 at Truman State, highlighted by his first career interception. Turned in a career-high six tackles (three solos) against the Bulldogs, second on the team in that contest… Twin brother David is also a member of the Valpo football team… Majoring in nursing… Played in all 12 games and made 38 tackles (23 solos) while recording a team-high seven pass breakups and one interception in 2019… Ranked tied for 10th in the PFL with eight passes defended… Made a season-high seven tackles on Nov. 16, 2019 vs. Butler.
- CB #29 Kohlton Sherman, Jr. – First names starting with the letter K is a family tradition for males… Enjoys golfing… Played in all 12 games in 2019 and had 57 tackles including 31 solos and 5.0 TFL while also recovering a fumble and breaking up seven passes… Racked up eight tackles in Week 1 of the 2019 season at Eastern Kentucky before posting his first career double-figure tackle output on Nov. 2, 2019 at Davidson while also recovering a fumble in that contest.
- S #18 David Hebda, R-Jr. – Twin brother of Valpo’s Henry Hebda… Had 17 tackles (13 solos) in 2019… Made one fumble recovery, two TFL, one sack and three pass breakups… Picked up a season-high six tackles on Nov. 16, 2019 at Butler.
- CB #8 Jadarius Horton, Jr. – Transfer from Southwestern College.
Specialist Quick Hits – Projected Starters
- K #87 Brian Bartholomew, R-So. – Has not seen game action in either of his first two seasons on campus.
- 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… Booted a 56-yard punt in his home debut on Sept. 14 vs. Central Connecticut, the longest Valpo punt since the second game of the 2016 season… Had 10 punts for 404 yards on Sept. 21 at Truman State, becoming the 17th punter in the FCS nation with a 10-punt game that season and the first Valpo player to hit double figures in in single-game punts since 2013… Ran for 10 yards and a first down on a fake punt play on Oct. 5, 2019 at Drake. Booted a pair of punts for 50+ yards in that game against the Bulldogs… Had two punts of greater than 50 yards on Oct. 19, 2019 at San Diego… Averaged 40.7 yards per punt on six punts, including a punt of 48 yards and two downed inside the 20 on Nov. 9, 2019 vs. Morehead State… Earned 2019 All-PFL Honorable Mention and Spring 2021 Preseason All-PFL… Averaged 39.4 yards per punt over 65 punts in 2019, the best mark by a Valpo punter with at least 20 attempts since Greg Wood’s 40.9 yard average in 2012… Ranked fifth in the PFL in yards per punt in 2019.