Valparaiso (2-2, 1-0 PFL)
at Presbyterian (1-4, 0-2 PFL)
Game #5 Saturday, Oct. 8, 11 a.m. CT
Bailey Memorial Stadium (6,500) – Clinton, S.C.
This Week in Valpo Football: After a bye week filled with both practice time and rest, the Valparaiso University football team will return to the gridiron this week by heading to Clinton, S.C. for a Pioneer Football League clash with Presbyterian. This will mark Valpo’s first visit to Presbyterian, which officially joined the PFL prior to the Fall 2021 season after also competing in a PFL schedule in Spring 2021. The Blue Hose were previously members of the scholarship Big South Conference before transitioning to nonscholarship football.
Previously: Valpo rallied from an early 14-0 deficit to score 28 unanswered points before hanging on to beat defending PFL co-champion San Diego 28-21 on Homecoming Saturday at Brown Field. The win helped the Beacons start PFL play on the right foot thanks in part to Solomon Davis, who hauled in five receptions for 118 yards and one touchdown. Quarterback Mason Kaplan also enjoyed a big day, completing four of his six passes for 102 yards while rushing for 44 yards on 12 carries. Kaplan threw for a pair of scores and rushed for one in the victory, which featured a career-high 10-tackle output from Kurt Kessen.
Series Notes: This will mark Valpo’s first-ever trip to Presbyterian, one of the Pioneer Football League’s newest members. The two teams clashed for the first time ever last year at Brown Field as Valpo prevailed 65-55 by posting the fifth-highest point total in program history. Nick Orekoya set a program record for rushing touchdowns with four, while Robert Washington ran for three scores and accrued 234 yards on the ground on his way to being recognized on ESPN’s College Football Final with a “Helmet Sticker.” The team shattered a program record for single-game rushing TDs with eight, the 120 combined points shattered a Valpo single-game record that had stood since 1923 and kicker Brian Bartholomew made eight PATs to break the program’s single-game mark.
Following the Beacons: This week’s game will be available on ESPN+. In addition, Todd Ickow (play-by-play) and Brandon Vickrey (analyst) will have the hometown radio call on ValpoAthletics.com, 95.1 FM Valparaiso and the TuneIn Radio app. Links to live video, audio and stats can all be found on ValpoAthletics.com. For in-game updates, follow @valpoufootball on Twitter.
Head Coach Landon Fox: Landon Fox (11-22) is in his fourth season as the head coach of the Valparaiso University football program in 2022. In his third season leading the program in Fall 2021, Valpo finished with a Pioneer Football League record of .500 or better for a second consecutive year. This marked the first time Valpo had achieved that feat since the 1999 and 2000 campaigns. The Beacons won four Pioneer Football League games in the same season for just the third time ever (2017 and Spring 2021) and four league games in any conference for just the third time since 1968. 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. 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.
Starting on the Right Foot: Thanks to the Week 4 triumph over San Diego, Valpo has started the league portion of the schedule with a victory in three consecutive seasons. The Beacons went on the road and beat Butler to start the Spring 2021 campaign before kicking off the Fall 2022 league slate with a 24-21 win at Drake. Prior to the Spring 2021 PFL-opening victory, Valpo’s last win to begin league play was in 2016 vs. Davidson. This marks the first time since the league was founded in 1993 that Valpo has won three straight PFL openers. The last time Valpo won the conference opener in three straight seasons was in the Heartland Collegiate Conference from 1985-1987 under head coach Bill Koch.
Getting to 2-0: Although starting PFL action with a win has become the norm over the last three years, getting to 2-0 has been a different story. Valpo lost the second game of the season in both Spring 2021 and Fall 2021, a trend head coach Landon Fox’s team will attempt to buck this week at Presbyterian. If the Beacons can run their record to 2-0 in league play, it will mark the first time that has happened since 2003, a season that also represented the program’s most recent PFL title. That season, the PFL was divided into two divisions and Valpo began PFL North action with a string of victories over Dayton, San Diego and Drake.
Topping the Toreros: The win over defending PFL co-champion San Diego to open league play represented Valpo’s second win over San Diego in the last three matchups after the team entered the Spring 2021 season with a 14-game head-to-head losing streak against the Toreros. San Diego is 48-4 in its last 52 PFL games dating back to the middle of the 2015 campaign, and two of those four losses have come to the Brown & Gold. USD entered the Week 4 game at Brown Field winners of seven straight PFL contests and owners of the best conference winning percentage in the FCS nation since 2011 (.907). San Diego earned a share of its PFL-record-tying 12th regular season title in Fall 2021 and was picked second in this year’s preseason poll. This was the highest projected opponent on Valpo’s schedule as the Beacons do not play preseason favorite Davidson this year.
A Happy Homecoming: The win over San Diego helped Valpo snap a three-game losing streak in Homecoming contests, although all three setbacks during that stretch came by fewer than seven points. This was Valpo’s first Homecoming win since beating Stetson 27-24 in 2017. In addition, Valpo is now 2-0 at home for the first time since 2016, when the home slate started with victories over Trinity International and Davidson.
National Recognition: Redshirt freshman quarterback Mason Kaplan saw his first action of the day with Valpo trailing 14-0 and helped lead the Beacons to 28 unanswered points in a 28-21 win over San Diego in Week 4. His effort received national acclaim as he was tabbed FedEx Ground FCS National Freshman of the Week by Stats Perform. He completed four of his six pass attempts for 102 yards while also notching 44 yards on the ground on 12 carries. He was involved in three of the team’s four touchdowns, passing for two and rushing for one.
Punting Prowess: Punter Evan Matthes unleashed a boot of 67 yards during the Week 4 game at San Diego. Through Week 4, he was one of nine punters in the FCS nation with a boot of 67 yards or longer this season and his punt tied for the seventh longest nationally this year. It is the longest punt in the PFL this season. Matthes owns a season-punting average of 42.7 that leads the PFL and ranks 22nd nationally in FCS.
Sack Specialist: With 4.5 sacks in four games this season, Kevin Spelman leads the PFL at 1.12 sacks per game, an average that ranks 11th nationally in FCS. He is at the forefront of a Valpo defense that ranks second in the league and 17th nationally with 3.00 sacks per game, having already accrued a dozen sacks in four contests.
Top Tackler: With 38 tackles in his first four games as a Beacon, Ben Hines is second on the PFL tackle chart. He is second in the league at 9.5 tackles per game and ranks 25th nationally in that area.
Ridin’ Solo: Solomon Davis had five receptions for 118 yards in the Week 4 win over San Diego, becoming the first Valpo player with a 100-yard receiving performance since Braden Contreras also had exactly 118 on Oct. 23, 2021 vs. Dayton. Davis’ performance featured a 44-yard TD reception from Mason Kaplan in the fourth quarter. Davis tied with Contreras for the most receiving yards by a Valpo player in a single game during the Landon Fox Era (fourth season). No Valpo player has accrued more than 118 in a game since Griffin Norberg had 173 on Nov. 10, 2018. Prior to this year, Davis had one total reception in his first three collegiate seasons. Now, he has 10 including two scores through the first four weeks of this year.
Other Notes Wrapping Up Week 4: Valpo 28, San Diego 21
- Barret Labus had a pair of touchdown catches, the second and third of his collegiate career. He became the second Valpo player during the Fox Era with two TD receptions in a game and the first since Ollie Reese on Nov. 16, 2019 at Butler.
- Matt Ross added four catches for 60 yards on a day where Valpo gained 229 yards through the air and 110 on the ground.
- Aaron Dawson ran for 48 yards on 15 carries, while Kaplan accrued 44 on 12 carries. The Valpo defense limited the USD rushing attack to 56 yards on 26 attempts.
- Kurt Kessen led the team with a career-high 10 tackles. Ben Hines contributed seven, while Kevin Spelman had a pair of sacks.
Close Calls Continuing: Amazingly, 11 of Valpo’s last 19 games have been decided by seven points or fewer, including three of the first four games this season. This year, the Beacons are 2-1 in one-score games. Valpo is 6-5 in those 11 one-score affairs.
Date Opponent Result
3-27-21 Butler W 28-25
4-3-21 at Drake W 10-7
4-10-21 at Morehead State L 28-24
4-17-21 San Diego W 20-19
9-25-21 at Drake W 24-21
10-2-21 Marist L 27-24 (OT)
10-9-21 at St. Thomas L 20-13
10-30-21 at San Diego L 21-14
9-3-22 Indiana Wesleyan W 20-17
9-10-22 at Illinois State L 28-21
9-24-22 San Diego W 28-21
Just for Kicks: Brian Bartholomew is 4-for-6 on field-goal attempts this season, but both of his misses have come on tries that were blocked. He still ranks 18th among active players in Division-I FCS in career field-goal percentage at .767 (23-of-30). He ranks 17th nationally in career made field goals per game at 1.15 and 31st in career total field goals made with 30.
Scouting the Opponent: Presbyterian is under the direction of head coach Steve Englehart, who is in his first year leading the program. The team went winless in PFL play a year ago in its first season in the league. This year, the Blue Hose were picked 11th of 11 in the preseason projections.
Other Notes Wrapping Up Week 3 – Dartmouth 35, Valpo 13
- Kohlton Sherman had nine tackles while Ben Hines contributed eight in a game where James Doerer led the way with 15.
- Evan Jernegan lifted his season total to a team-high 116 receiving yards at the tight end spot, while Barret Labus leads the team in receptions with 10 as a running back. Six different Valpo players have six receptions or more through three games.
- Jeffery Vercher had four kickoff returns for 112 yards including a long of 48. Elsewhere on special teams, Brian Bartholomew averaged 53.3 yards per kickoff on four boots including a pair of touchbacks, went 2-for-2 on field goals and made his only PAT try. Evan Matthes pinned each of his two punts inside the 20.
- Max Franco came up with a fumble recovery, the first of his career.
- Michael Appel Jr. completed 22 of his 36 passes, racking up 196 yards through the air. He completed passes to nine different Beacons, led by Jernegan (65 yards) and Labus (25 yards) with four catches apiece.
- Aaron Dawson ran for his first touchdown in a Valpo uniform. He had two last season while playing for Central Connecticut State. Through three weeks, Dawson ranks second in the PFL in rushing yards (214) and rushing yards per game (71.3).
- Valpo committed a season-high 11 penalties for 113 yards. Dartmouth ran for over 300 yards, averaging 6.8 yards per carry and scoring five rushing touchdowns.
Challenging Nonconference: Valpo has not backed away from playing a challenging nonconference schedule in recent seasons. The Week 1 victory over Indiana Wesleyan was the program’s first nonconference triumph during the Landon Fox Era and first since Sept. 16, 2017, a 44-10 win at Trinity International. Valpo played a ranked NAIA team in Week 1 before taking on teams receiving votes in the national FCS polls in each of the final two nonconference contests, both of which occurred away from Brown Field.
Inside the Upset Alert
- Valpo may not have come away with the win, but the significance of having Illinois State on the ropes in a 28-21 road loss in Week 2 cannot be overstated. Valpo is a member of the nonscholarship Pioneer Football League, while Illinois State participates in the nation’s top FCS conference, a league that offers a full complement of athletic scholarships.
- Valpo has played a “guarantee game” (a road game that is not part of a home-and-home series) in 12 straight seasons (excluding the conference-only Spring 2021 season) and this marks the closest contest in that stretch. Previously, Valpo’s closest call in such a game was a 45-23 loss to Montana to open the 2017 season.
- The Redbirds entered the week receiving 17 votes in the latest FCS Top 25 poll.
- Illinois State is a storied FCS program that has produced 45 All-Americans, 16 NFL draft picks, three MVFC championships and eight FCS playoff appearances. The Redbirds appeared in the FCS playoffs as recently as 2019 and reached the FCS semifinals twice, as recently as 2014.
- The Missouri Valley Football Conference, the nation’s top FCS league, entered the week with 28 straight victories against unranked FCS opponents, a streak that the Beacons put in serious jeopardy.
- Since the start of the 2010 season, Valpo has played nine games against members of the MVFC and prior to the seven-point loss to Illinois State, the closest Valpo had come was a 42-7 loss to Youngstown State in 2018. Those eight games came by an average margin of defeat of over 50 points per game.
- The defense in particular was commendable in the game against the Redbirds as the team allowed just 28 points after permitting an average of 56.4 points per game in the previous eight contests against Valley football programs. Furthermore, seven of the 28 points came on a special teams touchdown for Illinois State.
- Valpo’s effort in Week 2 marked quite the contrast to the prior matchup with Illinois State, a 50-13 setback to open the 2016 campaign.
- For further context, Illinois State beat Pioneer Football League member Butler 49-7 last season. (Then again, Valpo beat Butler by a wider margin at 47-3 last year). Illinois State’s other recent matchups with the PFL include a 42-14 victory over Morehead State in 2019, a 45-0 victory over Butler in 2017, the aforementioned 50-13 win against Valpo in 2016, a 56-14 win over Dayton in 2012 and a 52-21 win over Morehead State in 2011.
- Illinois State enjoyed an average margin of victory of 37.5 in six games against PFL teams since 2011 prior to the seven-point win over Valpo. None of those recent six meetings with PFL competition had been closer than four touchdowns.
Valpo Against The Valley (Since 2004)
Year Opponent Score Margin
2022 Illinois State 28-21 7
2021 North Dakota State 64-0 64
2018 Youngstown State 42-7 35
2016 Illinois State 50-13 37
2014 Western Illinois 45-6 39
2013 North Dakota 69-10 59
2012 Youngstown State 59-0 59
2011 Youngstown State 77-13 64
2010 Western Illinois 45-0 45
2005 South Dakota State 69-6 63
2004 North Dakota State 52-0 52
Starting Out in the W Column: Valpo notched its first season-opening victory to start a fall campaign since 2007 by beating Indiana Wesleyan in Week 1. In the previous 13 season openers, the only victory was the win at Butler to start the unusual Spring 2021 slate. Valpo also won the home opener for the first time since 2016, snapping a streak of five straight setbacks in Brown Field lidlifters.
Bart’s Boot: Kicker Brian Bartholomew’s game-winning 50-yard field goal in the final two minutes of the Sept. 3 season opener vs. Indiana Wesleyan represented the longest of his collegiate career. That edged his previous personal best of 49 yards, which represented Valpo’s first points of an eventual 10-7 win at Drake during the Spring 2021 season. He became just the second Valpo player to hit a field goal from 50 yards out since 2003, joining Dimitrios Latsonas, who was good from 50 on Nov. 17, 2018. Bartholomew was one of two players in the FCS nation with a 50-yard field goal in Week 1, joining Charleston Southern’s Sam Babbush in a tie for the longest field goal in the FCS nation to that point in the season. In the Week 1 victory, Bartholomew went 2-for-2 on field-goal tries, 2-for-2 on extra points and averaged 65.0 yards per kickoff including three touchbacks. He is up to 21 career made field goals.
Putting the Special in Special Teams: Brian Bartholomew was recognized as the Pioneer Football League Special Teams Player of the Week following Valpo’s Week 1 victory over Indiana Wesleyan. He won the award for the second time in his career after previously doing so in November 2021, when he broke a single-game program record with eight made PATs in a victory over Presbyterian. Bartholomew’s most recent honor marked the eighth time since the start of the Spring 2021 season that a member of the Beacons has hauled in PFL Special Teams Player of the Week recognition. Valpo has played 19 games in that time, with nearly half of them resulting in the league Special Teams Player of the Week.
Date Player Opponent
9-3-22 K Brian Bartholomew Indiana Wesleyan
11-6-21 K Brian Barthlomew Presbyterian
10-30-21 P Ben Niesner at San Diego
10-9-21 P Ben Niesner at St. Thomas
9-25-21 Austin Martins (blocked FG) at Drake
4-17-21 Drew Gedrys (blocked PATs) San Diego
4-3-21 P Ben Niesner at Drake
3-20-21 P Ben Niesner vs. Drake
No Run Zone: Valpo contained Indiana Wesleyan to just 25 rushing yards on 24 carries in the Sept. 3 season opener. The 25 yards marked the fifth-fewest allowed by an FCS defense on the young season through Week 1. That was Valpo’s best performance in terms of rushing defense since Sept. 15, 2007, when Kalamazoo rushed for negative-34 yards on 12 carries. The defensive line produced six sacks including a pair of strip sacks and 10 tackles for loss in the Week 1 game against Indiana Wesleyan.
O Captain, My Captain: Valpo has elected redshirted senior offensive lineman Aaron Byrd, redshirt junior linebacker Evan Annis and fifth-year defensive back Kohlton Sherman as team captains. In addition, the Beacons will appoint one rotating game captain for each contest.
A Look Back at Fall 2021
- The program finished with a Pioneer Football League record of .500 or better for a second consecutive season for the first time since 1999 and 2000.
- Valpo won four PFL games in the same season for just the third time ever (2017 & Spring 2021) and four league game in any conference for just the third time since 1968.
- The 44-point margin of victory on Nov. 13 at Butler (W 47-3) set a program record for margin of victory against a Division-I opponent. It also was the largest margin of victory in league play in program history and the most lopsided win over Butler in the longstanding rivalry.
- The game at Butler also marked the first time Valpo went on the road and held an opponent to three points or fewer since 2006.
- Valpo had 112 points in a two-game span vs. Presbyterian and at Butler, tying with the 2017 squad (vs. Marist, vs. Morehead State) for the program’s most points over two games since 1985.
- The team’s 65 points in a Nov. 6 win over Presbyterian marked its highest single-game scoring output since 1996 and the fifth-highest single-game scoring output in program history.
- Valpo’s 45 points in an Oct. 23 victory over Dayton were the team’s most in all of the 30 all-time matchups with the Flyers. The 17-point margin of victory in the 45-28 win represented Valpo’s largest margin of victory in the all-time series.
- Valpo picked up a 24-21 win at Drake on Sept. 25, the team’s second straight victory over the Bulldogs after a 17-game head-to-head losing streak. Prior to the calendar year of 2021, Valpo was 0-14 all-time at Drake, and the program has now won two straight in Des Moines.
- Valpo beat both Drake and Dayton in the same season for the first time since 2003.
- The program has advanced to a place where every league game is competitive. Three of the team’s four PFL losses were decided by seven points or fewer and none were decided by more than 13 points. Prior to 2021, Valpo had not had a season with no league losses of 14 points or more since 2003.
- Valpo led the nation with nine blocked kicks, the second-most in program history and most since 1991. Valpo was the only team in all of Division-I college football (both FCS and FBS) to block nine kicks during the season.
- The team notched 32 sacks, the program’s most since 2000 and the fifth-most in a single season in program history. Valpo ranked 15th nationally in FCS and led the PFL in sacks per game at 2.91.
- Valpo was also among the national leaders in tackles for loss per game at 7.3, ranking 15th in FCS. The team’s 80 TFLs were its most since 1984 and the second most in program history.
- Valpo tied for fifth in program history in made field goals with 12, its most since 2003.
- The team also scored 298 points, the fifth-most in program history.
- As a team, Valpo rushed for 23 touchdowns, the third-most rushing TDs in program history and most since 1971.
- Valpo had 18 tackles for loss in a single game vs. Presbyterian, tied for the most in the Division-I nation (FCS and FBS) during the Fall 2021 season. The team’s 10 sacks vs. the Blue Hose were tied for the fifth most in FCS. Valpo had its highest single-game TFL total since at least 2004 and the program’s first double-figure sack total in over 20 years.
- On Oct. 30 at San Diego, Valpo tied a PFL record for blocked kicks in a single game with three.
- Valpo’s eight rushing TDs vs. Presbyterian shattered a single-game program record. In addition, Valpo finished the season as the only team in FCS and one of four teams in all of Division-1 college football (joining Army West Point, Oklahoma State and Michigan) with eight rushing TDs in a single game.
Inside the Staff: Head coach Landon Fox has welcomed six newcomers to his coaching staff, joining four returning assistant coaches.
- Will Fleming is in his first season as the team’s offensive coordinator after serving on the Boston College coaching staff for the past two seasons. Prior to his stint at BC, Fleming held the positions of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Rhode Island from 2014-2019. Under his watch, the Rams produced a trio of student-athletes who went on to compete in the National Football League.
- The new-look offensive staff under Fleming features offensive line coach Pat Denecke, wide receivers coach Tim Smith, running backs coach Will Johnson and tight ends coach Spencer Duncan. Denecke was on staff at the University of Maine from 2016-2021, where his team earned a pair of FBS wins and produced an All-American. Johnson, who played in the NFL from 2012-2016 with the Pittsburg Steelers and New York Giants, came to Valpo after a stint on the coaching staff with the Pittsburgh Maulers of the United States Football League. After winning two national championships as a walk-on tight end at Alabama, Duncan began a coaching career that most recently featured a stint at UNLV. Smith’s playing career reached the professional ranks with the Edmonton Eskimos (Canadian Football League, 2016), Hamilton Tiger Cats (CFL, 2015), Cleveland Browns (training camp, NFL, 2014) and Seattle Seahawks (NFL, rookie mini-camp, 2014).
- Valpo’s longest tenured assistant coach is defensive coordinator Brian Dougherty, whose arrival coincided with Landon Fox’s appointment as Valpo head coach prior to the 2019 campaign. Defensive line coach RJ Ghilarducci (third season), linebackers coach Andrew Lutgens (second season) and quality control coach Yoni Offit (second season) are all back on the defensive staff, while Vernell Price has joined the fold as defensive tackles coach. Price previously coached in the PFL at San Diego and also gained experience as a teacher and coach in China for several years.
- Gabe Miller has assumed the role of Associate Director of Sports Performance, leading the program’s strength & conditioning efforts.
Returner Report: The Beacons return five starters on offense and six on defense. In addition, kicker Brian Bartholomew is back. Defensive back is an area of experience, as all four starters return for the Beacons. However, Valpo returns just one starting linebacker and one starter on the defensive line. Three starting offensive linemen return along with a pair of starting wide receivers, but Valpo will feature first-year starters at quarterback, running back and tight end.
Transfer Tracker: When former Valpo running back Robert Washington received an NFL Rookie Minicamp Invite from the Philadelphia Eagles this past May after wrapping up his two-year tenure with the Brown & Gold, it tied a bow on a successful career that helped show that transfers can flourish in Valpo’s program. Washington is one of numerous transfers who have had strong success in Fox’s young tenure. This season, in addition to the freshman class, the program has welcomed a new crop of transfers. Linebacker Ben Hines (Washington), defensive back Tyler Days (Boston College), linebacker Hunter Nabers (Fresno State), defensive back Ousmane Dabo (Eastern Kentucky), punter Evan Matthes (West Virginia), running back Aaron Dawson (Central Connecticut State), tight end Jalen Jones (Lincoln) and tight end Dawson Pierson (East Tennessee State) have transferred into the program. In total, the roster features 13 players who started their collegiate careers at different institutions.
Roster Rundown: The program has continued to bring in talent from all over the United States. This year’s roster features athletes from over half of the 50 states as 26 states are represented. Illinois is the state most represented on Valpo’s roster as 23 players hail from the Land of Lincoln. Other states in double figures are Ohio (14), Michigan (13) and California (10) followed closely by Indiana (eight).
2022 Preseason Picks
- A trio of Beacons were named to the Preseason All-Pioneer Football League team as offensive lineman Aaron Byrd, kicker Brian Bartholomew and return specialist Chuck Maxwell earned Preseason All-PFL Honors.
- Nine members of the program were recognized on Phil Steele’s Preseason All-PFL squads. Kicker Brian Bartholomew, kick returner Chuck Maxwell and punt returner Josh Becton were named to the first team. Offensive lineman Aaron Byrd and linebacker Evan Annis were tabbed to the second team. To close out the group of honorees, Braden Contreras, Drew Parrish, Kurt Kessen and Keyon Turner earned third team status.
- Valpo was picked to finish eighth of 11 in the Pioneer Football League preseason poll. Last season, the Beacons defeated two of the teams picked in front of them in this year’s poll – Dayton (projected fourth) and Drake (projected seventh). Davidson is favored to win the league, followed by San Diego and St. Thomas. The Brown & Gold is projected ahead of Stetson, Butler and Presbyterian.
Fall 2021 Awards/Honors
- Robert Washington – recognized on ESPN’s College Football Final with a “Helmet Sticker” for his performance vs. Presbyterian
- All-PFL First Team – Robert Washington, Brian Bartholomew, Ben Niesner
- All-PFL Second Team – Trejuan Purty, Chuck Maxwell
- All-PFL Honorable Mention – Evan Annis, Aaron Byrd, Doug Haugh, Connor Hebbeler, Jadarius Horton, Austin Martins, Trey Psota, Ollie Reese, Keyon Turner
- Academic All-PFL First Team – Drew Parrish, Evan Annis, Kurt Kessen, Ben Niesner
- Academic All-PFL Second Team – Aaron Byrd, Cade Bishop, Ben Nimz
- One of three PFL teams with seven or more academic-all PFL honorees, joining Dayton and Morehead State.
- Ben Niesner – FCS Bowl selection, FCS Bowl Special Teams MVP, Tropical Bowl USA selection, FCS Punter of the Year Preseason Watch List
- Kohlton Sherman – CoSIDA Academic All-District Team
Fall 2021 Individual Achievements
- Robert Washington became the third 1,000-yard rusher in program history and finished the season with 1,105 rushing yards, the second-highest total in program history. He finished in the top 10 nationally in FCS in rushing yards per game and total rushing yards.
- Washington also finished in the top 10 nationally in rushing TDs with 14, a total that tied the program record (Dave Newnam, 1977).
- Washington rushed for 234 yards vs. Presbyterian, the most by a Valpo player in a single game since 2012.
- Washington ranked ninth in program history in career rushing yards with 1,758 despite having played just 17 games at Valpo.
- Brian Bartholomew finished the season tied for second in single-season program history with 12 made field goals. He also cracked the program record book by finishing with 32 made PATs, a total that ranked fifth all-time. Bartholomew led the PFL in both field-goal percentage and field goals per game.
- Ben Niesner averaged 43.2 yards per punt, which ranks third in program history. He now owns two of the top three single-season punting averages in the program record book. He finished the season ranked 16th nationally in punting average while leading the PFL.
- Trejuan Purty finished the season with 15 tackles for loss, tied for the fifth most in single-season program history.
- Brett Bittner blocked three kicks during the season, finishing as one of just six players in the FCS nation with three or more.
- Trejuan Purty had 5.0 TFL vs. Presbyterian, tied for the fifth most in the FCS nation in a single game in Fall 2021. Austin Martins had 4.5 TFL vs. San Diego, tied for the 14th most in a single game last year, while Gavin Twigg’s 4.0 vs. Presbyterian tied for 26th.
- Nick Orekoya’s four rushing TDs vs. Presbyterian tied a single-game program record.
- Jamauri Jackson had an 83-yard interception return for a touchdown, Valpo’s longest pick six since 2000.
- Valpo had two safeties in a single game vs. Dartmouth, the first time the program recorded two safeties in the same season – let alone the same game – since 2006.
- WR/RS Chuck Maxwell’s great grand uncle Charles Maxwell played for the Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox. In addition, his cousin Brady Ewing played football at Wisconsin and in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars.
- LB Evan Annis has a pair of older brothers who played college football. Brett played at Division-III Capital, while Kyle played at – and we’re going to whisper this one – Butler.
- Wide receiver Cam Livingston is a third-generation Division-I football player. His grandfather Brian played at Ohio State and his father Robert played for – here we go again – Butler.
- QB Michael Appel Jr. has two family members who played football at Morehead State University – father Mike (1993-1997) and uncle Jim (1989-1992)… The Morehead State annual academic award is named after his father and uncle as both were Academic All-Americans at MSU.
- Punter Patrick Oliva’s cousin is Tad Boyle, the head men’s basketball coach at the University of Colorado.
- WR EJ Locke’s father Eric Locke Sr. played football at Illinois State, Valpo’s Week 2 opponent.
- DB Anthony Hightower’s brother Tre played at Ohio State from 2014-2018, brother Jajuan plays wide receiver at UCF and cousin Talmadge Jackson played DB at Oregon and played a season in the NFL, participating in preseason games for the Baltimore Ravens in 2011.
- LB Hayden Bedell and OL Drew Parrish are cousins.
- DB Etwood Williams’ father Arthur played football at Illinois State from 1991-1993, cousin Rodney Peete played at USC and went on to a long NFL career from 1989-2004. His cousin Shawn Buchanon played baseball at Nebraska and went on to a five-year minor league career in the Chicago White Sox organization.
- DL Amar Elmore’s cousin Markus Wheaton played college football at Oregon State and went on to play in the NFL for the Pittsburgh Steelers (2013-2016), Chicago Bears (2017) and Philadelphia Eagles (2018).
- TE Jalen Jones’ uncle Derrick Coleman was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 NBA Draft. Coleman went on to play in the NBA from 1990-2005, was the 1991 NBA Rookie of the Year and was an NBA All-Star in 1994.
- DL Sam Hafner’s great aunt Louise Erickson played professional women’s basketball for three years (Racine Belles one year, Rockford Peaches two years).
- DL Logan Chastain’s father Dan was a catcher at the University of Portland, was drafted out of high school by the Montreal Expos in the 57th round of the 1991 MLB Draft and played minor league baseball in the Marlins organization.
Did You Know? #BeaconBits
- The team has two players with the first name Dawson (Pierson and Rye) and two players with the last name Dawson (Aaron and Luke).
- Quarterback Jeffrey Jackson was a 2010 Jiu-Jitsu World Champion.
- Linebacker Evan Annis played lacrosse for 10 years.
- Both of WR Solomon Davis’ parents are retired from the Navy.
- DB Ousmane Dabo is ambidextrous, as is LB Keagan Henschel.
- TE Dawson Pierson has been to over 40 of the 50 states.
- WR Owen Semp lived in Germany for four years.
- DB Austin Chilton lives a few minutes from Walt Disney World and can hear the Magic Kingdom Fireworks from his neighborhood every night. His career goal is to design and build rollercoasters for Disney World.
- RB Aaron Dawson started playing drums at age 6 in church.
- First names that start with K for males is a family tradition in DB Kohlton Sherman’s family.
- TE Cameron Rojik has lived in five different states.
- DB Andy Cole was adopted from Ethiopia, Africa when he was 8 years old.
- LB Justin Jurmu’s oldest brother Jordan was a national finalist in the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship in 2015 at Augusta National.
- DL Alex Goworowski has never seen Star Wars, Rocky, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones or Caddyshack.
- DL Dawson Rye had a pet aquatic frog for over 15 years.
- OL Aaron Byrd was an all-district trumpet player as a junior in high school.
- OL Drew Parrish tutors other engineering students at Valpo’s Hesse Learning Resource Center.
- TE Evan Jernegan has built out the biggest Lego set, the UCS Millennium Falcon.
- DL Kurt Kessen was his high school’s valedictorian.
- DL Adrian Divcic is a first-generation American who speaks English fluently.
- K Ryan Hawk is a certified advanced scuba diver.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Projected Offensive Starters
*Based on two-deep, starters subject to change
- WR-x #4 Matt Ross, R-Jr. – Named Fall 2021 Team Special Teams Player of the Year... Had season highs in receptions (three) and receiving yards (51) on Nov. 13, 2021 at Butler including a 38-yard touchdown grab, his first career score... Had his second career touchdown catch in Week 2 at Illinois State.
- WR-x #13 Braden Contreras, Jr. – 2022 Phil Steele Preseason All-PFL Third Team... Had a season-high 118 receiving yards on four receptions on Oct. 23, 2021 vs. Dayton including a season-long 42-yard reception... Had his first career TD and his first career touchdown reception on April 17, 2021 vs. San Diego. The TD was a memorable one as the 9-yard toss from Ben Nimz accounted for the go-ahead score that put Valpo up 20-19 with 21 seconds on the clock in the game against the Toreros, an eventual upset over a team receiving votes nationally.
- Slot #12 Jordan Bingham, R-Jr. –Made a heroic, juggling catch for Valpo’s game-winning 30-yard touchdown on 4th-and-10 with 1:05 remaining in the 24-21 victory at Drake at on Sept. 27, 2021.
- QB #12 Michael Appel Jr., R-Fr. – Named the 2021 Offensive Team Scout Team Player of the Year... Did not see game action in Fall 2021... Threw for 150 yards and a TD on 13-of-20 passing in his Sept. 3 collegiate debut vs. Indiana Wesleyan... Went 22-of-36 for 196 yards in Week 3 at Dartmouth.
- QB #16 Mason Kaplan, R-Fr. – Got the start in Week 2 at Illinois State and went 18-of-36 through the air for 191 yards and two scores against a full-scholarship opponent that was receiving votes nationally... Named national FCS Freshman of the Week by Stats Perform after throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for one in the Week 4 victory over San Diego.
- RB #21 Aaron Dawson – Played four seasons at Central Connecticut from 2017-2021... Set a school and NEC record with 361 yards on just 24 carries against Wagner on Oct. 27... Yardage total is sixth-highest single-game output in FCS history... Set a Division I (FBS and FCS) record for rushing yardage in a half with 308 yards on 15 carries in the second half... Set an FCS record with 197 yards in the fourth quarter... Ran for 147 yards in his Sept. 3 Valpo debut vs. Indiana Wesleyan... Had his first Valpo rushing TD in Week 3 at Dartmouth.
- WR-z #15 Dom Grguric, R-Fr. – Fall 2021 Scout Special Teams Player of the Year.
- WR-z #10 Solomon Davis, R-Jr. – Had one reception last season, a six-yard catch on Nov. 13, 2021 at Butler... Had five receptions for 118 yards including a TD in Week 4 vs. San Diego, tying for the most receiving yards in a single game during the Landon Fox Era (Braden Contreras, Fall 2021, Dayton).
- TE #89 Jake Vickers, R-So. – Played in all 11 games last season... His first collegiate reception was a six-yard TD catch on Oct. 23, 2021 vs. Dayton.
- LT #68 Aaron Byrd, R-Sr. – Has played in 29 career games entering this season... Has earned a slew of honors including 2022 Preseason All-PFL Team, 2022 Phil Steele Preseason All-PFL Second Team, Fall 2021 All-PFL Honorable Mention, Fall 2021 Academic All-PFL Second Team, Fall 2021 Sever Award (Team’s Top Offensive Lineman), Fall 2021 Phil Steele All-PFL Fourth Team, Spring 2021 All-PFL Honorable Mention, Spring 2021 Academic All-PFL Second Team and Spring 2021 Sever Award (Team’s Top Offensive Lineman).
- LG #64 Ryan Merklinger, R-Fr. – Redshirted and did not see game action during the Fall 2021 season.
- C #72 Drew Parrish, R-Jr. – 2022 Phil Steele Preseason All-PFL Third Team, Fall 2021 Academic All-PFL First Team, Fall 2021 Team Scholar-Athlete Award, Spring 2021 Academic All-PFL First Team.
- RG #62 Carter Woody, Jr. – Played in seven games in Fall 2021 after appearing in all six games during the Spring 2021 campaign.
- RT #78 Keith Szczepanski, R-So. – Competed in six games on Valpo’s offensive line in Fall 2021.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Projected Defensive Starters
*Based two-deep, starters subject to change
- Rush #90 Sam Hafner, R-So. – Played in four games during the Fall 2021 campaign after redshirting in Spring 2021... Burst on the scene with 10 tackles in the Sept. 3 season opener vs. Indiana Wesleyan after having one total over his first two collegiate seasons.
- DT #93 Kurt Kessen, Jr. – Member of 2022 Phil Steele Preseason All-PFL Third Team, Fall 2021 Academic All-PFL Team and named Fall 2021 Team Most-Improved Player... Played in all 17 games over the last two seasons (Spring 2021 and Fall 2021)... Made a season-high seven tackles on Sept. 4, 2021 at Indiana Wesleyan... Blocked a PAT on Nov. 20, 2021 vs. Morehead State... Led the team and set a career high with 10 tackles in the Week 4 win vs. San Diego.
- NG #96 Logan Chastain, Fr. – True freshman who made his collegiate debut in Week 1 vs. Indiana Wesleyan.
- DE #91 Kevin Spelman, R-Fr. – Played in four games as a true freshman in Fall 2021... Had two sacks in a single game in the Week 4 win vs. San Diego.
- LB (W) #9 Ben Hines, R-Sr. – Joined the program as a transfer prior to the 2022 season after spending four seasons at Washington... Did not see any game action over the first three seasons before competing in three games in 2021... Had a team-high 15 tackles in Week 2 at Illinois State, the most by any Valpo player in a single game since Jamari Booker in 2019 and the second-best by a Valpo player during the Landon Fox Era.
- LB (M) #58 James Doerer – Completed an internship in broadcasting and communications with the Northwest Indiana Oilmen baseball team during the 2022 summer and has an interest in a career in sports media... After playing in four games over his first two collegiate seasons, had a fumble recovery in his first career start in the Sept. 3 season opener vs. Indiana Wesleyan... Turned in seven tackles in Week 2 at Illinois State... Led the team with a career-high 15 tackles in Week 3 at Dartmouth.
- LB (nickelback) #5 Max Franco, So. - Played in six games as a freshman in Fall 2021... Had a fumble recovery in Week 3 of this season at Dartmouth.
- CB #1 Keyon Turner, Jr. – 2022 Phil Steele Preseason All-PFL Third Team, Spring 2021 finalist for Jerry Rice Award (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) in Spring 2021… Had a takeaway in all six games he played that season… Saw his remarkable streak of notching a takeaway in each of his first six collegiate games come to an end in Week 1 of the Fall 2021 season at Indiana Wesleyan, but he did turn in a career-best nine tackles in that game.
- S #29 Kohlton Sherman, 5th – Fall 2021 CoSIDA Academic All-District Team, Spring 2021 Academic All-PFL Second Team… Spring 2021 Team Outstanding Hitter… Has played in 38 career games entering the 2022 season... Team captain.
- S #26 Colin Graves, So. – Played in five games in Fall 2021.
- CB #3 Jadarius Horton, 5th – Fall 2021 All-PFL Honorable Mention, Spring 2021 All-PFL Honorable Mention... Played in all 17 games over the last two seasons.
Specialist Quick Hits – Projected Starters
- K #87 Brian Bartholomew, R-Jr. – 2022 Preseason All-PFL Team, 2022 Phil Steele Preseason All-PFL First Team, Fall 2021 All-PFL First Team, Fall 2021 Phil Steele All-PFL First Team, Fall 2021 Special Teams Player of the Week (Nov. 6), Spring 2021 All-PFL First Team, Spring 2021 Team Most-Improved Player... Had 32 made PATs in Fall 2021, the fifth most in a single season in program history... Broke a single-game record with eight made PATs on Nov. 6, 2021 vs. Presbyterian. The record had stood since 1984... Had a streak of 40 straight made PATs that ended on Nov. 13, 2021, when his lone miss of the season came after added distance due a 15-yard penalty... Finished Fall 2021 tied for second in single-season program history with 12 made field goals... Made a career-long 50-yard field goal with less than two minutes remaining to snap a 17-all tie in a 20-17 victory over Indiana Wesleyan on Sept. 3... Went 2-for-2 on FGs in Week 3 at Dartmouth.
- P #11 Evan Matthes, R-Sr. – Joined the program prior to the 2022 season as a transfer after being a part of the program at West Virginia from 2018-2021... Booted a 67-yard punt in Week 4 at San Diego, tying for the seventh-longest punt in the FCS nation at that point in the season.