Valparaiso (5-6, 4-4 PFL)
at New Mexico State (5-6, FBS Independent)
Game #12 Saturday, Dec. 3, 2 p.m. CT
Aggie Memorial Stadium (28,853) – Las Cruces, N.M.
This Week in Valpo Football: The Valparaiso University football season is not over yet. The Beacons originally thought their season ended with the Pioneer Football League finale on Nov. 19 vs. Drake at Brown Field, but after a week off for Thanksgiving the team finds itself back in action with a trip to New Mexico State on the docket for the program’s first-ever contest against an FBS opponent.
Previously: Valpo recognized 24 seniors prior to a 24-0 loss to Drake on Nov. 19 at Brown Field. The shutout setback was not characteristic of the competitive football that head coach Landon Fox’s team played throughout the season. Redshirt freshman linebacker Jake Birmingham posted 11 tackles including eight solos, his third straight double-figure tackle output after earning significant playing time late in the season. Sam Hafner added seven stops. Punter Evan Matthes averaged 40.5 yards per punt on six attempts, pinning three inside the 20 including one that was downed at the 1-yard line. Aaron Dawson had a team-high six catches for 36 yards, while Matt Ross paced the squad in receiving yards with 66 on five grabs. Quarterback Michael Appel Jr. went 18-of-39 for 172 yards.
Series Notes: This will not only mark Valpo’s first game against New Mexico State, but it will be the first time the Beacons match up with any FBS opponent.
Following the Beacons: A video stream will be available on FloFootball (subscription only) and the game will be televised regionally in Arizona and New Mexico on Bally Sports Arizona and Comcast New Mexico. In addition, the hometown radio call will be available on 95.1 FM WVUR, The TuneIn Radio App and ValpoAthletics.com with Todd Ickow (play-by-play) and Brandon Vickrey (analyst) describing the action. For in-game updates, follow @valpoufootball on Twitter. Links to live video, audio and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Landon Fox: Landon Fox (14-26) 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.
Facing an FBS Foe
- This will mark the first time Valpo has faced off with a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponent and just the fourth time ever that a Pioneer Football League member has clashed with an FBS program. The PFL is a Division-I FCS conference that does not offer athletic scholarships. The 11-team league features members from across the country ranging from San Diego to the Midwest to New York to Florida. The PFL winner receives an automatic berth into the FCS Playoffs.
- Valpo was a charter member of the PFL, which is in its 30th season. The other three prior instances of the PFL against FBS teams are as follows – Austin Peay played at Troy in 2002 as a PFL member, San Diego took on San Diego State in 2015 and Drake visited Iowa State in 2018, a game that saw the Bulldogs nearly pull off a miraculous upset but instead saw the Cyclones win 27-24.
- Although Valpo has not faced an FBS opponent, the program is no stranger to challenging road environments. The program plays a full-scholarship FCS opponent on an annual basis, playing at Illinois State this season after last season’s trip to the Fargodome to play North Dakota State, a perennial national powerhouse in FCS. Valpo held its own against full FCS scholarship foe Illinois State in this year’s season opener, falling 28-21.
Football in December
- This will mark the first time Valpo has ever played a game in the month of December.
- Prior to this game, the latest game on the calendar in program history was Nov. 29, 1923, a 0-0 tie vs. Dubuque.
- Valpo has now played regular-season football games in seven months out of the year during the Landon Fox Era – March, April, August, September, October, November and December. The March and April games came during the Spring 2021 season caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to Fox’s tenure, the program had only played games from August to November in the long history of Valpo football that dates all the way back to 1919.
What They’re Saying About the Opportunity
- Head Coach Landon Fox: “When we got the phone call that New Mexico State was interested in the game, we knew this was a great opportunity for our program. We talk to our team about how we’re going to play anybody, any place, any time. If you live by that motto and that’s something you believe in, it makes it a very easy decision when you get that phone call. If you have the opportunity to win the Pioneer Football League and get into postseason play, this gives you a preview of how you do it. Hopefully the opportunity to play in the FCS Playoffs comes for us sooner rather than later, and this gives us a way to prepare for that.”
- Fifth-year Senior Defensive Back & Captain Kohlton Sherman: “It was pretty crazy; this was the last thing I was ever expecting. We get to play an FBS opponent for the first time, so that’s a pretty big deal and it gives us a chance to prove where we are as a program. I was pretty emotional after the game against Drake. It’s weird to think that you’ll be done with football forever. It was hitting me a little bit watching football games over the weekend. It seemed weird that I didn’t have another year to look forward to. Being able to play one more game is pretty exciting. The coaches always say they’d give anything for one game, and now I get a chance to play one more.
- Senior Running Back Aaron Dawson: “I was shocked. I have never experienced something like this. It’s a blessing; we have another opportunity and more time to get better and make an impression. For young guys, this gets them an opportunity to see how it is playing against an FBS opponent. As a senior, it’s amazing to get to play again. We have to keep grinding and take advantage of this chance to end the season with an incredible experience.”
- Former Valpo football standout Jack Jarnigan is a member of the coaching staff at New Mexico State, where he serves as a graduate assistant.
- Jarnigan was a four-year starter at center on Valpo’s offensive line and served as a team captain during Landon Fox’s first season as Valpo head coach in 2019.
- Jarnigan’s mother Liz is an Executive Associate Athletic Director at Valpo and serves as the sport administrator for Valpo football.
- Valpo defensive back Kohlton Sherman was high school teammates with New Mexico State quarterback Bryce Bearss. They played together at Millington High School in Millington, Mich.
- Valpo’s PFL finale on Nov. 19 vs. Drake featured a game time temperature of a balmy 26 degrees.
- This marked the coldest Valpo football game in at least 25 years.
- Previously, the coldest Valpo football game of recent vintage was 28 degrees on Nov. 22, 2008. Coincidentally, that 2008 game was also a shutout loss to Drake, that one by a score of 32-0.
2022 Valpo Football Feats
- Winning on the road is never easy, but Valpo finished out a successful season in terms of Pioneer Football League games away from Brown Field with the 45-24 win at Marist in Week 11. The team finished 3-1 in league road games, the first time Valpo has won three PFL road games in the same season since the league was founded in 1993.
- In addition, this marks the first time Valpo has won three league road games in the same season since 1962.
- Valpo finished with a PFL record of .500 or better for a third consecutive season. This is the program’s first such stretch since 1998-2000. Prior to that, Valpo had not had a league record of .500 or better in three straight years since doing so in four straight seasons from 1961-1964.
- The program has won four PFL games in the same season for the third straight year and just the fourth time ever. Prior to the Spring 2021 season, Valpo had won four league games in a season just once since 1968, with the one instance coming in 2017.
- To put the last note in further perspective, Valpo had won four Pioneer Football League games once in 26 seasons prior to Fox’s arrival. Now, the program has reached that threshold for league wins in three of his first four seasons. (Although, in fairness, the program played only four to five league games per year in each of its first 13 PFL seasons.)
- Fox’s team achieved yet another program first with the Week 11 win at Marist. That marked the program’s first-ever win in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. (previously 0-4) and the team’s second win over Marist in any location (previously 1-9, last win in 2017 at Brown Field.)
- That one was the latest on a growing list of the program’s feats, as earlier this season Valpo garnered the program’s first win at Morehead State since 2006.
- Also during the Fox Era, Valpo has achieved its first-ever win at Drake, its first win over Drake in any location since 2003 and its first win over San Diego since 2003.
- During the 2021 campaign, Valpo prevailed 47-3 in a game at rival Butler, setting a program record for margin of victory in a game against a Division-I opponent. Valpo and Butler are instate foes who play for the Hoosier Helmet rivalry trophy.
PFL Postseason Plaudits
- Seven members of Valpo’s program earned All-PFL First or Second Team status, while three others received Honorable Mention nods as the league announced its postseason awards on Tuesday, Nov. 29.
- Redshirt junior wide receiver Solomon Davis, fifth-year senior running back Aaron Dawson, redshirt senior offensive lineman Aaron Byrd and redshirt senior linebacker Ben Hines were named to the All-PFL First Team.
- Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Sam Hafner, fifth-year senior defensive back Kohlton Sherman and redshirt senior punter Evan Matthes were tabbed to the All-PFL Second Team.
- Redshirt freshman tight end Evan Jernigan, redshirt junior wide receiver Matt Ross and redshirt freshman defensive lineman and long snapper Kevin Spelman (at both positions) received PFL Honorable Mention.
- All 10 players recognized were first time All-PFL honorees, with the exception of Byrd, who had earned All-PFL Honorable Mention twice previously but was a first time First Team choice.
- Five members of the program were recognized as Academic All-District selections by College Sports Communicators (CSC, formerly known as CoSIDA).
- Redshirt sophomore linebacker James Doerer (communication), redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Sam Hafner (biology), junior defensive lineman Kurt Kessen (mechanical engineering), redshirt junior wide receiver Matt Ross (digital media) and fifth-year senior defensive back Kohlton Sherman (business) were all recognized.
- In order to qualify for the honor, an individual must have at least a 3.50 cumulative grade point average, be a starter or important reserve, have reached at least sophomore academic and athletic status and have been at their institution for at least one calendar year.
Dawson Threatening Program Record
- Running back Aaron Dawson already shattered a record that had stood since 1949 for longest rushing touchdown with his 99 yarder vs. Butler and enjoyed one of the best single-game rushing performances in program history at Morehead State (241). Now, he is within striking distance of a program record for single-season rushing yardage.
- During the Week 11 game at Marist, Dawson became just the third 1,000-yard rusher in program history, joining Jeff Horton (2005), Robert Washington (2021), and Dave Newnam (1977).
- Dawson totaled 199 yards in the game against the Red Foxes, a contest that took place in his home state of New York. That marked his fifth game this season with 100 or more rushing yards and his second-highest rushing output of the season, behind only 241 at Morehead State.
- During the game at Marist, Dawson climbed three spots on the program’s single-season rushing list, advancing from fifth to second. He usurped Robert Washington’s 2021 total of 1,105 for second place. Two of the top three single-season rushing marks in program history have come in the last two seasons.
- Dawson was held to 33 rushing yards in what was originally thought to be the season finale vs. Drake, but the extra game gives him another crack at the program record. It would take a big effort as he enters the game against the Aggies 171 yards away from a program watermark that has stood since Jeff Horton’s memorable 2005 campaign.
- Jeff Horton 2005 1,358
- Aaron Dawson 2022 1,187
- Robert Washington 2021 1,105
- Dave Newnam 1977 1,009
- John Knight 1961 998
PFL Accolade: For his aforementioned effort at Marist in Week 11, Aaron Dawson was tabbed the Pioneer Football League Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season. In total, the Beacons have collected four PFL weekly awards with Dawson and kicker Brian Bartholomew (Special Teams) nabbing two apiece.
More Record Book Watch
- Aaron Dawson has also jumped to third in single-season program history in total rushing attempts with 209. The other members of the top three in that area are Jeff Horton (257, 2005) and Robert Washington (2021, 211).
- Dawson has 10 rushing touchdowns on the season, tied for third in single-season program history with four others. He needs one more to take over sole possession of third place behind only Dave Newnam (1977) and Robert Washington (2021), who share the program record with 14 apiece.
- Evan Matthes is averaging 41.5 yards per punt, and would need to boost his average to 42.0 to enter the program’s single-season top five.
- As a team, Valpo’s completion percentage is 59.9. That is on pace to rank third in program history, behind 2012 (62.1) and 2013 (61.6).
Scouting the Opponent
- New Mexico State is under the direction of Jerry Kill, who is connected to the Missouri Valley Conference – Valpo’s conference for the majority of its non-football sports – as Kill was the head coach at Southern Illinois University from 2001-2007 and the Athletic Director at SIU in 2019.
- The Aggies scored seven touchdowns on the road last week to down heavily-favored Liberty 49-14.
- With a win over Valpo, New Mexico State would become bowl eligible with a .500 record.
- Diego Pavia had three rushing touchdowns and three passing touchdowns in last week’s rout of the Flames.
Among the FCS & PFL Leaders
- Valpo leads the PFL and ranks eighth in the FCS nation in fourth-down defense as opponents are converting just 30 percent of the time.
- Valpo’s red-zone defense leads the PFL and ranks fourth in FCS with opponents scoring on just 67.5 percent of their red-zone trips.
- Aaron Dawson ranks second in the conference and 30th nationally with 120.27 all-purpose yards per game.
- Dawson leads the league in total rushing yards (1,187, 12th nationally) and rushing yards per game (107.9, 13th nationally).
- Dawson’s 10 rushing TDs rank third in the league and 35th
- Michael Appel Jr. ranks second in the league in passing efficiency at 136.4.
- Appel leads the conference in yards per completion at 13.32 (25th nationally).
- Evan Matthes leads the PFL and ranks 26th in the nation in punting average at 41.4.
- The Beacons rank second in the league and 35th nationally with 2.36 sacks per game.
Sherman to the House
- Kohlton Sherman boasted a 95-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Week 11 win at Marist, establishing a new program record in the process. He outdid a program record for longest interception return that had stood since Oct. 14, 2000, a 94 yarder by Mark Kaiser against Butler.
- Sherman’s pick six represented the fourth-longest interception return in the FCS nation this season. He joined Sacramento State’s Caleb Nelson, Bethune-Cookman’s Omari Hill-Robinson and Towson’s Robert Javier as players with 95+-yard interception returns.
- The Sherman pick extended his interception streak to four games. The fifth-year senior entered Week 8 at Morehead State with two career interceptions. After that, he made an interception in each of the next four contests – at Morehead State, at Dayton, vs. St. Thomas and at Marist.
- Sherman finished tied for third in the PFL with four picks. The last Valpo player with four interceptions was Keyon Turner during the Spring 2021 season. Jamari Booker had five in 2019.
Lucky No. 13
- Valpo holds a 13-17 league record under head coach Landon Fox including a 12-10 PFL mark when you take out his first season.
- Fox has now matched his predecessor Dave Cecchini for PFL wins, as the program went 13-26 in league action over Cecchini’s five seasons as head coach.
- Tom Horne (20) is the only Valpo head coach with more PFL wins than Landon Fox.
Senior Salute: The following players were recognized as part of Senior Day festivities on Nov. 19: Jadarius Horton, Kohlton Sherman, Brian Bartholomew, Aaron Byrd, Fletcher Christian, Aaron Dawson, Anthony Sciarroni, Danny Files, Stone Dixon, Drew Parrish, Alex Conlin, Jeffrey Jackson, Evan Annis, Matt Ross, Jordan Bingham, Tyler Days, Teryn Berry, Ben Hines, Solomon Davis, Ousmane Dabo, Evan Matthes, Dawson Pierson and Austin Chilton.
Other Notes Wrapping Up Week 11: Valpo 45, Marist 24
- Quarterback Michael Appel Jr. went 9-of-14 for 180 yards and threw a pair of touchdowns, while tight end Evan Jernegan was the leading receiver with three catches for 51 yards.
- In addition to Kohlton Sherman’s aforementioned interception, Max Franco made his first collegiate pick.
- Sherman’s big day also featured 1.5 TFL and a sack.
- The Beacons had nine tackles for loss and three sacks including a strip sack by Kevin Spelman to go along with the two interceptions.
- After playing sparingly for much of the season, Jake Birmingham had his second straight double-figure tackle output, this time finishing with 10. The redshirt freshman had four solos and was the team’s outright leader in the tackle department.
- Birmingham was followed on the tackle chart by Colin Graves (8), Kevin Spelman (7) and Tyler Days (7). Valpo boasted 280 yards on the ground.
- The Beacons had just one penalty for nine yards (and one other flag that was declined).
- Valpo accrued 460 yards of total offense, the team’s third game this season eclipsing 400 yards.
- The Beacons enjoyed a 21-point margin of victory against a team that entered the contest at 4-3 in league play. This was Valpo’s most lopsided win of the season and second most lopsided triumph of the Landon Fox Era behind last year’s 47-3 victory at Butler.
- Valpo was a perfect 4-for-4 on red-zone chances, while Marist was 3-of-6.
Spelman Among Nation’s Top Rookies
- Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Kevin Spelman was tabbed to the Jerry Rice Award Watch List. He is one of 25 players nationally under consideration for the award, which is presented to the nation’s top FCS freshman each season.
- Spelman was the only Pioneer Football League player on the list and was the lone defensive lineman to receive the recognition.
- This marks the second time in three years that Valpo has had a player under consideration for the prestigious honor, as Keyon Turner was named a finalist following his freshman campaign in Spring 2021. A national panel will select the winner of the award following the regular season.
Dawson’s Day for the Ages
- Aaron Dawson was named the Pioneer Football League Offensive Player of the Week following his Week 8 performance at Morehead State. He became the first Valpo player to win the league’s weekly offensive honor this season.
- Dawson tabulated 241 rushing yards on 31 carries including a pair of rushing touchdowns. He finished just 12 yards shy of the program’s single-game rushing record that was set by Jeff Horton on Sept. 3, 2005 at Wisconsin Lutheran.
- Dawson’s rushing total was the highest output by a Valpo player since Nov. 2, 2012 when Jake Hutson amassed 248 yards at Campbell.
- With his 241 rushing yards, Dawson delivered the eighth-highest single-game rushing output in the FCS nation this season and the highest by a PFL player.
- This was Dawson’s fourth game with at least 100 rushing yards this season and no other PFL player has more than two. He owns three of the top four and four of the top six single-game rushing outputs in the league this year.
- Perhaps even more impressive than the 241 total rushing yards is the fact that Dawson had 226 of them in the second half.
Bart’s Bounce Back: Redshirt senior kicker Brian Bartholomew was named the Pioneer Football League Special Teams Player of the Week for the second time this season after accounting for 10 points in the Week 8 game at Morehead State. He went 4-for-4 on PATs and 2-for-2 on field goals including a 48 yarder in the five-point win over the Eagles. That showing helped him bounce back after a rare down week the previous week at Butler. This was his second PFL Special Teams Player of the Week nod this season and the third of his career.
- Aaron Dawson’s name already appears in the FCS record book, and the fifth-year senior running back will find his name in a second location after his record-setting carry in Week 7 against Butler.
- Dawson’s 99-yard touchdown run tied an FCS record for longest play from scrimmage as he became the 16th FCS player of all-time and second this season with a 99-yard play. He tied Monmouth’s Owen Wright for the longest running play in the nation this year.
- In addition, Dawson’s 99 yarder shattered a Valpo record for the longest scoring run from scrimmage of 86 yards that was set by Joe Pahr way back on Oct. 8, 1949 vs. Saint Joseph’s.
- Dawson tied with John Unger for the longest offensive play from scrimmage in program history. Unger’s record, which came on a pass from Rob Rayl, had stood since Sept. 12, 1992 at Hillsdale.
- Dawson shattered the Pioneer Football League record for longest rushing play. The previous mark was set against Valpo by Marist’s Max Jacques on Oct. 27, 2012, a 96-yard carry.
- The 99-yard run marked Dawson’s second career entry into the FCS record book as he set a Division-I record for yards in half with 308 and an FCS record for yards in a quarter with 197 on Oct. 27, 2018 vs. Wagner while playing for Central Connecticut State. He totaled 361 yards for the game, the sixth highest rushing output in FCS history and highest since 2001.
Offensive Outburst: Valpo generated 463 yards of total offense in the Week 6 game at Presbyterian, which represented the team’s highest total during the Landon Fox Era and the most since 465 on Nov. 10, 2018 vs. Jacksonville. The day featured exceptional balance as the Beacons boasted 240 passing yards and 223 rushing yards. This was just the second time in the last five seasons that Valpo has accrued more than 200 passing yards and more than 200 rushing yards in the same game, joining the Fall 2021 season finale vs. Morehead State. The win at Presbyterian represented Valpo’s second most lopsided win of the Landon Fox Era, behind only last year’s 47-3 victory at Butler.
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 50-4 in its last 54 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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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... Had five receptions including one for a TD in Week 6 at Presbyterian... Had three catches for 78 in Week 7 vs. Butler including a career-long 46-yard reception and a 13-yard TD snag.
- 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... Had a season-high 116 receiving yards on five catches including a pair of touchdowns in 2022 Week 8 at Morehead State... Had a career-high 126 receiving yards on a personal-best seven catches in Week 9 at Dayton for his second straight 100-yard receiving output.
- 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... Went 7-of-12 and tossed a TD pass in Week 7 vs. Butler... Passed for 245 yards and two scores despite missing most of the second half with an injury in Week 8 at Morehead State... Had the best single-game passing output by a Valpo player in five years with a career-high 323 passing yards in Week 9 at Dayton.
- 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... Ran for a season-high 163 yards and two touchdowns in Week 6 at Presbyterian... Had his second straight 150-yard rushing game in Week 7 vs. Butler, going for 158 on 14 carries including a 99-yard touchdown run that shattered a 73-year-old program record for longest scoring rush from scrimmage, shattered a PFL record for longest play from scrimmage and tied an FCS record for longest such play... Rushed for 241 yards and two touchdowns in Week 8 at Morehead State, finishing 12 yards shy of a single-game program record. He was named the PFL Offensive Player of the Week.
- 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)... Had five catches for a team-high 75 yards plus a TD in Week 6 at Presbyterian... Had a career-high 109 receiving yards in Week 8 at Morehead State... One upped his personal best with a career-high 110 receiving yards in Week 9 at Dayton including a 67-yard touchdown catch, Valpo’s longest passing play since 2018.
- TE #87 Evan Jernegan – Had his first collegiate TD catch in Week 3 at Illinois State, a 14-yard reception.
- 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).
- 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... Had a pair of sacks in Week 6 at Presbyterian.
- 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... Was the only PFL player and one of 25 players nationally named to the Jerry Rice Award Watch List for the honor presented annually to the nation’s top FCS freshman.
- 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... Paced the team in tackles with seven in Week 6 at Presbyterian... Reached double figures with 10 tackles in Week 7 vs. Butler... Had his first interception in a Valpo uniform in Week 10 vs. St. Thomas to go along with 11 tackles, his third double-figure output of the season.
- LB (M) #44 Jake Birmingham, R-Fr. – Had 11 tackles in Week 10 vs. St. Thomas after having four total in his collegiate career prior to that game.
- LB (nickelback) #21 Anthony Sciaronni, Sr. – Had his second career interception in Week 9 at Dayton.
- CB #17 Caleb Rao, R-Fr. – Had an interception and a fumble return touchdown in Week 2 at Illinois State.
- 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... Had a pass breakout in the end zone and an interception in the end zone on the final two plays of the Week 8 game at Morehead State, helping Valpo seal the victory... Had his second interception in as many weeks in Week 9 at Dayton... Made his third interception in as many games in Week 10 vs. St. Thomas.
- S #26 Colin Graves, So. – Played in five games in Fall 2021... Had his first career interception in the Week 6 game at Presbyterian.
- DB #3 Jadarius Horton, 5th – Earned All-PFL honorable mention each of 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... Named the PFL Special Teams Player of the Week after accounting for 10 points (4-for-4 PATs, 2-for-2 FGs including a 48 yarder) in the Week 8 win at Morehead State.
- 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.