Things certainly won't be the same for the Ferris State University football squad in 2009.
A year ago, the Bulldogs entered the program's 100th campaign with plenty of returning experience on the defensive side of the ball to go with a young and inexperienced offensive unit.
The table has been turned this time around.
Gone are seven starters from a veteran defensive unit, including the entire starting trio of linebackers and one of the most decorated players to ever put on a Bulldog uniform in three-time All-America defensive tackle Jake Visser, who's currently in camp with the NFL's Houston Texans this summer.
The good news is the bulk of last year's young offensive unit gained significant experience and has the potential to rank as one of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference's (GLIAC) most productive and explosive attacks in 2009.
As head coach Jeff Pierce embarks on his 15th season at the Bulldog helm, he'll do so with six starters back and a number of valuable reserves on the offensive side.
"We're excited about our potential offensively this year," Pierce said. "We've got a group of guys with experience under their belts and they should be fun to watch.
"There's a lot of competition for several spots and with the solid nucleus that is back, it should give us the ability to do a lot more things on that side of the ball," added Pierce.
While the defensive unit lost seven starters and 16 letterwinners from a year ago, many of the players contending for the open roles are guys who have been in the program for some time.
"We lost a number of starters, but we're still an older team on defense," said Assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Duane Wilson. "Many of them might not have significant game experience, but they've been around and now will get their chance to step up and make some plays."
As always, the schedule is expected to be challenging, although the Bulldogs are fortunate enough to play five home games on Top Taggart Field's Mondo Ecofill artificial surface, including three of the first four contests. In addition to playing the season's first two games in front of the home crowd, league archrival Grand Valley State will also come to Big Rapids for the first time in three seasons.
"We'll have our hands full and we'll have to be prepared to play at the top of our game one week at a time," Pierce said. "Our goal is to be a contender and continue playing after the regular-season has concluded.
"If we're prepared to go each week, winning will take care of itself and we'll have an opportunity to be successful," he added.
The Bulldogs will also have an opportunity to play another "home" contest nearby in Comstock Park during the "Battle At The Ballpark" against Michigan Tech (Oct. 3) at Fifth Third Ballpark. The event will serve as a fundraiser for the program and give Ferris the chance to play in a unique setting.
"We're excited to play down there and are expecting a great atmosphere and environment," Pierce said. "It's a great opportunity for our program to showcase what we have in a different venue and we're thankful for the outstanding support our fans have already shown for the contest."
If last season is any indication, the Bulldogs should have plenty of firepower again to contend in an always-competitive GLIAC race.
"A number of guys can be impact players for us this year," said Pierce. "The key will be how we all come together and how ready we are to go week in and week out."
Quarterback - Nowhere should FSU's
returning offensive experience be more noticeable this season than
at the quarterback position. A year ago, the Bulldogs headed into
fall camp with little experience behind center. This time around,
Ferris returns a pair of talented signal callers who have both
shown the ability to direct the offense in sophomore Tom
Schneider (6-3, 195) and senior Kyle
Parrish (6-1, 190). Schneider holds the edge after an
impressive spring game, but Parrish's versatility should make this
competitive battle last throughout the fall. With the Bulldogs'
offensive scheme, it's very likely both will play, much like last
season. Redshirt freshman Robert Banaszak (6-3,
195) also played well in the spring and could challenge for
Running Back - Steady veteran Paris Holloman is gone, but the Bulldogs expect big things out of sophomore David Freeman (5-9, 190). Freeman saw significant action in the slot last campaign and has the big-play ability to create excitement out of the backfield. Newcomer Dwayne Williams (5-9, 190) performed well in the spring and proved to be a capable backup while junior David Johnson (5-10, 204) has displayed the skills to be a physical runner when healthy. Redshirt freshman Arshaun Hall (6-0, 170) will also compete for time. As in the past, a key group of slot players will also get the ball in certain situations on the ground.
Wide Receivers - The Bulldogs lost two solid perimeter veterans from a year ago in local products Cole Meredith and Rahseem Jones-Salaam. However, depth shouldn't be an issue in this area. A trio of sophomores in Seth Hubbard (6-3, 180), Damien Miller (6-0, 170) and Mike Ryan (5-10, 170) all gained significant experience during the 2008 season and will be counted on to make big plays in the passing game. Sophomore Aaron Olman (5-11, 205) and redshirt freshman Jaron Butts (5-9, 165) showcased their abilities last spring and should contend for significant time in various roles. Additionally, the Bulldogs welcome back several other veterans with limited game experience to supply depth including juniors Matt Schuelke (5-10, 170), DeAndrie Rogers (6-3, 200) and Keenan Bowman (6-2, 180) along with senior Ron Hardy (6-1, 200). Senior Chris Wilson (6-6, 230) missed all of last season with an injury but could figure into the rotation if healthy. Several talented incoming recruits also are expected to battle to be a part of the action, especially at the slot position.
Offensive Line - Plenty of experience returns up front with the unit headlined by All-GLIAC honorable mention left tackle Matt Wellman (6-4, 280). Additionally, the right side remains intact with senior Joe Doman (6-0, 291) at guard and fellow senior Brad Bammert (6-2, 280) at tackle. Sophomore Joe Voiles (6-2, 270) has seen time as a valuable reserve in the past. Big Rapids native Jake Hancock (6-1, 270) was the spring surprise and is contending to be the starter at center. Redshirt freshmen Taylor Phillips (6-3, 255), Trevor Smolinski (6-7, 260) and Taylor Sprague (6-6, 280) had solid first years in the program and performed well enough in the spring to figure into the picture. Sophomore Rich Rosenberg (6-7, 270) and Clark Wright (6-3, 275) give the Bulldogs plenty of depth along the front line. Senior Kevin Ward (6-4, 215) and redshirt freshman Kevin Guirand (6-1, 195) join Phillips as candidates to play should the Bulldogs utilize a tight end in the formation at times this season.
Defensive Line - In addition to the loss of Visser, the Bulldogs must replace two other starters up front at both end positions. On the inside, Wilson expects senior Kory Deering (6-3, 282) to become a dominant interior player and take the leadership role. Senior Joe Morrow (6-2, 265) and junior Jacob Moreno (6-2, 253) were both valuable reserves last fall and should challenge for starting roles. Additionally, sophomore Muneer Bawayeh (6-4, 225) gained experience a year ago as a reserve. Redshirt freshman Jordan Morgan (6-4, 220) had an impressive spring and is expected to step into a starting role with redshirt freshman Brad Iskow (6-4, 250) and senior Marvin Hicks (6-3, 250) among others in the mix. The Bulldogs also moved last year's starting center, junior Scott Shattuck (6-1, 290), to the defensive side in the spring to help supply additional depth.
Linebackers - The two-year starting trio of Kevin Noe, Jeff Hollandsworth and Jordan Moore is gone, but a number of familiar faces are back and will get the chance to play this season. In the middle, senior Nick Butler (5-10, 235) finally steps into a starting role after playing behind a pair of All-GLIAC selections throughout his career in Noe and Mike Klobucher. Senior Chad Schoen (6-0, 206) should fill in admirably at one of the outside spots while junior Kyle Fitzpatrick (6-2, 211) and senior Matt Ryan (6-1, 190) are also being counted on to play and contending for starting roles. Redshirt freshmen Alex Brajak (6-1, 210), Tayo Moss (5-11, 200) and Mike Elias (6-2, 205) join senior Leon Curry (5-11, 245) as the top contenders to earn time. Former running back Charles Wasson (5-10, 209) also moved to the linebacking unit in the offseason to aid the depth.
Secondary - Experience won't be an issue in the secondary where the Bulldogs return talented starting corner Angelo Williams (5-11, 185) and the squad's top three safeties in seniors Chad Wilson (6- 0, 197), C.J. Lee (6-3, 200) and Santino Favot (5-11, 185). The cornerback position opposite Williams, which was previously held by two-time all-league selection Terrell Heggins, should be filled by speedy sophomore Russell Weatherspoon (5-10, 165), who saw action as a reserve and on special teams in 2008. A number of other youngsters have also displayed the ability to contribute and play in a variety of roles including redshirt freshmen Zachary Rosman (6-3, 182), Cody Groulx (6-1, 195), Jonathan Bryant (5-8, 170) and Jamar Slade (5-10, 195).
Special Teams - The departure of former All-GLIAC honoree Jim Yates means the Bulldogs will have new faces in the kicking game for the first time in three seasons. Yates handled virtually all of the Bulldogs' punting and placekicking duties the last two years. The lone player with any game experience on the roster is sophomore Shawn Snoor (6-1, 185). The Bulldogs placed an emphasis on the kicking game during the recruiting period and are hopeful this area won't be cause for concern in 2009.