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Big Rapids, Mich. – The Ferris State University football program heads into the 2013 campaign and year two under head coach Tony Annese with high expectations following a successful debut season a year ago.
In 2012, a much-improved Bulldog team posted a 7-4 overall mark in Annese's initial campaign and FSU ranked among the nation's top 10 teams in both rushing offense and total offense.
The Bulldogs recorded several impressive wins under Annese's direction a year ago, including beating archrival Grand Valley State in the Anchor-Bone Classic for the first time since 1999, snapping a 10-year losing streak to Michigan Tech and topping defending national runner-up Wayne State for the first time in five years. FSU also managed to win seven games for only the second time in the past decade despite facing one of the nation's two toughest schedules in Division II football during the regular-season, according to the Massey Ratings.
Besides putting together an impressive debut season with the Bulldogs, Annese and his staff also made big headlines in the offseason by inking what is considered to be the nation's top incoming recruiting class in Division II football by FootballScoop.com. Several impact transfers from various levels of competition are also expected to play key roles for the Bulldogs this fall.
"We've made a lot of progress over the last year and there's a night and day difference in terms of where we are at right now, so I'm pleased and excited as we head into the 2013 season," said Annese.
Quarterback – A year ago, a pair of quarterbacks battled throughout fall camp for the starting job in Jason Vander Laan and Taylor Masiewicz. Both saw early action directing Annese's renowed veer attack before an injury sidelined Masiewicz for the rest of the year. Vander Laan asserted himself in the position and directed the Bulldogs the rest of the way while claimed GLIAC Freshman of the Year accolades. He ran for a league quarterback record 1,300+ rushing yards and completed over 57% of his passes in his initial campaign. A big offseason and another year of seasoning in Annese's attack by both Vander Laan and Masiewicz give the Bulldogs optimism for improved play and leadership at the spot heading into the fall.
Backfield – While the Bulldogs must replace all-purpose standout Skyler Stoker and veteran Dwayne Williams, they return impact talent in senior tailback Korey Ringer and hard-charging fullback Jamaal Jackson. Both played key roles a year ago as the Bulldogs rolled up a school single-season record with more than 3,300 yards on the ground and will give FSU a solid punch again out of the backfield. Redshirt freshman Kitwana Clark, among others, expects to challenge for playing time.
Wide Receivers – Ferris State welcomes back last season's leading receiver in junior Jake Lampman, who had a team-high 43 catches and more than 700 yards receiving last fall. Also returning are slot receivers Torico Searcy and Phil Annese, who both saw ample time in their first Bulldog campaigns. Sophomore Antonio Agurs is expected to challenge for time in the slot. Although fellow receiver A.J. McEwen was moved to the secondary in the spring, the Bulldog staff believes a strong group of newcomers will provide ample depth and more playmakers on the outside. Look for names such as Dewayne Boston, Martez Kelly, Damien Ross and redshirt freshman Shakur Sanders to be in the mix for time this fall.
Offensive Line – This may be the Bulldogs' deepest and most experienced unit heading into 2013. A year ago, injuries forced a number of players into action, which has helped create competition for starting roles this fall. Eight of the Bulldogs' top nine linemen from a year ago are back. Adam Bennett, who started all 11 games as a redshirt freshman at center, has moved to left guard and is the expected starter. He claimed All-GLIAC Honorable Mention honors as did Carlin Landingham, who will move from right tackle to left tackle in 2013. Senior Samuel Parker shifts over one spot to right tackle after starting at guard last fall with Justin Glover stepping in at the center position. Several other veterans will also contend for playing time and starting roles including David Gifford, Zack Wiersma, Jacob VanderKlok, Danzell Maze, Frank Colletti and Cody Dingeldey, giving the Bulldogs plenty of depth along the front line. Senior Jace Heneveld and sophomore Cody Dewitt provide a solid and experienced one-two punch at tight end.
"We're excited about the capabilities we have on the offensive side of the ball with the talent we have returning this fall," Annese said. "We have a lot of guys who are very capable and some experience returning so we feel really good about where we are at offensively."
Defensive Line – Ferris State received great production last fall from its front four with departed standouts Jordan Morgan and Brad Iskow both claiming all-region and first team all-conference recognition on the outside. In their place this fall, the Bulldogs expect newcomer Carlton Johnson and returnee Justin Zimmer to step in. The two interior positions will feature more familiar faces in returning starters Corey Stone and Jeffrey Dean. Solid depth should be expected with Jordan Roxas, Paeton Caldwell, Marcus Cribbs and true freshman Marquis Dawsey, among others, contending for time.
Linebacker – While this may be the Bulldogs' least experienced returning group from last fall, it may also be one of the program's most competitive units with several new faces expected to make some noise. A pair of NCAA Division I transfers headline the unit in former Michigan products Marvin Robinson and Kaleb Ringer. They'll be joined by one of the top junior college players in the country from a year ago in All-American Terrell Porter and fellow JUCO transfer JP Grako. Senior John Purdy should play a role with newcomer James Wimberly and others providing additional depth.
Defensive Back – A solid nucleus is back with returning starters like James Stewart, Andrew Sowards and Jamar Wimberly in the fold. Senior Jonathan Flynn also has received significant experience throughout his career while Damonta Madden saw time as a true freshman last fall. The addition of former receiver A.J. McEwen and others like redshirt freshman John Waller and transfer Scott Patalano should give the Bulldogs experience and talent in the secondary.
"We've got a lot of guys to replace from a year ago, but we've brought in some guys who will do a good job along with the other guys we have coming back," said Annese said. "Our goal will be to create more turnovers and be a more productive defense this fall."
Senior Austin Kantola is back for his final campaign and was solid for the Bulldogs last fall as he converted five field goals and was reliable from both a PAT and kickoff standpoint. While Stoker is gone after handling a majority of the punting duties last fall, Masiewicz has some experience and could play a role. The Bulldogs will have a new snapper, but return steady holders in veterans John Purdy and Phillip Annese. McEwen is an experienced return man and several speedy newcomers could provide dangerous threats on special teams.
Ferris State begins its 105th season of varsity competition with a huge challenge by facing North Dakota State on Sept. 7 at Gate City Bank Field inside the Fargodome at Fargo, N.D. The Bison, coming off a 24-21 season-opening upset of Big 12 Conference Champion Kansas State, are the two-time defending Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) National Champions and the preseason number one team in the country. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. (ET) and the contest will be televised live by ESPN3.
Besides facing one of the nation's top collegiate football programs, the Bulldogs will also take the field in front of one of college football's most passionate fan bases. More than 100,000 fans a year pass through the Fargodome to watch the Bison, ranking North Dakota State in the top 10 nationally for attendance in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Known as one of the loudest environments to play in college football, the Fargodome crowd routinely goes over 100 decibels. NDSU's home since 1993 has become of the most difficult places in the country for opponents to play and can pack in 19,000 fans for football games. BleacherReport.com named the Fargodome among its top 50 greatest college stadiums in 2011.
The week one test will kickoff an 11-game Bulldog football slate in 2013 that features five home contests at Top Taggart Field and a 10-game GLIAC schedule. FSU will play its home opener the following week on Sept. 14 as the Bulldogs open league action in Big Rapids against the Lake Erie Storm starting at 7 p.m. (ET).
As in years past, the competitive GLIAC North will present a daunting task. FSU will not only take on the league's defending champion in Ashland on the road in week three, but must also host division rivals Saginaw Valley State and Grand Valley State in back-to-back weeks in early October. Long trips to Ashland, Walsh and Michigan Tech and tough tests versus traditional foes such as Hillsdale, Wayne State, Northwood and Northern Michigan will test the Bulldogs as they again tackle what should be one of the country's toughest schedules.
That being said, with more than 40 letterwinners and 17 starters back in the fold this fall, expecations are high as the Bulldogs embark on the 2013 season.
"We're looking forward to taking the field and getting an opportunity to challenge for a championship," said Annese. "I think we're all energized and ready to show the progress we've made as a program. We want to be an entertaining and exciting team to watch and I'm excited about what's ahead."