ADA, Ohio —Eighth-year head coach Dean Paul welcomed 189 players on the first day of practice for the No. 14 Ohio Northern football team Thursday afternoon.
Here is a preview of the 2011 Polar Bear squad:
The Ohio Northern football team had one of its best seasons in program history in 2010.
This fall, the Polar Bears are hoping for another outstanding performance.
ONU finished 10-2 overall, were 8-1 in league action and reached the second round of the NCAA Division III Playoffs a year ago.
Ohio Northern was nationally ranked throughout the season, reached as high as No. 7, and ended the season ranked No. 8.
This marks the eighth consecutive season that ONU has been ranked in the national polls.
The Polar Bears also posted their 15th consecutive upper-division finish in the Ohio Athletic Conference.
Eighth-year head coach Dean Paul welcomes back 12 starters and 48 lettermen from last year's squad and has high hopes entering 2011.
Experience will be an asset for ONU with 26 seniors on the squad that have had a hand in 23 victories over the past three seasons.
Northern welcomes back seven starters on defense, five starters on offense and return an All-Conference punter on special teams.
"We feel very optimistic about our chances this season," Paul said. "We lost some outstanding young men to graduation, but are very excited about the players we have this fall."
Here is a breakdown of the ONU football team, by position:
The Polar Bears are loaded with talent and experience on the defensive line as all four starters, three of which were named All-OAC a year ago, all return.
Junior nose tackle Cody Kelly (54t, 3.5 sacks) was named First Team All-Conference as a sophomore, senior end Trygve Henrikson (44t, 3.5 sacks) was a Second Team honoree a year ago and senior Jeff Butler (41t, 2 sacks) received Honorable Mention all-league honors in 2010.
Senior Mike Prokopovich (48t, 3.5 sacks) started all 12 games at tackle.
Junior Cary MacLaughlin (1t), sophomore Sean Denson (19t, 3.5 sacks) and sophomore Mike King (21t, 1 sack) also return, giving ONU a tremendous amount of depth on the line.
"The D-Line looks like it will be the strength of this year's defense," Paul said. "Any time you return all four starters and three All-Conference players up front, it's a good sign. We also have very talented players waiting for opportunities to get playing time, so competition should be outstanding. This group developed into an outstanding unit last year and we expect great things out of this unit this season."
Fifth-year senior Zack Click (72t, 3 sacks) returns as the lone starter at linebacker in 2011.
Junior Eric Mitchell (6t) started one game last fall and will join senior Marc Akam, juniors Ben Myers, Joe Powell and Martin Kluk and sophomores Malcolm Burrell and Dillon Kwiat as returning lettermen battling for the two remaining positions.
"Click was our most consistent linebacker a year ago," Paul said. "The other two spot are wide open. Five guys return as lettermen that all have had some playing time. They are talented young men and we are confident that several of them will step up to the challenge and be quality players for us."
Senior All-OAC safety Chad Coward (81t, 2.5 sacks, 6 INT) and senior corner back Vince Calloway (18t, 2 INT) return as starters in the secondary.
Coward led the Polar Bears in tackles in 2011 and Calloway is a three-year starter.
Sophomores Josh Scott and Ryan Reed are both returning lettermen at corner back that have seen some experience and will compete for a starting spot.
Sophomore Cory Spelman leads the list of returners and newcomers that will battle for the other safety position.
"We lost six players that played a great amount in their careers to graduation," Paul said. "We are a little thin as far as returning experience goes, but we have two multi-year starter back that will give us a chance at being a solid secondary unit in 2011."
The offensive backfield will feature new faces after the loss of two-time All-American running back Brent Donley, two-time All-OAC performer Kyle Simmons at quarterback and three-year starter Evan Elliott at fullback.
Donley and Simmons combined for 4,084 yards of total offense and 44 TDs last year, so finding replacements will be key to the Polar Bears' success in 2011.
he running position will be a battle in training camp as several talented players are ready to take advantage of their opportunity to grab the starting spot.
Senior Seadrick Marshall (69a, 266y, 2TDs), juniors Demarqus Payne (24a, 116y) and Carter Paul and sophomores Justin Buenger (11a, 60y) are all outstanding players that give the Polar Bears many options at tailback.
The quarterback position is up for grabs as senior Adam Tabit (1-for-2, 10y) and junior John Atkinson (7-for-7, 60y) and a number of other returners and a solid group of newcomers will compete for the starting signal-calling position.
Three seniors, C.J. Iliff, Josh Rouch and Andrew Baumer, will lead the list of players vying for the starting fullback position.
"We have some holes to fill in the offensive backfield," Paul said. "But at the same time, we are very excited about the talent level we have returning. We have four players that we are very confident in returning at tailback and all bring different skills to the position. We also have three players at fullback that we feel can do some very good things there.
"The quarterback spot is the question mark. We have talented players competing for the spot and the competition will be fierce in training camp. We are excited to watch these young men develop and we are confident that we will be ready to go on Sept. 3."
Receivers / Tight End
The receiving corps will be a deep and talented group in 2010.
In all, eight players that caught at least one pass in 2010 return, to form a solid nucleus in the receiving corps.
Senior Jay Priest (41r, 404y, 3 TD) is a two-year starter and led the Polar Bears in receptions with 41 last year.
Seniors Patrick Arcaro (4r, 62y) Anthony Brown, Jordan Chopp (5r, 59y) and Cody Dalga (2r, 22y) and juniors Frank Thien and Kyle Baker all return.
Several newcomers will also battle for playing time as ONU features up to five different receiving positions in various formations.
Senior Jared Oehler (13r, 181y, 4 TD) is back as the starting tight end with junior Andy Park (1r, 4y) battling for playing time.
"We have a good group of receivers back," Paul said. "Priest has been solid for two seasons for us and the other spots are wide-open. We also have an outstanding group of newcomers at the position that could compete for playing time right away."
The offensive line may be the strongest area of the Ohio Northern offense in 2011 as four starters that combined for 48 starts last year return, including a pair of All-Conference selections.
Senior right tackle Pat Dochenetz and junior center Kyle Smith both received Second Team All-OAC kudos and join senior left tackle Colin Bishop and junior right guard Tyler Joseph all return after starting all 12 games at their respective positions last season.
Add junior Cullen Zelachowski, who started one game at left guard, and junior Nick Jones to the mix and its easy to see why Paul and his staff are excited about the offensive line this fall.
"A year ago the offensive line was a big question mark and this year we feel very positive about this group," Paul said. "Depth may be a concern, but expect to be very strong in the trenches. We also may have a couple of newcomers step up and battle for some playing time."
Sophomore All-Conference punter Kevin Weslosky (41p, 38.2 ave) returns after an outstanding freshman campaign.
Northern needs to replace All-OAC kicker Blair Ellenberger, who graduated.
The punt and kickoff return jobs are wide open, but Paul and his staff have several outstanding athletes to choose from here.