The UW-Stout football team comes into the 2011 season, the 100th year since the beginning of Stout football, without some star power carried over from the past couple of years.
Due to graduation, the Blue Devils will be without three-time first team all-conference, all-everything running back Craig Warminski and All-American Patrick Mengelkoch, Stout's all-time leading receiving tight end.
In addition, Stout lost second-team all-conference running back Carlos Concepcion and the Blue Devils need to look deep on last year's stat sheet to find someone who returns that caught more than five passes last year.
"It looks like we shouldn't be too excited because we lost so much star power," second year head coach Clayt Birmingham said. "But, we think we have one of the better overall receiving corps we have had in a while. We return nearly the entire offensive line."
Defensively, the Blue Devils return nearly the entire defensive crew that ranked second in the league behind only defending national champion UW-Whitewater. Stout last season finished 6-4 overall, but two of their losses were by one point and a third was by one touchdown. Stout finished third in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) for the second consecutive year.
A key cog in the Blue Devils' success will be third year starting quarterback Ross Carey, a two-time team captain.
While the returning receiving corp had a total of 14 receptions and no touchdowns last year, Carey has proven himself capable of using his entire supporting cast. Carey tossed passes to 13 different players and threw 15 touchdown passes, while running for two more.
Carey completed an efficient 154-for-273 and threw a league-low (for starting quarterbacks) three interceptions. For his career, Carey is 248-for-438 with 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions. While Carey didn't run as much last season as he did the previous season, he did gain 128 yards, third best on the team. In 2009, Carey rushed for 414 yards.
"Carey is a good field general and has a knack for leading the team," Birmingham said. "He may not have the strongest arm, but he is a very efficient, accurate passer. And he can run. Teams know they can't just blitz him because he will take off."
Backing up Carey again this year will be Michael Blizel. Blizel saw limited action at quarterback last season behind Carey, but did complete 4-of-6 passes for 56 yards. At 6-foot, 3-inches, Blizel has good size and a strong arm, Birmingham said. Blizel saw the majority of his action last year as the team's punter and averaged 37.9 yards. Blizel is expected to return as the punter and could see some time as a wide receiver.
The receiving corp is basically an untested and young, but talented group, Birmingham said. The Blue Devils have one senior and the rest are sophomores and juniors and perhaps a sprinkling of freshmen.
Jordan Peterson is the lone senior of the receiving group. "Jordan is a good route runner," Birmingham said. "He knows how to set up the defense."
Trevor Morning had a strong spring camp. Mike Gervenak caught four passes last season, including a 17-yard pass against UW-La Crosse. Ryan Haugen will also fit into the receiving scheme.
Josh Peterson is expected to jump into the tight end role vacated by Mengelkoch. Peterson has the most receptions of any returning receiver with seven and averaged 11.1 yards per reception.
Joining Carey in the backfield will be David Goebel at fullback. Goebel started all 10 games and was a very pleasant surprise, Birmingham said.
Goebel played juniors hockey before coming to Stout and has already made in impression with the coaching staff. Goebel averaged 4.1 yards per carry on 16 totes, but led the way blocking for Warminski and Concepcion. He also caught three passes.
Damian Guggenbuehl moves from defensive back where he was fifth on the team in tackles and returns to the offensive backfield. Guggenbuehl was recruited as a running back, but helped to shore up the defensive backfield last season.
"He was such a good athlete, we had to get him on the field," Birmingham said.
The Blue Devils are expecting Eric Brown, a transfer from Fergus Falls Community College where he played not only running back, but quarterback, to work his way into the backfield.
Paul Bernier and Daniel Vyvyan both showed flashes of excitement during last season and should figure into the mix at running back.
The Blue Devils return four of five starters on the offensive line, led by preseason All-America candidate Tyler Butzler at one of the tackles. Grant Weltzin returns as the tackle opposite Butzler.
Joe Gerber earned the starting center spot where he developed in a vocal leader for the offense. Tim Lau started all 10 games last year at guard and proved to be a tough-nosed player throughout the season.
Birmingham expects David Reyes, Devon Greiber, Kody Zahrte, Cody Seibert and Bemidji State transfer Bryce Nelson to vie for starting and back-up spots.
In contrast to the offense, the Blue Devils return a great deal of their defensive team.
Up front, Cody Price came back last season following a medical red-shirt season to start eight games at defensive tackle. Jamie Rohrig and Dylan Sincere will be looking at spots.
Chris Haynes and John Van Gundy will vie for the nose tackle spot. Haynes played both offensive and defensive line last season. Van Gundy has seen considerable action over the last two years.
Jake Johnson, Travis Mueller, Ryan Ericksen and Kyle Ahrens will be looking at the defensive end spots. Johnson, Mueller and Ericksen have seen action.
Ryan Pearcy and Trevor Fiege anchor the linebacker spots, and both are very solid players, Birmingham said.
Pearcy earned first team all-conference selection last season and Fiege was an honorable mention choice. The team's top two tacklers, Pearcy was fourth in the WIAC in tackles with 81, 32 solo, while Fiege was ninth with 71, 40 solo.
Lee Kostick, Spencer Adler and David Lindell will assume linebacker roles.
The defensive backfield lost first team cornerback Adam Churchill, but return the rest of the crew.
Tyler Park (So, Susanville, Calif) and Billy Rosenthal (Jr, Wyoming, Minn) both worked opposite Churchill last year. Rosenthal matched Churchill for team honors with three interceptions.
Stout returns Aaron Kobes and Jason Brenner at the safety positions.
Kobes, who had floated around offensively as a quarterback and wide receiver before switching over to defense last season, found a home at strong safety.
"Aaron is just a work horse," Birmingham said. "We needed to have him on the field. He is a great captain and a hard hitter." Kobes was third on the team last year in tackles with 65 and led Stout with eight tackles for loss.
Brenner has been a quarterback on defense, Birmingham said. "He is a smart football player who gets the guys lined up," Birmingham said.
Birmingham is also waiting to look at a number of incoming freshmen to see where they will be able to fit in.
Speaking of fitting in, Richard Marteney earned his spot last season as the team's place kicker. Starting with the second game where he won the game, 27-24, on a last minute field goal, Marteney made 30 consecutive extra-point attempts, missing his final attempt of the season. Against Eureka, Marteney set a school record by making nine extra-point attempts. Marteney connected on 11 field goals throughout the season.
"Ricky just got more confidence as the season went on," Birmingham said.
On special teams, the Blue Devils will need to find return specialists. Concepcion and Warminski took care of the majority of the kickoff returns and Warminski handled the punt return duties.
"We will get our best guys and put them back there," Birmingham said.
"Our men are excited about the year," Birmingham said about the upcoming season. "This is one of the best-led teams. This senior class is a bunch of good leaders.
"This is our year. We need to make our move."
The Blue Devils will open their season Saturday, Sept. 3 when they host NCAA Division II Black Hills State University at 1 p.m. at Don & Nona Williams Stadium.