DEFIANCE, Ohio – On the verge of opening the tenth season since claiming the 2001 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Championship, Defiance College has its eyes locked on repeating history and earning the 13th conference championship in the storied history on the gridiron for the Purple and Gold.
That goal of returning to the NCAA playoffs is within reach for Defiance and head coach Rob Taylor thanks to a strong and determined core of veteran student-athletes on the 2011 roster.
One year after posting a 6-2 record in HCAC play and keeping its title hopes alive into the final week of the regular season, Defiance will return 18 starters and eight All-HCAC performers. The team will look to grow from the experience it gained one year ago with the hopes of ending the 2011 campaign at the top of the HCAC.
The Jackets will return 10-of-11 starters on the offensive side of the ball, one year after averaging 25.2 points per game against conference foes and equaling their highest scoring average for a season since the 2001 squad. DC put nearly 30 points per game on the board in its six victories and set a Justin F. Coressel Stadium scoring record in a 49-7 thrashing of Anderson on October 23.
Other highlights for the offense included a 33-0 victory at Earlham in the first-ever HCAC clash between the two programs and a three-week stretch in which Defiance outscored Earlham, Anderson and Rose-Hulman by a combined score of 123-28 in a trio of lopsided victories.
The high-powered attack was charged by the explosive thunder and lightning tandem of Drew Kuesel and Rick Powell. Each half of the duo averaged over 85 yards on the ground per outing to help Defiance churn out 198.8 yards per game. That clip rose to an HCAC-best 218.2 rushing yards per contest in eight conference tilts.
The improved offense allowed the traditionally stout Yellow Jacket defense to stay fresh throughout the season, resulting in opponents managing just 11.7 points per game over the final six contests.
While the Jackets will need to overcome the loss of All-American Kyle Longsdorf and his HCAC-leading 139 tackles, the squad should have plenty of options for the leadership role with eight returning starters in the lineup.
The tenacious and experienced defensive unit ranked second among all HCAC teams in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense and sacks in 2010 and should continue to improve with another year together on the gridiron.
Others have taken notice of the Yellow Jackets as well, with Defiance getting picked second in the HCAC Preseason Poll. All signs point to a very exciting season for the Purple and Gold but it will be up to the team to translate those lofty preseason expectations into a reality on the field in 2011.
Rick Powell will lead the DC offense once again in 2011, marking the fourth-straight season that the two-time All-HCAC signal caller has been under center for the Purple and Gold. Powell came into his own as a junior, rushing for 998 yards, throwing for 1,257 and accounting for 18 of the team's 25 touchdowns. He enters his final collegiate campaign looking to build upon that breakout season, in which he ranked fifth among all NCAA Division III quarterbacks in rushing yards per game. Powell also finished second among all HCAC players in both rushing yards and total yards of offense per outing. While Powell will see the vast majority of the snaps, sophomores Garrett Teague and Aaron Spence ensure that the quarterback position will remain in good hands for the foreseeable future.
A key to the success of the Jackets in 2011 will be the health of All-HCAC running back Drew Kuesel, who set career highs one year ago with 702 rushing yards and six scores in eight games of work. The senior provides DC with a power option to keep opposing defenses on edge. Sophomore Joey Chester has also recovered from an injury-shortened rookie campaign and will spell Kuesel after carrying the rock 35 times in 2010.
Another All-HCAC performer will return at the tight end slot for DC, as senior Andy Cessna gives the Jackets a large target in the passing game and a valuable blocker in the ground attack. Cessna will be backed up by junior Patrick Hartman.
Although the Defiance offense does most of its damage on the turf, it is not for lack of options at the wide receiver position. Senior Nick Wiedenhoft will be joined by junior Jon Carrabino in the starting lineup, with senior Keaton Wolfe, junior Aaron Choice and second-year players Brian Mircovich and Mo Garces also set to see time.
A source of concern throughout the preseason has been the front line for DC. While the starting unit is missing just one piece from 2010, injuries have depleted the Jackets of depth at the vital unit. One spot that is not in question will be the center position, where All-HCAC standout Ryan Black is set to anchor the line during his senior season. Black is projected to be flanked by fellow seniors Kent Corthell and Bryant Green, with sophomores Todd Oliver, Mitch Smith and Corey Williams also in the mix.
The HCAC's leading sack artist, Joemese Scott, will return for his final year with the Purple and Gold, after earning All-HCAC honors by ranking 34th in the nation with 8.5 sacks last season. Scott added 47 hits, with 12 coming for lost yardage and will be joined in the trenches by juniors D.J. Brigham and Gregg Pickett. Sophomores Michael Carrabino and Pat Rieg will team with rookie Jamario Belton to relieve the starters.
A pair of All-HCAC playmakers will anchor the Jackets from their linebacker slots, as junior Hunter Robertson and sophomore Patrick McDonald finished second and third on the roster in tackles in 2010, teaming for 125 hits, 13.5 stops for lost yardage and four sacks. The duo will have help, with junior James Buari, sophomore Blaine McGowan and newcomer Darshawn Walker expected to contribute.
The one player that will be leaned on the most to fill the shoes of Longsdorf will be Tony Sierra. The two-time First-Team All-HCAC safety posted 38 tackles, eight passes defended and two interceptions as a sophomore and is joined in the secondary by senior safety Eric Rubio. Junior Kyle Keegan and sophomore Chrys Killebrew will man the cornerback positions, while a host of underclassmen are also set to battle for time.
For the first time in four seasons, DC will not have the leg of Tom Foos to power the special teams. Sophomore Aaron Spence could step in to handle the punting duties, while the kicking responsibilities will need to be clarified as the season approaches. Tony Sierra will anchor the returns team, after ranking first in the HCAC will 11.0 yards per punt return one year ago.
The Jackets will open the 2011 season on September 3, when they welcome Muskingum into Coressel Stadium for a 1:30 pm start.