It didn't take Rob Cushman very long to make an accurate assessment of the Augustana football program that he will be in charge of. Cushman, who spent the last three years as the defensive coordinator for the Vikings, was named the head coach following the resignation of Jim Barnes at the end of the 2010 campaign.
"I like the old adage about not fixing it if it isn't broken," said Cushman who has head coaching stints at Eastern Oregon and Feather River (Calif.) Community College. "This is a program that has not had a losing season since 1978 and we have certainly been in contention in the recent past. It is very comforting to take over a program that is on such solid footing."
The Vikings went 6-4 overall a year ago and finished third in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin with a 4-3 mark, including a thrilling 20-17 win over Illinois Wesleyan on the final Saturday of the season. Augustana has gone 32 consecutive seasons without posting a losing record. A total of 11 starters and 48 letterwinners return from 2010 and Cushman liked what he saw during the off-season.
"We have a great work ethic here and clearly the expectations of the people in and around this program are very high," said Cushman who came on board as the defensive coordinator prior to 2008. "There is a lot at stake with Augustana football and it is great to be at a place that cares so much about success."
After spending the last three years on the defensive side of the ball, Cushman knows that his scope will have to widen a bit.
"It is just natural when you are coordinator that your focus tends to be a little narrow," he said. "Now I have to branch out more and that has been fun. I find myself paying a little closer attention to detail but we have a great staff and we have all worked together well."
One area that will come under some scrutiny in 2011 will be the offense where Zac Connors steps in as the new offensive coordinator. Connors was able to install his system in the spring and Cushman was happy to point out that the guy pulling the trigger on the offense will be back for his final season.
Senior David Lee (Springfield HS, Springfield, Ill.) was a second team all-conference selection a year ago at quarterback and was voted the team's Most Valuable Offensive Player. He ranked 25th in NCAA Division III in total offense with an average of 265.5 yards per game. Lee threw for 2,411 yards while completing 195 of 317 passes with 18 touchdowns. He was only intercepted nine times and his completion percentage was .615. Lee also was the second leading rusher on the team with 244 yards on 83 attempts.
He set six individual school records last year. Two of them were single game marks including 28 completions vs. Central of Iowa on September 11 and Carthage on October 16. His 429 passing yards against Carthage broke his own record of 422 set in 2009 against Millikin. He set single season marks for pass attempts (317), pass completions (195), passing yards (2,411) and total offense (2.665). Three of those new records that Lee broke previously belonged to Ken Anderson, former Augustana great who was the 1981 NFL MVP as the quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals.
"It is pretty obvious that David Lee has had a pretty special career here at Augustana," said Cushman. "When you start breaking records that were held by a guy who played 16 seasons in the NFL then you are doing something correctly. David will obviously be an important part of our offense."
Lee's backups at quarterback will include juniors Nick Welch (Oswego HS, Oswego, Ill.) and Patrick Rae (South Elgin HS, Bartlett, Ill.) and sophomore Ken Clay (Waubonsie Valley HS, Naperville, Ill.).
Lining up with Lee in the backfield will probably be junior Nate Pena (Neuqua Valley HS, Bolingbrook, Ill.). Pena played in just two games last year and gained 96 yards on 15 carries in a season that was cut short due to injury. Senior Tyler Trimberger (Chatham-Glenwood HS, Chatham, Ill.) and junior Brett McWilliams (Rockton-Hononegah HS, Roscoe, Ill.) will be in the mix as well. Senior A.J. Hoger (Cary-Grove HS, Cary, Ill.) has been a versatile performer for the last three years and he will be used primarily as a receiver but will slide into the backfield at times. He gained 64 yards on 20 attempts last fall and caught four passes for 36 yards. He also returned five kickoffs and seven punts.
Lee will have several proven receivers to chose from when he drops back to pass. Senior Zach McCullough (St. Charles North HS, St. Charles, Ill.) caught 29 passes last year and scored seven touchdowns and he averaged 23.0 yards per reception. Sophomore Nick Krantz (Moline HS, Moline, Ill.) saw plenty of action in his first year and caught nine passes for 125 yards. Junior Chad Collins (Thornridge HS, Dolton, Ill.), senior Jason Wagner (Burlington HS, Elgin, Ill.), senior Jordan Peart (Marian Central Catholic HS, Bull Valley, Ill.) and Hoger will all be used extensively as well. Wagner missed most of his sophomore season due to an injury and Peart caught 10 passes in the first game last year before getting hurt.
The tight end position is strong with seniors Keith Abbey (Rich East HS, Park Forest, Ill.) and Jack Gilleland (Marian Central Catholic HS, McHenry, Ill.) and junior Marty Reisner (Oswego HS, Montgomery, Ill.). Abbey caught 18 passes last year for 222 yards with five touchdowns. Gilleland had 14 receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown.
The offensive line will get plenty of attention in the pre-season as senior Kelly Clennon (Joliet Catholic HS, Naperville, Ill.) at center is the lone returning starter. There are plenty of candidates waiting in the wings, however. Juniors Adam Lang (Rock Island HS, Rock Island, Ill.), Mike Kautz (Rock Island Alleman HS, East Moline, Ill.), Kevon Rivers (Uplift Community HS, Chicago, Ill.) and Derek King (Westmer HS, New Boston, Ill.) and sophomores Trace Wingo (Crystal Lake South HS, Crystal Lake, Ill.) and Eric Link (Sherrard HS, Aledo, Ill.) will all be fighting for playing time.
"There are some young guys who are just going to have to step up on the offensive line," said Cushman. "They will be asked to grow up in a hurry but we are confident they can do that."
Defensively the Vikings return seven starters from a unit that gave up 18.8 points and just 120.7 yards per game rushing a year ago.
Up front, Cushman favors a three man front with two ends and a middle guard. Seniors Shane Holl (Batavia HS, North Aurora, Ill.) and Pete Schimeck (Benet Academy, Naperville, Ill.) will be solid at the end positions. Holl was a season-long starter last year and finished with 28 total tackles, including four tackles for loss and two quarterback sacks. Schimek missed the entire season due to an injury but he had a good spring. Sophomore Kyle Voda (Plainfield South HS, Plainfield, Ill.) could be called upon to handle things in the middle. He had two tackles for loss and two quarterback sacks a year ago. Seniors Mike Matthiesen (Cary-Grove HS, Cary, Ill.) and Matt Franzen (Niles Notre Dame HS, Chicago, Ill.) and juniors Mike Anderson (Richmond-Burton HS, Spring Grove, Ill.) and Luke Anderson (Lemont HS, Lemont, Ill.) will be in the mix as well.
Senior captain Cody Wickenhauser (Crystal Lake South HS, Crystal Lake, Ill.) and junior Joe Weber (Marmion Academy, South Elgin, Ill.) will handle the inside linebacker positions. Wickenhauser was injured most of last year but Weber was the team's third leading tackler with 56 total tackles (27 solo and 29 assists). He had 16 tackles for loss and 10 quarterback sacks. The middle linebacker slot will be in the hands of sophomore Erik Westerberg (York HS, Elmhurst, Ill.). Westerberg recorded 36 total tackles in his freshman year. Junior John Draminski (Wethersfield HS, Kewanee, Ill.) is a solid player who will see plenty of playing time.
Senior Mitch McGilliard (Neuqua Valley HS, Naperville, Ill.) is a returning starter at one outside linebacker position after piling up 37 tackles as a junior. Senior Danny Hess (Naperville North HS, Naperville, Ill.) was the fifth leading tackler from the other outside linebacker position with 48 total tackles (24 solos and 24 assists). Senior Grant Ollenburger (Evergreen Park HS, Evergreen Park, Ill.) and sophomore Mike O'Donoghue (Mundelein HS, Mundelein, Ill.) will also be in the hunt at the outside spots.
The secondary is a veteran group. Senior Matt Glawe (Wheaton Warrenville South HS, Winfield, Ill.) was the fourth leading tackler for the Vikings in 2010 from his cornerback position. He had 49 total tackles (33 solos and 16 assists) with two interceptions. Senior Mack Gray (Simeon Career Academy, Chicago, Ill.) has plenty of experience at the other cornerback position. Junior Robbie Mago (Cary-Grove HS, Cary, Ill.) had 32 tackles last fall and he can play both cornerback positions and safety. Senior Ben Hall (University HS, Normal, Ill.) is the returning starter at safety and he had 36 tackles last year and four interceptions. He tied a school record with three interceptions in the season-opening loss to Central of Iowa. Senior Tim O'Shea (Glenbard South HS, Glen Ellyn, Ill.) and sophomores T.J. Milano (Benet Academy, Naperville, Ill.) and Sean Walker (Annawan HS, Annawan, Ill.) should see action in the secondary as well.
Junior Arnie Fitzwater (Waterford Union HS, Waterford, Wis.) handled the kicking duties last year and he was the third leading scorer on the team with 33 points.
"We are looking forward to getting started," said Cushman. "We had a very good off-season and we liked what we saw in terms of work ethic and commitment.