Monmouth wants consistency in 2011
A rash of injuries last season – including a season-ending injury to record-setting quarterback Alex Tanney (Normal, Ill./Lexington) among others – resulted in a new starting lineup each week. So much for consistency.
Tanney is one of four Scots granted an extra season after missing the majority of last year due to season-ending injuries. A preseason All-American, Tanney is within striking distance of three NCAA Division III records and needs just 30 touchdown passes to set the new standard. With 10,382 passing yards in his career, he'll need 3,224 yards to set the new mark. That's within range when figuring he's averaged nearly 310 yards per game over three full seasons.
If Tanney is to set any records, he may be looking for help from senior receiver Mike Blodgett (Northfield, Minn./Appleton North). Hampered by a preseason injury in 2010, Blodgett didn't suit up at all last year, but has returned to campus healthy and anxious for one more season. Like Tanney, Blodgett is also making an assault on the DIII record books. He's caught a pass in 33 consecutive games and if that streak continues through the end of the regular season, he'll pass former teammate Matt Shepherd and move to within four games of the national record.
Running back Nick Law (Heyworth, Ill./Heyworth) and linebacker Marcus Ruff (Avon, Ill./Avon) round out the Scots who were granted an extra year. Each was lost during the regular season last fall and brings extra experience to the lineup.
"Right now, it's not about what we do," said Bell. "It's more about how we do it. Our seniors know this is it. We've got to pull our teammates along with us and raise everyone's level of play. We've got to have our top-level guys play at their peak down in and down out. We need that consistency."
Bell is hoping for consistency from an offensive line that gained valuable experience a year ago. Senior center Matt Wright (Canton, Ill./Canton) anchors the group that will be opening holes and protecting Tanney. Senior All-Midwest Conference lineman James Allen holds down one guard position and junior Todd Groth (Oswego, Ill/Oswego) has laid claim to the other. It's a battle at the tackle positions where sophomore A.J. Ulrich (Morris, Ill./Morris) has staked his claim, but as many as four others are battling for the one remaining spot.
"The main thing we gain this year is the experience our core group got last year," said Bell. "We should know what we're doing by now. They've got to be consistent every snap."
In the backfield, five players who combined to gain more than 1,500 yards return. Three sophomores saw plenty of action and gained significant yardage in last year's injury-riddled season. Trey Yocum (Bushnell, Ill./Bushnell-Prairie City) played in seven games and led the team with 385 yards after Law was lost for the season with 333 yards. Brik Wedekind (Princeton, Ill./Princeton) – forced into a starting role in the fifth quarter of last season at quarterback – was second on the team with 351 yards, but will return to his understudy role this season as Tanney's backup. Stefan Flynn (Colchester, Ill./Illini West) was just 15 yards shy of the 300 yard plateau and his 81 carries ranked third on the team.
"We've got some talented backs," reported Bell. "There are some freshmen who are challenging. Our job as coaches is to find three running backs that can play every game. It's a similar situation at receiver in that we need to identify five or six guys who can contribute every game."
Bell may be halfway there in his receivers search. Blodgett is the veteran of the group and will be joined by three players with at least 11 receptions and two others who gained more than 100 yards. Senior all-conference tight end David Milroy (Toulon, Ill./Stark County) is the only non-wide receiver to log over 100 yards, grabbing nine passes for 111 yards. Evan Banks (Fulton, Ill./Fulton), Austin Peterson (Wyanet, Ill./Bureau Valley), Spencer Brown (Milan, Ill./Sherrard) and Michael Davis (Peoria, Ill./Richwoods) each accounted for more than 100 receiving yards. Brown was second behind the graduated Shepherd with 18 catches for 210 yards.
Added to the mix is senior Nick Byom (Gilson, Ill./Knoxville). An All-American high jumper in track, Byom will debut on the gridiron as a tight end, giving Monmouth quarterbacks a big target.
"Nick's about 6-5 and obviously is a great leaper," reported Bell. "His size and ability gives a quarterback a much larger margin of error. He's very athletic and can run like a deer. That gives us two very capable tight ends."
The Scots expect to be in good hands on the defensive side of the ball, where they lost just three starters. Up front, the line put in numerous hours in the weight room adding muscle to their considerable experience. Senior Mike Kettmann (Coal City, Ill./Coal City) and juniors Jake Willis (East Peoria, Ill./East Peoria), Nate Van Metre (Bartlett, Ill./South Elgin), Sam Hoster (Seneca, Ill./Seneca) and Joel Burger (New Berlin, Ill./New Berlin) form an indestructible wall.
"We bring back a multitude of players who got significant playing time last year," claimed Bell. "It's a case right now of deciding who is a starter and who is a role player. But when you get right down to it, it doesn't matter who starts, they'll all get plenty of time."
The Scots also have plenty of depth in the linebacking corps. Seniors Adam Hoste (Colona, Ill./Geneseo), Cory Bishop (Bryant, Ill./Lewistown) and Rod Ojong (Oswego, Ill./East) accounted for a quarter of the team's solo tackles last season. Hoste – an all-conference pick last year – logged a team-high 99 total stops and recorded six interceptions, returning two for scores.
Senior defensive back Erik Weber (Mendota, Ill./Mendota) played like a linebacker, making 66 tackles to rank third on the team and picking off five passes for the No. 2 spot. He's joined by fellow senior Shane Reschke (Geneseo, Ill./Geneseo) as the only returning starters in the secondary. Andre Taylor (Urbana, Ill./Rantoul), Wes Kindurys (Ft. Walton Beach, Fla./Leroy) and Ryan Flannigan (Pekin, Ill./Pekin) all got plenty of reps, seeing action when the Scots went to their nickel and dime packages, but they may be called on to play significant roles this season.
"We're pretty deep in the secondary, too," said Bell. "Wes, Andre and Ryan saw quite a bit of action when the passses were flying, so it's not like they haven't been in pressure situations. And we've got some talented youth who may make a splash, too."
Like the other units, special teams returns a plethora of experience. If needed, the Scots have two talented punters with good legs and plenty of experience. Wedekind – who earned all-conference accolades at the position as a freshman – and Reschke – the main punter at the start of last season – will give Bell two good legs to kick on. Reschke averaged nearly a yard more than Wedekind, including launching a 79-yarder. Wedekind – a preseason All-American this fall – proved his worth in '10 when Reschke went down with an injury, filling in to land 12 punts inside the 20-yard line and bomb an 81-yard punt against Lake Forest.
It's not much different for the place kickers, where junior Matt Batton (Peoria, Ill./Richwoods) is in a battle with freshman Ace Henricks (Mt. Sterling, Ill./Brown County). Batton was perfect on field goals last season and hit a school record 51-yarder as a freshman. Henricks is living up to his name, being ranked in the top 100 nationally by Kohl's Professional Camps – a national camp for kickers, punters and snappers.
With so many returners, so much talent and so much promise, what's the one key to putting it all together?
"More than anything, we've got to get out to a fast start," said Bell. "We need to play at the speed at which we're capable. That goes for the offense AND defense. We need to play the 'Monmouth way.'"
The Monmouth way under Bell has been all about tempo. A no-huddle, high-octane offense and intense defensive pressure have been the Scots' trademark and it all boils down to doing your homework.
"Speed equates to knowledge," he continued. "If you know what you're supposed to be doing and how you're supposed to do it, then you'll play with speed. I'd also say our best players have to play their best all the time. It's a case of playing at that level consistently."
There's an adage that says "Knowledge is power." In the Scots' world, knowledge is speed…and Bell wouldn't mind a little consistency, too.