By Ted Schultz
Grinnell College Sports Information Director
GRINNELL, Iowa– Despite the loss of record-breaking receiver Robert Seer '12 and a few other big names, Grinnell College football coach Jeff Pedersen is expecting another solid campaign by the Pioneers in 2012.
Grinnell returns 13 starters, including eight on the defensive side of the ball. Leading that charge are linemen Brian Taylor '13 and Tom Brinkman '13. Taylor was an All-Midwest Conference selection a year ago and had 3.5 sacks in a win over Lawrence University, just half a sack shy of the school record. He finished with 68 tackles on the season, while Brinkman had 47 to go along with a pair of sacks.
Additionally, cornerback Andrew Clark '14 tied the school's single-season record for interceptions with six. Other returning starters on defense are linebackers Colton Feller '14, Jeremy Wiles '14 and David Ternes '15, cornerback Seth Gustafson '14 and safety Drew Blumberg '13.
Blumberg, an Academic All-District first-teamer a year ago, led the team in tackles with 85. Feller added 74, Wiles posted 72, linebacker Rich Renteria '15 had 56, Ternes turned in 45 and Gustafson came up with 38.
Grinnell coach Jeff Pedersen '02 said players looking to fill the other line spot next to Taylor and Brinkman are Ki Harris '14 and Eddie Guen-Murray '15. "The great thing about our line is everybody is bigger, stronger and faster than last year," said Pedersen.
In terms of linebackers, Pedersen said Feller and Ternes are both "looking very good" in returning to the inside with Brogan McWilliams '16 also in the mix for playing time. "On the outside, Jeremy Wiles is currently injured but Rich Renteria is back after starting part of last year," he added. "We're also looking for John Mertes '15 to step up there."
Pedersen is particularly excited about the Pioneers' defensive backfield. "This is the deepest group on the team," he said. "We have five guys with starting experience. Drew Blumberg and Kevin Hwang '14 should be as good as any safety tandem in the league. Andrew Clark had a great season last year with a lot of interceptions, Seth Gustafson is a great cover corner and Max Keller '14 can play anywhere in the backfield."
Five starters are back on offense - running back TJ Schaid '13, receiver Cody Weber '13, center Quinn Rosenthal '14, left tackle Morgan Kinsinger '14 and right tackle Isaac Chadri '15. The latter three provided solid blocking for a squad that produced 3,796 yards in 2011.
"Morgan, Quinn and Isaac all had good seasons last year and will be even better this year," said Pedersen. "The only spots we need to sort out are the guards, where the top contenders are Sam Offenberg '14, Pierce Gustafson '15 and Cedric Abdul-Hakeem '15."
Weber is the team's top returnee in rushing and receiving from last year, gaining 474 yards on the ground and 398 in receiving. Schaid, who was an All-MWC selection in 2010, missed most of last season due to injury.
"Our backfield should be much improved in terms of the running back spot with TJ finally healthy," said Pedersen. "Barrett Morrissette '16 is also looking strong as a newcomer.
"The receiving corps will be an interesting combo," the coach continued. "Cody is our do-everything guy on offense, but we also have some great returnees in Max Jacobson, Jayson Campos '14 and Harnak Mann '14. I'm also looking for Jake Meixler '15 to have a big impact on the offense, and hoping Dalton Davies '16 and Braeden Horton '16 will find a role, as well."
Taking over the job of quarterback will be Sam Poulos '16. "He's got all the intangibles," said Pedersen. "He shows good leadership and is a good calming force in the huddle."
Graham Fisher '16 is currently slated for kickoff and punting duties, while he and Daniel Munger '15 will split place kicking chores.
Pedersen, the 2010 MWC Coach of the Year, guided the Pioneers to a 5-5 mark last season while going 4-5 in the league. Among the highlights in 2011 were a four-game winning streak, the Pioneers' longest since the 1999 campaign, and a 49-point output against Lake Forest College that was the team's highest total in a game since 2001.
"The past two years we have either beaten or played right with every team in the league," said Pedersen. "That gives us a lot of confidence entering this season. We're also excited to get Carleton on the schedule (non-conference game to start the season) and have Cornell College join the league.
"In order to be successful, we have to be fast and aggressive on defense and wreak havoc on the opponent's offense," he added. "On offense, we have to be smart, protect the ball and take advantage of opportunities. If we do that, we'll be fine."
The league's coaches have tabbed Monmouth College and Illinois College as the preseason title favorites. "As for our team, we expect to be in every game we play and have a chance to win," Pedersen said.
On a side note, the Pioneers will sport a new look in 2012 with the addition of flat, black helmets, the first time in history a Grinnell team has not had a leather or scarlet helmet.
"Getting black helmets is something I'd always wanted as a player, and I knew our guys felt the same way now," said Pedersen. "We were able to keep it a surprise until our first team meeting of the year and we got a pretty good reaction from the guys (team reaction to the announcement can be seen at http://www.grinnellcollegefootball.blogspot.com/). I think it's just one more example of their excitement for the season. We can't wait!"