Shannon Griffith wants to see what last year's season-ending six-game win streak and runner-up Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference finish is doing to his program.
"There isn't room for any excuses," he said. "We'll see how ready these guys are when they check in this week. Myself and the staff will be able to see first-hand if any work was done over the summer.
"I think some of the guys have put some time in," he added. "The way we finished last year opened some new goals for us. I'm hoping this group wants to take what happened and build on it, but it's up to each individual player on whether they've put the work in or not."
On paper, the returners the Black and Gold has back, coupled with what Griffith and his staff see as a strong first-year class, could equal more success this fall.
Beginning with the offense, MU's head coach points to a deep front line to lead the way. The senior quartet of Adam Cantwell (Elkhart, Ind.), Cody Larimore (Walton, Ind.), Tommy Webster (Fort Wayne, Ind.) and Eric Courter (Carmel, Ind.) is joined by sophomore D'Ante Dorsey (Indianapolis, Ind.) and a list of others to plow the road for what looks like another solid Spartan running and passing attack. "It definitely starts up front," Griffith said. "It'll be nice having so much experience along the line which includes the fact that Courter and Cantwell earned all-conference honors last year."
The line will be out in front of a skills' unit led by senior quarterback Nick Williams (Fort Wayne, Ind.), junior running back Austin Adams (Dowagiac, Mich.) and senior tight end Ryne Lehrman (Hoagland, Ind.). Williams helped the late-season charge last fall with second-team all-HCAC honors due to throwing for over 1200 and rushing for better than 800 yards, while Adams was second on the rushing list with just under 500 yards on the ground, and Lehrman hauled in three receiving scores and provided a key blocking component for the rushing attack.
"Nick helped settle down an unclear picture at quarterback last season," Griffith said. "We needed that to happen, and I'm hoping to see him contribute to the offensive leadership. Austin came around midway through the year, too, to gain a large share of the running back opportunities. Ryne did a strong job off the bench behind Dante Dinkins and will be looked at to handle the same dual role this year.
"Despite all of the returners, there are still questions around the offense going into camp," he added. "I want to see how Lehrman handles both roles at tight end, as Dinkins was so key for us. We also need to figure out the wide receiver area, as replacing a Kurt Monix may take some time. I do like what junior Collin Huffine (Centerville, Ind.) and sophomore Lance Shifferly (Decatur, Ind.) did last season, so we have some options. There may also be some new faces we can look at. Overall, there will be some competition for spots which make everyone that much better."
Griffith's thoughts on the defense were somewhat similar.
"Our strength will be the front seven," he said. "We are nearly two deep at each spot." The junior duo of Stephen Coble (Edwardsburg, Mich.) and Jon Scribner (Fort Wayne, Ind.) anchor the group, as Coble recorded a team-high eight sacks and 16 tackles for losses, while Scribner finished with five sacks and nine tackles for losses. Seniors Dan Hunter (Monroeville, Ind.), Dave Wilson (LaPorte, Ind.), and Don Campbell (Fort Wayne, Ind.) and junior Travis Yoakum (Delphi, Ind.) each earned valuable playing time last year, too.
Behind that unit is a strong linebacking corps led by the senior combination of Dylin Kennedy (North Manchester, Ind.) and Zach Dashner (South Bend, Ind.). Dashner, en route to all-conference honors last fall, compiled a team-high 98 tackles. Kennedy ended with 57. Griffith added that junior Evan West (Hartford City, Ind.) was a pleasant surprise last season with 65 tackles.
"We found something good in Evan, as he really took off for us," he said. "I'm expecting big things from this group, as they will lead a youthful bunch behind them. With Zach and Dylin as overall defensive leaders coming in, they should be in good shape."
MU's defensive question mark comes from the defensive backfield. The Spartans do have experience with the likes of sophomore Taylor Anglemeyer (Waakrusa, Ind.) and senior Nick Miller (Huntington, Ind.), who gained playing time a year ago, but many new faces will be among the potential scheme.
"I just look back at last year," Griffith noted. "We didn't know what we had coming into camp, but Jake Butler and Matt Frieden both stepped up for huge seasons. I think there's a chance that could happen again, but we will have competition to see who the new leaders will be."
The final, but possible, biggest question needing answered in camp is in regards to special teams. With two-time HCAC Player of the Year Kyle Evans having graduated last spring, the jobs are open in both place-kicking and punting. "We've got some potential individuals we'll look at, but this is the first time in quite a while we don't have a back-up ready to step right in," Griffith said. "It's such a key spot, too. Kyle was able to turn field position or get us points if the offense sputtered near the red zone and so forth. We need to find some answers."