BVU returns a solid defensive core, but will be searching for many new faces on offense
As the final days of July wind down, all the area softball and baseball teams have wrapped up their respective seasons. Soon, the sounds of coaches shouting and shoulder pads cracking will again fill the air with the start of fall practices. No one awaits that day more anxiously than Buena Vista Beavers head coach Jay Anderson.
This August will start the third season in Anderson's tenure as head coach with BVU. Anderson spent six seasons as the Beavers' offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator before taking over the head role. The time that he's already spent with the players has made the transition into his new role much easier.
"It definitely helped with the transition period," said Anderson. "I already knew a lot of the players' personalities and abilities. There wasn't a whole lot of changes with the x's and o's or having to learn whole new schemes."
As is the case with any college football program, the Beavers will need to fill in the holes left by the graduating senior class. BVU took some heavy losses at crucial positions this year. They will need both old faces and new to emerge as playmakers and leaders if they're going to be competitive in a very tough Iowa Conference. Preseason rankings have Central ranked 14th in the nation and Wartburg close behind at 16th.
BVU was 5-5 last year, 3-5 in the Iowa Conference.
"The Iowa Conference is going to be strong again," said Anderson. "Those two teams are the first mentioned, and it's only fair. They've finished near the top consistently over the last few years. Those are going to be big games for us, but so are the others. Every game has the same importance to us."
One face that will be noticeably absent from camp on August 14th is Chris Hawkins. Hawkins threw for almost 2200 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Waiting in the wings is last year's backup, Matt Pearey. Pearey was the only other Beaver to throw a pass last season, but totaled only 11 attempts in relief of his counterpart.
"It's definitely an opportunity for someone," remarked Anderson. "We'll see who can step up. Right now it's pretty wide-open with all the new guys coming in, but Peary and (Brandon) Phelan have the leg up in terms our concepts and familiarity. "
Leaving with Hawkins, are his two favorite aerial targets, Randy Kaufman and Devin Stewart. Kaufman led BVU in catches (42), yards (544), and touchdowns (4) last season en route to 2nd team all-conference honors. Stewart was a dependable second option as he hauled in 27 balls for 401 yards and 3 TDs.
Even though the duo accounted for half of BVU's production at receiver last year, Anderson is optimistic about his receiving corps this year. Returning are seniors Trent Svendsen (24 rec., 361yds, 3 TDs) and Steve Maguire (15 rec., 261 yds, 2 TDs).
"We've got some solid players returning," stated Anderson. "And we've got some younger guys with the speed to stretch the field vertically. It's a big opportunity for these guys to show what they can do on the field."
BVU was able to avoid major departures at one key offensive position. The tandem rushing attack of Alex Moss and Cory Donscheski will try to improve on the 1200 yards and 8 touchdowns the put up collectively last year.
"Alex is one of our senior captains," said Anderson. "He's a downhill runner and he's a tough one to bring down. Cory is a bit more elusive and can make people miss. They both worked extremely hard this off season, and we expect some great things out of them."
One large key to the duo's success will be how quickly the new BVU offensive line can gel together as a unit after losing three seniors. Last season saw the same group of five start every game for the Beavers.
Over the past few seasons, BVU has been a team that has been paced by it's hard-nosed defensive efforts. In 2007, the Beavers gave up the third fewest points in the conference.
"We're the kind of team that wins games 20-17," stated Anderson. "In the past we've been fortunate offensively with some big play guys, but ultimately it's the defense that wins the games."
Fortunately for Buena Vista, the defense wasn't hit nearly as hard by graduation as the offense was, but a few question marks remain heading into fall camp. The position battles to fill in the holes along the defensive front seven will most certainly get some extra attention as the Beavers look to match last season's strong performance.
Gone are Dave Bredehoeft and Mike Amick. Bredehoeft was disruptive off the edge for BVU, while Amick was an effective run stuffer in the middle. The two lineman combined for 57 tackles and 3 fumble recoveries as part of a foursome that took a good majority of the snaps up front.
The remaining starters on the D-line from last season, Ben Chukuske and Austin Dickinson, tallied 67 tackles between them and should be a disruptive duo again if they don't face double teams all season.
Most sorely missed on the defensive side of the ball will be two-time first team all-conference selection Cody Pierce. In his three seasons at linebacker, Pierce rang up 364 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. He's now playing with the semipro Iowa Sharks.
Performance like that is hard to replace, but BVU should be able to offset the loss with a communal effort. Leading the way will be Ben Hansen (86 tackles in '07), Todd Schwartz (76 tackles), and Chris Dirkx (29 tackles, 2 sacks).
"I think that after another year of experience these three guys are going to be able read and react to what's happening a little quicker this season." said Anderson.
After what seems like a lot of big losses from last year's squad, the Beavers struck a bit of luck in the secondary and special teams departments. Two-time all-conference honoree Michael Sly is back at safety and punter after being granted another year of eligibility. Sly missed some significant time with a back injury.
Joining Sly in the secondary will be defensive playmaker and kick return specialist Rahn Franklin, a fifth-year senior who has eligibility left in football. Their combined presence should make the BVU special teams unit one of the strongest in the conference. However, the field goal unit is still a concern as BVU was just two out of five all season in field goal attempts and will need to find someone up to the task.
"We've got a couple of guys coming in with some strong legs," said Anderson. "That's definitely something we will be focusing heavily on in camp. When you get down in scoring position you've got to be able to come away with at least three points. "
Buena Vista kicks off their fall camp August 13th, but that doesn't mean Coach Anderson can't be excited about his team's chances already.
"We've got a lot of talent coming in," expressed Anderson. "Some of the recruits should add some solid depth to our team. We've just got to be more consistent this year.
"We lost the turnover battle in all but one of our losses last year. Turnovers are a good indicator of who controls the clock. If we can control more of the clock, then we can minimize the number of defensive plays, and our D was on the field too much last year," he said. "We just need to take care of the things we have control over. If we can do that, I feel like we can be very competitive this year."