DEFIANCE, OHIO - The Defiance College football team continues to see improvement following a record-setting season last year and looks to continue that momentum heading into the 2015 campaign. The Yellow Jackets were picked to finish sixth in this year's Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Preseason Coaches Poll, but will seek to move up in the final standings at the end of the year.
Last season, Defiance posted a second consecutive 3-7 overall mark and 3-5 in the HCAC to finish in a tie for fifth. The Yellow Jackets broke multiple school records, setting the mark offensively with 616 yards in one game and breaking the school "Pick 6" record, returning three in one contest. The Yellow Jackets also notched the largest comeback win in over fifteen years, overcoming a 19-point deficit on the road. Among the 17 players earning all-conference accolades, six starters were named to the Academic All-HCAC team, the most since 2007.
DC will return three players at the quarterback position from a year ago in senior Andrew Prielipp (Britton, Mich./Britton Deerfield) and sophomores John McKinney (Fort Wayne, Ind./Northrop) and Logan Scott (Curtice/Genoa). Of the four players, Prielipp is the only one to record any offensive statistics from behind center by completing four-of-nine passes (44.4 percent) for 39 yards in two games as a backup. Scott saw playing time in a pair of varsity games as a freshman and moved into the starting role during spring practice last season and will maintain the role heading into 2015. McKinney spent the entire season as a member of the junior varsity team as a freshman.
In addition, DC will welcome freshman Andre Adderly (West Palm Beach, Fla./Village Academy) who will provide depth at the position.
In 2014, the Yellow Jackets had a strong showing running the ball finishing third overall in the HCAC with 1,594 yards. DC recorded nine games of 100 or more yards on the ground, including a season-high 373 yards against Earlham (Ind.) College on Oct. 25.
This season, the DC backfield will feature a trio of returning juniors in Anthony Righi (Liberty Center), Cody Wilson (McComb) and Andy Foore (Swanton). Righi recorded the most rushing yards amongst the returners last season with 117 yards on 29 carries and averaged 4.0 yards per rush. Wilson played a versatile role last year as a running back, receiver, and on special teams as a kick and punt returner to finish the year second on the team in all-purpose yards with 767 (18 rushing, 477 receiving, 89 punt returns and 183 kick returns). Foore provided depth at the position in 2014 recording one carry for 15 yards, but found the endzone on his only attempt. He also caught three passes for 59 yards to average 19.7 yards per catch.
Also making his return is sophomore Tyler Gillig (Tiffin/Tiffin Columbian) at the fullback position. Gillig had four rushing attempts for 14 yards as a freshman in a backup role.
DC lists a pair of players at the slotback position in juniors Marcus Pompey (Marcellus, Mich./Marcellus) and Seth Bauer (Findlay/Arcadia). Both players saw all of their playing time as members of the junior varsity team a year ago.
At the tight end position, there will be two players listed on the roster in junior Tom Woehnker (Kendallville, Ind./East Noble) and sophomore Mason Smith (Columbus Grove). Woehnker's role offensively was primarily as a blocker, but he did also see time on special teams sharing the punting duties. For the season, he averaged 37.2 yards per punt in 31 attempts with a season-long 62 yards. He had eight punts that landed inside the 20-yard line of four punts of 50 or more yards. Smith played in two varsity games last season, but did not record any statistics.
There will be several new faces at the wide receiver position, but will return two players from last season's roster in senior Jake Andres (Cincinnati/Glen Este) and sophomore Chase McLendon (Imlay City, Mich./Imlay City). Andres and McLendon played in a combined three varsity games last year, but did not record any statistics. Baur spent the entire 2014 season as a member of the JV squad. In addition, sophomore Morgan Dougherty (Cambridge/Buckeye Trail) moves from a quarterback role last season to wide out in 2015. As a rookie, Dougherty played on special teams and was credited with one kick return for five yards.
Joining the returners will be a host of freshmen in Brandon Knapp (Michigan Center, Mich./Michigan Center), Devin Logan (Sarasota, Fla./Sarasota), Nate Roberts (St. Petersburg, Fla./Boca Ciega) and Devin Bolden (Lake Worth, Fla./Wellington). Also expect to see Joe Webb (West Alexandria/Twin Valley South), Cody Hicks (Bunker Hill, Ind./Maconaquah) and Kole Douglas (Rapid City, Mich./Elk Rapids) to provide depth and targets for the DC passing game.
The offensive line will be one of the positions with the most experience for DC this fall as 12 players return from last year, including nine players who saw time at the varsity level and several players who saw starting experience.
Leading the Jackets this season will be senior Joe Niehaus (Grass Lake, Mich./Grass Lake), juniors Joey Rebottaro (Tecumseh, Mich./Tecumseh) and Kenny Miller (Royal Oak, Mich./Shrine Catholic). The trio helped anchor a line that allowed the DC offense to rack up 3,438 yards of total offense (1,594 rushing and 1,844 passing) and account for a combined 28 touchdowns (14 rushing and 14 receiving).
Also providing veteran experience will be senior Zane Hayes (Wellington/Firelands) and sophomore Caleb Brown (Angola, Ind./Angola). Together, the duo combined to start in seven games last fall. Also back is junior Clayton Fox (Berlin Heights/Edison) along with several sophomores in Reed Guerin (West Palm Beach, Fla./Park Vista), Lucas Singleton (Loveland, Colo./Loveland) and Paul Collins (Altamonte Springs, Fla./ Lyman).
In addition, sophomores Julio Hierro (Wellington, Fla./Wellington), Brian Jackson (Melbourne, Fla./Eau Gallie) and Donte Owens (Clinton Twp., Mich./Clintondale) could also provide depth on the "O-Line" after a year of experience as a member of the JV team.
As a unit, the DC defense was one of the top defensive squads in the HCAC last season as the Yellow Jackets ranked second in yards allowed per game at 369.0. DC boasted the top rushing defense allowing its opponents to average 108.8 yards per game and also ranked 29th nationally. In addition, the Jackets ranked in a tie for first in the conference in defensive touchdowns with five.
The defensive efforts begin up front with the defensive line and DC will return two starters from a year ago in seniors Kyle Wilson (Wauseon) and Cody Lee (Tampa, Fla./Jefferson). Wilson totaled 44 tackles last season (32 solo and 12 assisted) and led the team in both tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (5.5). After the season, he was tabbed second-team All-HCAC. In addition, Wilson tallied two pass breakups and recovered a fumble. Lee ended last season with a total of 24 tackles (12 solo and 12 assists) to go along with three tackles for loss and assisted on a quarterback sack. He also had a team-tying high two forced fumbles.
Also back are sophomores Greg Ward, Jr. (Ypsilanti, Mich./Ypsilanti) and Dan Delorieux (Tampa, Fla./East Bay). The duo combined to play in 17 games in their first seasons with the program. Ward ended his rookie campaign with 32 stops (19 solo and 13 assists), including 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He also had a forced fumble. Delorieux tallied 23 tackles (14 solo and nine assists) and finished just behind Ward in tackles for loss with five to go along with 1.5 sacks. In addition, Delorieux also had a forced fumble.
Sophomores Wilkenson Laguerre (Orlando, Fla./Colonial), Bryan Mestre (Hialeah, Fla./Mater Academy) and Daiton Lemmon (Hudson, Mich./Morenci) could also compete for playing time this season after spending all of last year on the JV squad.
Listed at the linebacking spot are juniors Keandre Gilmer (Toledo/Rogers), Matt Devore (Van Buren) and sophomore Alex Frick (Kendallville, Ind./East Knoble). All three players played significant roles last season with Gilmer and DeVore playing in all 10 games and Frick saw action in five games. Of the three, Gilmer led the trio with 45 tackles (28 solo and 17 assists) and was second on the team in tackles for loss with 7.5. He tallied a team-tying highs of two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. DeVore had 39 tackles (23 solo and 16 assists) with 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks which were second highest on the team. He also had a pass breakup, a forced fumble and recorded the team's only safety. Frick added an assisted tackle for the season and also assisted on a quarterback sack.
The DC secondary returns a host of experienced players at the cornerback and safety positions. Leading the secondary will be senior Andrew Feldhaus (Lutz, Fla./Steinbrenner) who earned first-team All-HCAC accolades last season. Feldhaus led the team in tackles with 76 (52 solo and 24 assists) and was tied for second in interceptions with three. He also had 4.5 tackles for loss, five pass breakups, a forced fumble and blocked one kick.
In addition to Feldhaus, look for juniors Kenny Jones (Toledo/Bowsher), Cody Wiggins (Howell, Mich./Howell), and sophomores Jerome Davis (Jupiter, Fla./Jupiter), Markell Moncrief (Detroit, Mich./Southfield Lathrup), Jacob Bickel (Fort Wayne, Ind./Concordia Lutheran) and Alex Dolce (Delray Beach, Fla./Pop John Paull II) to play important roles defensively.
Jones played in all 10 games in 2014 and was tied for sixth in tackles with 44 (37 solo and seven assists). He was tied for second in interceptions and had one interception return for touchdown. He was also second on the team in pass breakups with seven to go along with two tackles for loss, a sack and a team-tying high two fumble recoveries. Wiggins ended last season as a HCAC All-Sportsmanship Team selection after posting 23 total tackles (19 solo and four assists) with two interceptions, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. One of his two INT's he returned for a touchdown. Davis, Moncrief, Bickel and Dolce all had solid seasons as "rookies." Davis played in seven games and totaled nine tackles (six solo and three assists), including two tackles for loss and a pass breakup. Moncrief had five tackles (two solo and three assists) for the year, Bickel added 10 stops (eight solo and two assists) and had a half tackle for loss and Dolce chipped in with a pair of tackles (one solo and one assist).
Adding depth in the secondary positions will be junior Cody Brown (Hamilton/New Miami) and sophomore Kolton Davis (Toledo/Bowsher). Brown played in two varsity games a year ago and recorded two solo tackles. Davis appeared in one varsity contest and tallied a solo tackle.
Junior Justin Homerick (Bellville/Clear Fork) returns as the lone placekicker from last fall. Homerick was used primarily on kickoffs and averaged 46.2 yards per attempt in 16 attempts. He did not attempt an extra point or field goal. Joining him will be a pair of freshmen in Tyler L'Heureux (Apopka, Fla./Apopka) and Bobby Black (Morenci, Mich./Morenci) who could battle for a starting role.
Defiance will open the season at Adrian (Mich.) College on Saturday, Sept. 5 in Adrian, Mich. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. The Yellow Jackets will play their next two games on the road, before hosting Hanover (Ind.) College in a Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference game and the home opener at Justin F. Coressel Stadium. That game is slated to begin at 1:30 p.m.