September 28, 2011

Versatile Janzen keys Wildcats

More news about: Louisiana College
Nate Janzen occasionally has the ball in his hands, occasionally has opposing ballcarriers.
Louisiana College athletics photos. 

Louisiana College linebacker Nate Janzen could probably play just about anywhere on the field, according to coach Dennis Dunn.

Already an accomplished linebacker, who earned first team all-conference honors and led the America Southwest Conference in tackles last season, Janzen has added fullback in the Wildcats’ “Jumbo” short yardage and goal line package.

Though he has been deployed mostly as a blocker in the formation, Janzen has scored touchdowns in his only rush attempt and pass reception of the season. And he still ranks among the top ten in the ASC in tackles, including a 44-yard interception return. He also scored a touchdown last season on 55-yard fumble return.

“Offensively, he would be a great H-back,” said Dunn. “He’s got such great hands. He could play tight end, fullback, or with his speed he could play slot. He can do a lot of things.

“But defensively, he is so important to us in what he brings to our defense that we don’t use him a whole lot. We are not depending on him to win games on offense.”

And defense, Dunn knows, is the key to the Wildcats’ ASC title hopes this season. The Wildcats, currently 3-0 after big wins over Millsaps (56-0) and Mississippi College (52-17) have finished 7-3 each of the past three seasons. Their number of conference losses have dwindle like a NASA countdown in each of Dunn’s seasons at the helm, from five his first season to just one last season.

And while the team has put up a boatload of points over the past couple of seasons, averaging more than 46 points and well over 500 yards a contest over the past 13 games, the defense was just as likely to give them back. Last season, the LC defense, allowed 38 points and nearly 450 yards a tilt.

“We are playing better defense than we played last year,” Dunn said of a unit that so far this season has matched the play of the offense, allowing just 13.7 points and 226 yards a game, minus some on special teams. “We scored a lot of points (last year) but we were very young defensively and had a lot of injuries. That hurt us.

“Our defense is playing with a lot of passion and confidence and with a chip on their shoulder as to what relates to last year.”

Janzen feels that the experience gained last year and the unit’s commitment to improve have been a big factor in the turnaround.

“Effort and the overall speed of the defense are so much better,” the linebacker said. “We all click together now very well. We were all pretty young (last year). We had a lot of freshmen and sophomores starting. But it feels like we’ve been together so long that we’ve gotten used to working together.”

And Dunn knows that Janzen is a big part of that improvement. The junior, who happens to be the coach’s first cousin once removed, displays a toughness and love of the game that is easy for teammates to respect and follow.

“He’s a 1950’s type of player,” Dunn said with obviously pride. “He’s a throwback. The guy can play. He reminds me a lot of Jacob Hester.”

Dunn should know; he coached the San Diego Charger fullback when he guided Evangel Christian Academy to a string of state championships. That was before Hester was revered by LSU faithful for his hard-nosed play and versatility that helped the Tigers to the BCS championship back in 2007.

“That was what (then-LSU) coach (Nick) Saban liked about Jacob,” Dunn said. “He could do so many things. Nate is similar in that regard. He’s a football player.”

And though Janzen’s mother is Dunn’s first cousin, he grew up far away from Pineville in Pottsboro, Texas, and even considered going to conference rival Hardin-Simmons.

“As a kid, he came to my camps when I was at Evangel,” Dunn said. “We developed a little relationship through the years. We had the opportunity to recruit him as a high school senior and we are glad we did.”

Janzen has taken to Louisiana too.

“I have quite a bit of family down here,” he said. “I call this my home now really. I don’t consider Texas as my home now.”

Janzen and his improved defensive mates will face their toughest test so far when they travel to fourth-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor on Saturday. If the Wildcats are to win the ASC this season, they know the road runs through Belton.

Last season, the Wildcats nearly knocked off the Crusaders at home. They had the ball fourth-and-2 at the UMHB 3-yard line with just under a minute to play and trailing by four points. But an interception in the end zone by Bronson Shaw sealed the victory for the Cru.

It was one of three last-second losses last season that have motivated the Wildcats over the past year. They have won nine consecutive games since the last time they played UMHB.

“I think it was something that was unspoken, but everybody knew,” Dunn said. “We didn’t harp on it too much. It was what it was, but it was the impetus for our offseason.”

Janzen feels the team has also learned something from last year’s heartbreaking losses.

“Last year, we were just a play away.” Janzen said. “We were so close. We felt like we deserved it, but just a simple mistake can cost you.”

Still, like any coach, Dunn prefers to keep his team on an even keel about facing the Crusaders. A single game isn’t going to define their season. The overall body of work is what’s important, and to build a playoff resume you have to play each game as it comes.

“I know it’s (cliche), but it’s the biggest game because it’s the next game,” Dunn said. “Mary Hardin-Baylor is obviously somebody we have a lot of respect for. We have a lot of respect for Pete and his staff and what they’ve accomplished.

“They’re not just a great team, they’re a great program. The names and faces change each year but the results don’t. And that’s what we respect about them, what they’ve been able to accomplish over time. It’s always an honor and privilege to go play a program like that and have an opportunity in a game that means something. We’ll see where we are as a program and where we want to be.”

Games of the Week

Louisiana College (3-0, 1-0 ASC) at Mary Hardin-Baylor (3-0, 2-0): Dunn knew coming into the season he’d have a tough job replacing four-year starter and Gagliardi Trophy finalist Ben McLaughlin and play-maker Jordan Rideaux. Fortunately, he has a veteran offensive line and a talented corps of running backs. Running back Ryan Montague had a breakout game against last week against Mississippi College with 200 yards on just 12 carries. The Wildcats have used the solid run game to set up play action passes for big gains. Statistically, the offense is as balanced as ever. Quarterback Jamie Bunting has played well but has eight interceptions in three games. He’ll have to take good care of the ball against a UMHB defense that loves to pressure the quarterback, but like any pressure defense can give up some big plays.

The Crusader offense has been in transition itself. They’ve moved quarterback LiDarral Bailey back into the “Pistol” set. This has led to more passing as the Cru has averaged more than 20 passes a game. But make no mistake, this is still a power-running football team and Bailey can always hurt a defense with his feet when a play breaks down. Darius Wilson is off to a fine start averaging 123 yards a game, but isn’t the biggest guy in the world. Durability could be an issue, since he missed much of last season with an injury. Depth could be a problem too with backup Stephen Salinas nursing some injuries. Someone will need to step up to share carries. If the Crusaders can run it well, it will free up their big outside receivers Damian Davis and Ervin Johnson. The pair have the ability to make big plays against man coverage.

ASC games

McMurry (2-2, 1-1 ASC) at Howard Payne (1-3, 1-1): The Yellow Jackets’ best chance to stay close in this one is to possess the ball and keep the powerful War Hawk offense off the field. And aside from last week’s loss to TLU, their defense has played pretty well, allowing just 283 yards a game. Still, the War Hawk offense appears to be rolling after putting up 60-plus points last week.

Hardin Simmons (2-2, 0-2 ASC) at East Texas Baptist (1-3, 0-2): Neither of these teams expected to start its ASC schedule winless. The problem for both is turnovers. The teams have combined for 19 turnovers through the first four weeks. Both offenses have lots of weapons, while both defenses have struggled. Expect a shootout.

Texas Lutheran (3-1, 2-0 ASC) at Sul Ross State (1-2, 0-1): This game could be closer than you think. The Lobos’ two losses have been by a combined 15 points and Alpine is a long trip for anyone in the ASC. Wide out Lee Carothers is one of the best players in the ASC that no one knows about. The Bulldogs however have scored 95 points over the last two games.

SCAC games this week

Millsaps (1-3, 0-1 SCAC) at Sewanee (2-2, 0-1): Never would have called this one at the start of the season. Sewanee has a better record than the Majors and nearly knocked off unbeaten BSC last week. The Tigers have six players with 100-plus rushing yards this season in their flex-bone offense. Oh, and they are averaging 17-plus yards per pass completion. Meanwhile, the Majors have scored an uncharacteristically low 56 points through four games this season. The key has been the run game. Millsaps was able to pound the rock last season but has averaged just 75 yards a game on the ground and just 2.7 per rush.

Birmingham-Southern (4-0, 1-0 SCAC) at Austin (0-4, 0-1): The Roos haven’t played well since their opening 31-28 loss to Texas Lutheran and it’s not looking good with an unbeaten Panther team coming to town on Saturday. BSC is averaging nearly 300 yards a game on the ground behind tailback Shawn Morris who has 527 yards and seven touchdowns.

Centre (3-0, 1-0 SCAC) at DePauw (1-2): The Colonels appear to be the favorite in this game after the SCAC defending champ (but now independent) Tigers got tipped by Rhodes last week.

LaGrange (2-2) at Rhodes (1-2, 0-1 SCAC). The Panthers have won two straight and will travel to Memphis for the second year in a row to take on the Lynx, who earned their first win last week against DePauw. Lagrange won last year 42-28.  

Independent games

Huntingdon (3-1) at Ave Maria (NAIA, 0-3). The Hawks are basking in their first win over a ranked team after defeating Hampden-Sydney 34-27 last week. The first-year NAIA Gyrenes (a bulldog?) have yet to win though they only lost 12-7 last week to Robert Morris (Ill.). Ave Maria has lost by a combined score of 84-26 to the other two Alabama schools on its schedule (Faulkner and BSC).

Feel free to send me your comments at jason.bowen@d3sports.com. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter (@D3Jason).

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Justin Goldberg

Justin Goldberg is a newspaper copy editor and freelance writer in southwest Virginia. Originally from New York, he played Division III basketball in that colder region of the country, but moved to Virginia in 2008 to earn his M.F.A. in creative writing. He has written for multiple publications, including C-VILLE Weekly and The Roanoke Times. He is happy to join D3football.com for his first season as the Around the South columnist..
2013 columnist: Andee Djuric
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2008-11 columnist: Jason Bowen

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