GREENWOOD, Ind. – The Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference announced its 2011 preseason poll on Tuesday, with Defiance College netting the second-highest amount of votes from the nine coaches. The Yellow Jackets also placed six student-athletes on the HCAC Preseason Watch List.
Defiance rallied to an overall clip of 6-4 in 2010 and took second place in the HCAC with a 6-2 mark in league contests. After a setback at Franklin dropped DC to 1-3 on the season, the Purple and Gold surged to notch wins in five-straight HCAC tilts to stay alive in the hunt for the league crown until the final week of the regular season.
Along with the strong finish and second-place showing in the league standings, the 2010 campaign was further highlighted by Rob Taylor becoming the all-time wins leader in the history of the DC football program.
Taylor will enter his ninth season at the helm of the Yellow Jackets in 2011, looking to guide a roster of nearly 70 returners and over 90 incoming freshmen to the 13th conference championship in program history and the first since Defiance claimed its only HCAC Championship in 2001.
A strong senior class will be expected to lead the charge, with Ryan Black, Andy Cessna, Drew Kuesel and Rick Powell anchoring a powerful offensive attack during their final collegiate campaigns. Yet another explosive defensive unit for the Purple and Gold is expected to be fueled by senior Joemese Scott, along with junior Anthony Sierra.
Those six have been heralded as HCAC Preseason Players to Watch but the group will have plenty of support on both sides of the ball. Defiance is set to return all but one starter from an offense that averaged 25.3 points per game in league action and eight-of-11 regulars from the second-ranked defense in the conference in 2010. In all, the Jackets will return nine All-HCAC performers from one year ago.
Black was tabbed as a HCAC Preseason Player to Watch after transitioning to the offensive line for Defiance and earning First-Team All-HCAC status as a junior. The senior center will take over as the leader of the front line for DC in 2011, after helping DC pace the conference with 218.8 rushing yards per game last season.
Cessna joined Black on the HCAC Watch List after also garnering First-Team All-HCAC honors as a junior from the tight end and wide receiver positions. Cessna set career highs with 14 receptions, 126 total yards and two receiving touchdowns and was an important blocker in Defiance's ground game.
No piece will be more vital to the success of DC's rushing attack then senior Drew Kuesel, who followed up his first All-HCAC postseason accolade in 2010 with a spot on the HCAC Watch List. Kuesel averaged 87.8 rushing yards per game and set new career highs with 702 yards and six scores on the ground last season. Those numbers ranked Kuesel third in the HCAC and 76th in the nation in rushing yards per outing.
Powell will be under center for Defiance for the fourth-straight season, and enters his final collegiate campaign as a preseason candidate for HCAC Offensive Most Valuable Player recognition. The dual-threat quarterback is a two-time All-HCAC performer and two-time HCAC Player to Watch, after ranking fifth among all NCAA Division III signal callers with 99.8 rushing yards per game. Powell ended last season with 1,257 yards and eight touchdowns through the air, along with 998 yards and 10 scores on the ground to rank second in the HCAC in rushing yards and total yards of offense per contest.
The defense will lean on Scott in the trenches, as the preseason honor comes on the heels of his First-Team All-HCAC selection as a junior. Scott led the conference and ranked 34th in the nation with 8.5 sacks, while also registering career highs with 47 tackles and 12.0 stops for lost yardage.
Sierra rounds out the Players to Watch for Defiance and is the lone junior among the team's six preseason standouts. The junior netted his second First-Team All-HCAC honor in as many seasons while excelling at the strong safety and cornerback positions. During the 2010 season, Sierra logged 38 tackles, 4.5 hits for negative yardage, eight passes defended and two interceptions as one of the top defensive backs in the league. Sierra also excelled on special teams for the Yellow Jackets, topping the HCAC and ending 36th in the nation with 11.0 yards per punt return.
Defiance garnered 63 points in the HCAC Preseason Poll, ranking second to the defending conference champions of Franklin College. The Grizzlies secured all but one first-place vote to end with 78 points. Hanover took third place with 61, while Mount St. Joseph had one first-place vote and 59 points for fourth place. The tightly bunched top four were followed in the poll by Rose-Hulman (38), Anderson (34), Bluffton (34), Manchester (28) and Earlham (10).
The Jackets will take the lid off the highly-anticipated 2011 season on September 3, when they play host to Muskingum at 1:30 pm.