It's year two under head coach Jack Hatem and this offseason has had a markedly different feel to it than the summer of 2010. Last year the hiring of Hatem ushered in a handful of new coaches and entirely different system on both offense and defense. This year, things seem more familiar around the cluster of offices above Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse, and they should. Hatem and friends return 16 starters with nine coming back on the defensive side of the football. That, combined with a return to the red helmets of yesteryear, has everyone affiliated with Denison football excited for Sept. 3 and the kickoff of the 2011 season.
"We feel like right now we are light years ahead of where we were last year as both a coaching staff and as a program," commented Hatem. This team has taken it upon themselves to set goals. As a group they have taken care of business."
"Last year, practice and the way we went about things was a huge change for everyone. All of the change and expectations were a little shocking to some. This year won't be that way. Our returning guys know what to expect."
Denison posted a 4-6 record in 2010 with wins over Ohio Wesleyan, Earlham, Hiram and Kenyon. This year's schedule is identical to last year's schedule. The only thing that has changed is last year's home games are now on the road, and vice versa.
Below is a position-by-position look at the 2011 Big Red.
In his first season as the team's starting quarterback Max Paulus started all 10 games and threw for the most yards by a Denison quarterback since 2005. Paulus, who returns in 2011 as a junior, threw for 1,916 yards and 13 touchdowns while completing 58 percent of his pass attempts. Paulus' development over the course of the season was evident but he will still have to fend off sophomore Lucas Gorton, who will enter preseason practice pushing Paulus for the starting job. Gorton appeared in four games as a rookie.
Honorable mention All-North Coast Athletic Conference selection Sam Fioroni is expected to take over the starting tailback role following the graduation of John Wooden Award finalist Dan Crawford. While splitting time in the backfield with Crawford throughout 2010, Fioroni led the team in rushing with 547 yards and seven touchdowns. Fioroni's rushing total ranked him in a tie for sixth in the NCAC standings and his ability to break off a big gain can give opposing defenses fits. Along with Fioroni will be sophomore John Wilson who played in all 10 games as a first-year, mostly on special teams. Wilson has excellent speed and will provide DU with a top-notch 1-2 punch in the backfield. Also battling for time will be senior tailback Chris Roth and junior Steven Lilley who replaces departed senior Joe Lucking at fullback and will also see time at H-back and tight end.
The Big Red has plenty of veteran depth all over the field but at wide receiver, Denison returns four seniors who have logged significant playing time. Those four seniors are Lucas Graham, Andy Carpenter (pictured), Braden Layer and Greg Jones. Graham led the team with 38 receptions for 430 yards in 2010 while Carpenter followed with 34 catches for 382 yards and one touchdown. The team's leader in receiving touchdowns was Layer who didn't make the move to wide receiver until the fourth quarter of week three against Hiram. A converted quarterback, Layer saved the day with four catches for 75 yards in the final quarter and overtime versus the Terriers. His 29-yard touchdown catch with 14 seconds left in regulation forced overtime and helped the Big Red to the victory. Layer would finish the year with 30 receptions for 319 yards and four TD's.
Junior Corey Daff is the lone returning tight end to this year's squad following the graduation of Shawn Eagle and Jake Shafer. Daff, who is also a starting defenseman on the men's lacrosse team, played in six games as a sophomore. He caught 11 passes for 92 yards and continued to improve in blocking situations.
There may not be a position that holds as much influence over the potential to a successful season as this year's offensive line contingent. Two starters and three regulars from last year's team return along with a handful of others who will be battling for spots in the starting lineup. Senior Joe Romanowski (pictured) returns to one of the tackle positions after earning honorable mention all conference as a junior. Also back after starting nine games as a first-year is tackle, Matt Cochran. After battling injuries throughout 2010, senior two-year starter Ed Hebb also returns to fight for time in the trenches. Other returnees in the mix are junior Luke Lewis and Tyler Gropp as well as sophomore Tom Dacey and Danny Webb.
Another extremely experienced area of this year's team falls in the defensive line where last year's top seven all return to the mix. Defensive ends Nat Kell and Lane Hartfield started every game last year and both had breakout campaigns. Kell was named to the all-conference squad after leading the NCAC in tackles for a loss and finishing third in sacks. Hartfield would post 36 tackles to go along with his 6.0 tackles for a loss. Also returning on the edge will be junior Charlie Baker who notched 10 tackles and one sack in five games as a sophomore.
On the interior of the defensive line, junior Adam Murray returns along with seniors Jerome Ray and Anthony Zarate and sophomore Winters Heafey. Murray, Ray and Zarate played in all 10 games last year while Heafey appeared in nine. At nose guard, Murray plugged up the middle while posting 37 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Heafey came on strong late, posting 16 tackles and two sacks.
Four veterans return at linebacker, paced by junior Eric Conrad, sophomore Joel Elliott and senior Adam Frudden. Conrad finished the year third on the squad with 50 tackles as a sophomore while starting nine of 10 games. Elliott started the final five games of the season following Frudden's season-ending injury against Case Western Reserve. Elliott would post 28 tackles in his first season with the Big Red. Frudden, who opened 2010 as the starter and made 30 tackles in the opening four games, seems fully recovered from his injury. Also looking to contribute at linebacker will be senior Lucas Meyer.
Senior Pat Effinger (pictured) returns to his starting spot at cornerback and fellow senior Drew Clanin enters as the early favorite to replace graduating senior Tyler Lambert. Both Clanin and Effinger have played considerable amounts over the last two seasons. Effinger posted 39 tackles and two interceptions last year while Clanin ended with 21 tackles and a team-high four passes defended. Backing up at cornerback will be sophomores Riley Tight and Tyler Moseley.
Like the defensive line, Hatem returns a boat load of talent and experience at safety. Senior Scott Baird (pictured) is the returning free safety. In 10 starts a year ago, Baird turned in 57 tackles and two interceptions. Juniors Cale Garverick and Alex Sycher return at the field and boundary positions, respectively. Sycher led the team in tackles with 68 and finished second in the NCAC in tackles by a defensive back. Garverick was fourth in tackles while leading the squad in interceptions with three. Also fighting for time will be junior Nate Scheidler, and sophomores Jack Varanese and Kyle Green.
Senior punter and placekicker Matt Ring returns for his senior season. He spent 2010 as the full-time punter and following the graduation of Kevin Schneider he is the favorite to assume the kicking duties. He averaged 36.0 yards per punt last year while placing nine punts inside the 20-yardline. In the return game, Fioroni led the conference in kick return average at 21.2 yards per return.
Along with the returning veterans, 23 first-year players will enter preseason training camp on Aug. 13. "We're very excited about the quality of this recruiting class," stated Hatem. "We can't wait to get them on campus and work them into our existing team.
Denison opens their 2011 season on Saturday, Sept. 3 under the lights in Delaware against Ohio Wesleyan University. The following week they will travel to Richmond, Ind. for a 1 p.m. kickoff against Earlham College. On Sept. 17 the Big Red will open their home schedule with a 7 p.m. game against Hiram College. Saturday Sept. 24 will be the annual Big Red Weekend as DU hosts Case Western Reserve at 1 p.m. at Piper Stadium. Five of the final six games of the 2011 season will be NCAC contests with home games against Oberlin and Kenyon and road contests against Wooster, Allegheny and Wabash.