The 2008 Gustavus Adolphus College football team looks to move back into its traditional spot among the top four in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference standings after finishing in a tie for fifth a year ago with a league mark of 3-5. Head Coach Jay Schoenebeck will rely on a veteran defense early in the season, while the offense looks to fill big holes at the quarterback and running back positions. Schoenebeck will build the squad around 34 returning letterwinners, 19 of which were starters (eight on defense, six on offense, and five on special teams), and a large and talented recruiting class. The defense will be anchored by captains Ted Aleckson (senior, lineman) and Joe Welch (junior, safety), while the offense will be led by senior captains Jared Thelemann (guard) and Chad Arlt (wide receiver). The Gusties open the season on the road with a non-conference contest at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Saturday, September 13.
The Gustavus defensive unit will benefit from the experience of eight returning starters including the return of all four secondary starters. Strong safety Joe Welch (Jr., Hastings, Minn.), who finished second on the team and fifth in the conference with 76 tackles in 2007, leads one of the most veteran secondaries in the MIAC. Senior cornerbacks Ethan Armstrong (Wheaton, Minn.) and Isaac Perry (Wabasha, Minn.) and junior free safety Hamada Omar (Minneapolis, Minn./Washburn) will join Welch as returning starters in the secondary along with veteran T.J. Ridley (Jr., Edina, Minn) who played regularly last season. Armstrong and Omar both finished with 60 tackles a year ago.
On the line, defensive coordinator Brian Bergstrom welcomes back three starters in senior Ted Aleckson (Weston, Wis./DC Everest) and juniors Christian Vanek (Prior Lake, Minn.) and Brian Berglund (Lauderdale, Minn./Roseville). Vanek finished second on the team in tackles for loss with 7.5 and sacks with 3.5, while Berglund added 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Additional help on the defensive line will come from Mike May (Jr., Le Sueur, Minn.), Greg White (So., Oakdale, Minn.), and Scott Wilkie (So., Andover, Minn.)
The biggest question on defense is who will replace all-conference middle linebacker Jared Sieling. Senior Pete Keegan (Apple Valley, Minn.) and junior Tony Palma (Lino Lakes, Minn./Centennial) both started at outside linebacker last season. Palma was the fifth leading tackler for the Gusties during the 2007 campaign with 59 stops, while Keegan tallied 31 tackles. Other players expected to contribute at the linebacker position are Zach Lundquist (So., Pelican Rapids, Minn.), Paul Stommes (So., Richmond, Minn.), and converted defensive back Dustin Kammerer (So., Watertown, Minn.).
On offense, Gustavus returns six starters including wide receivers Chad Arlt (Sr., St. Michael, Minn./St. Michael-Albertville) and Cody Sukalski (So., Blue Earth, Minn.), H-Back Cameron Maurer (Jr., Morgan, Minn.), and offensive linemen Kevin Geurink (Jr., Rothschild, Wis.), Michael Klayum (Sr., Lakeville, Minn.), and Jared Thelemann (Sr., Kilkenny, Minn.).
Pre-season All-America wide receiver Chad Arlt had a breakout 2007 season en route to setting new Gustavus single-season records in catches (100) and yards (1,294). His size and speed has helped establish him as one of the most prolific wide receivers in Gustie history as he needs 27 yards to surpass Ryan Hoag as the all-time leader in receiving yards. Sukalski joins Arlt on the outside after a solid campaign last season where he recorded 25 catches for 345 yards and four touchdowns. The Gusties will have a deep receiving corps with experienced receivers such as senior John Retka (Shoreview, Minn./Totino Grace) and junior Blake Noennig (Norwood-Young America, Minn./Mayer Lutheran).
Adam Lukes (Sr., Watertown, Minn.) and Ray Wilson (Sr., Brooklyn Park, Minn.) return in the backfield for offensive coordinator Tom Brown. Lukes had 57 carries for 235 yards and one touchdown, while Wilson had 29 carries for 117 yards and one touchdown. Both seniors will vie for the starting running back position with Mike Wubbena (So., Fairmont, Minn.), a transfer from Augustana (SD), who is expected to make an immediate impact in the lineup.
The Gusties will have a new look at quarterback for the first time in four years due to the graduation of all-conference quarterback Jordan Stolp. The top candidate for the starting job is junior Jordan Becker (Blue Earth, Minn.), who served as a backup to Stolp for two seasons learning the offensive scheme. Becker will have an experienced offensive line protecting him as all-conference guard Jared Thelemann, three-year starter Michael Klayum, and junior Kevin Geurink, who stepped into a starting role last season. The line looks to provide Becker with ample time to throw and open holes for the running backs.
Special teams return all-conference kicker John Ostertag (Sr., Walker, Minn.), all-conference punt returner Ethan Armstrong, as well as punter Matt Knutson (Jr., St. Peter, Minn.) and kick returners Cody Sukalski and Joe Welch. Ostertag led the conference with ten field goals on eleven attempts, while converting 26 of 31 point after attempts. Armstrong, one of the top punt returners in the MIAC, set a Gustavus single-season record with 295 punt return yards on 29 punt returns last season. In addition, Armstrong is approaching the all-time punt return record of 653 yards held by Zach Zimmer.
Gustavus will play a challenging schedule that includes non-conference road contests against Coe College and Pacific Lutheran University. The Gusties have four home games this season against Hamline, St. Thomas, Augsburg, and Concordia. Coach Schoenebeck feels the schedule provides the types of challenges that make a team better and will help bring out the best in the team to get back into the top four of the MIAC standings. “We see ourselves as a top tier team. In order to get there, we need to get back to playing disciplined, physical football. It will be a point of emphasis in training camp,” said Schoenebeck.