The Gustavus football team enters a new decade with a great deal of optimism and energy as the Gusties look to return to the top four of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) in the 2010 season. Second year head coach Peter Haugen welcomes back 34 letterwinners (17 on defense, 16 on offense, and one on special teams) from last year’s squad that finished at 4-6 overall and 3-5 in the MIAC (fourth place). Senior linebacker Paul Stommes (Richmond, Minn.) and junior wide receiver Elliot Herdina (Blooming Prairie, Minn.) are the two returning All-Conference performers following the 2009 season. Both earned Second Team All-Conference honors. The Gusties will open the 2010 season at home on Lloyd Hollingsworth Field Saturday, September 11, at 1:00 pm against non-conference opponent Wartburg College.
The Gustavus defense brings back eight starters from last year’s unit due to the graduation of Joe Welch, Tony Palma, and Christian Vanek. The Gusties return three of four linebackers, seniors Paul Stommes, Dustin Kammerer (Watertown, Minn.), and Zach Lundquist (Pelican Rapids, Minn.). Lundquist ranked second on the team in tackles last season with 85, while Stommes and Kammerer finished behind him in third (74) and fifth (70), respectively. Senior Jade Kotila (Maple Lake, Minn.) will look to fill the final spot of the linebacking corp.
The Gustavus secondary also returns three of its four starters from a year ago. Senior Mike Mohs (Andover, Minn.) will anchor the defensive backfield at strong safety, while junior Brad Kruckeburg (Ellendale, Minn.), who played cornerback last season, will makes the transition to free safety. Both Mohs and Kruckeburg recorded two interceptions last season. Juniors Dan Opitz (Burnsville, Minn.) and Jason Cook (Lakefield, Minn.) will play at the corners. Opitz had one interception and four pass break-ups, and Cook saw a good amount of playing time last season, appearing in nine of ten games. Senior David Papas (Chaska, Minn) will also be likely to be called on to add depth at cornerback. The Gustavus secondary will look to improve after ranking ninth in the MIAC in pass defense (264.8 yds/g) at the conclusion of last season.
Juniors Todd Kremmin (Cottage Grove, Minn.) and Tom Einberger (West Saint Paul, Minn.) are two of the three returning starters on the defensive line. Kremmin (25) and Einberger (14) combined to make 39 tackles last season, and Kremmin forced two fumbles. Senior Brandon Jonker (Inver Grove Heights, Minn.) was moved from offense to defense at the conclusion of last season. He will round out the Gustavus three-man front at defensive end. Others looking to add depth to the defensive line are juniors Colby Peterson (Paynesville, Minn.) and Dane Mellgren (Cologne, Minn.), and sophomore Jesse Newell (St. Paul, Minn.).
The Gustavus offense will have a new look this upcoming season as only three starters return to an offensive unit that ranked ninth in the conference in total offense last year (301 yds/g). Junior Logan Becker (Blue Earth, Minn.) will take over the reins at quarterback for the Gusties this season. He played in nine games last season, going 9-for-16 through the air for 91 yards. Becker will look to wide receivers Elliot Herdina and senior Cody Sukalski (Blue Earth, Minn.) in the passing game. Herdina led the team with 46 catches for 555 yards (12.1 avg) and seven touchdowns, and Sukalski finished the season with 26 catches for 406 yards (15.6 avg) and two touchdowns. Adding depth at receiver will be sophomores Muresuk Mena (Inver Grove Heights, Minn.) and Kendrick Hall (Minneapolis, Minn.). Mena caught 13 passes for 118 yards, while Hall moves from running back where he led the team in rushing last season with 491 yards.
The Gustavus offensive line will go through a transition this season, as junior Chris Martinez (Champlin, Minn.) is the only returning starter on a unit that graduated four seniors. Top returners looking for playing time include juniors Robbie Porter (Lakeville, Minn.), Travis Wayne (Ellendale, Minn.), Ryan Steele (Maple Grove, Minn.), and sophomores Lyle Opdahl (Young America, Minn.) and Brian Grundmeyer (Inver Grove Heights, Minn.). Juniors Cody Williams (Welcome, Minn.) and Darin Wagner (Hayfield, Minn.), and sophomore Cory Colvard (Centerville, Minn.), will see more playing time at tight end due to the position change of Jonker. The Gusties ranked sixth in the conference in rushing offense last season, averaging 122.3 yards per game.
The Gustie backfield will also feature some fresh faces this season, as a combination of upperclassmen will look to fill the void at running back. Seniors Greg Lane (Chaska, Minn.) and Lucas Armstrong (Wheaton, Minn.) move back to the offensive side of the ball after spending two seasons on defense. Stepping in at fullback will be seniors John Juran (Lino Lakes, Minn.) and JJ Akin (Farmington, Minn.).
On special teams, the biggest concern is replacing All-Conference performer Matt Knutson at punter. Gustavus led the conference in punting last season with 57 punts for a total of 2118 yards (37.2 avg/p). Sophomore Tom Huepenbecker (Verona, Wis.) will look to return to his role as the place kicker. Huepenbecker was 5-for-14 in field goals last season with his longest field goal coming from 44 yards. Lane, Sukalski, Kruckeburg, and Herdina are the top prospects for handling the punt and kick return responsibilities this season. Sukalski had 11 punt returns for 105 yards (9.5 avg) last season, while Lane recorded 13 kick returns for 366 yards (28.2 avg.) and a touchdown.
The Gusties will open the 2010 season with three home games, two of which are against non-conference opponents Wartburg College (Sept. 11) and Northwestern College (Sept. 18). The Gusties will complete the three-week homestand with St. Olaf on September 25, for homecoming. The Gusties are fortunate to play six games on Hollingsworth Field this season. “What excites me the most about this team is the fact that guys have come into this season ready to compete. You can see that guys have bought into the system, put in the work, and they take their performance very seriously. We have a good balance of veteran leadership and young talent on this team, and I am extremely happy with the character of this team early on, “ says Coach Haugen.