After back-to-back 4-6 seasons, the Gustavus football team looks for a turnaround year in 2011. With a total of 33 letterwinners returning, 17 on offense and 16 on defense, Head Coach Peter Haugen has confidence in his squad’s mix of upperclassmen leadership and young talent. The Gusties finished sixth in the MIAC last season with a record of 3-5.
“Camp went very well. Everyone is excited for our first game given the fact that we haven’t seen anyone but ourselves so far this fall,” sai dPeter Haugen about his team’s preparation in training camp. “Staying in the moment and being able to not get consumed by what we can’t control will be key to our success this season. Performance is where we really need to keep our focus. Whether we are performing as individuals and as a team.” Staying tough mentally throughout the season will also be key for the Gusties, as Coach Haugen feels the league has only gotten stronger since last season.
Senior defensive back Brad Kruckeberg (Ellendale, Minn.) and junior offensive lineman Lyle Opdahl (Young America, Minn.) are Gustavus’ returning All-Conference performers from a year ago, as both players took home All-MIAC Second Team honors. Opdahl will miss the early months of the season after suffering a lower body injury earlier this spring.
The Gustavus defense brings back six starters from last year’s team. The biggest question mark for the defense will be the linebacker position due to the vacancy left by the graduation of staples Dustin Kammerer, Paul Stommes, Jade Kotila, and Zach Lundquist. The Gustie defense enters a transition year at the second level, as Junior Alec Saunders (Willmar, Minn.) will take over as the signal caller in his first full-time season at middle linebacker. Joining Saunders at outside backer will be junior Zach Stackhouse (Houston, Minn.) and sophomore Joe Haas (Mission, Kan.). Both Stackhouse and Haas saw limited playing time last season, as they will be backed up by senior Nick Alverson (Cottage Grove , Minn.) and freshman Anthony Boyce (Excelsior, Minn.).
“We lost four really strong players last year but the reality is that there is now an opportunity for new guys to step into that role,” said Haugen on the transition at linebacker. “Its going to be a process, so we are trying to focus on teaching, fundamentals, and simplifying the game.”
Where the linebacking corp lacks experience, the defense line consists of a group of battle-tested veterans. The depth at defensive tackle consists of top returning seniors Tom Einberger (West St. Paul, Minn.) and Colby Peterson (Paynesville, Minn.), junior Cory Colvard (Centerville, Minn.), and sophomore Donte Green (Minneapolis, Minn.). At defensive end are seniors Todd Kremmin (Cottage Grove, Minn.), Dane Mellgren (Cologne, Minn.), and Matt Miller (Cleveland, Minn.). The defense allowed 149.2 yards per game on the ground last year, ranking sixth in the MIAC.
The secondary, which ranked third in the MIAC in pass defense last season after allowing 170.6 yards per game, also features a solid group of returners. Brad Kruckeberg, who finished first in the MIAC in both interceptions (6) and passes defended (12) last season, will reprise his role at free safety for his senior year. Kruckeberg will be complimented at strong safety by sophomore Beau Bachmann (St. Peter, Minn.) and senior Mitch Kleinschrodt (Alden, Minn.). At the corners are returning senior starters Dan Opitz (Burnsville, Minn.) and Jason Cook (Lakefield, Minn.). Optiz had 30 tackles and one interception last season, while Cook had 29 tackles and three picks.
“We have depth at defensive line and that is going to be a group that will need to anchor our front. In the secondary, we have a lot of guys who have seen a lot of downs and played a lot of snaps,” commented Haugen. Haugen also expects his defensive line and backfield to bring a sense of stability and mental toughness to the defense. “We expect those guys to be our foundation when we go through tough times and they have done a great job of that so far.”
Gustavus ranked fourth in the league in total defense last season, allowing 319.8 yards per game, while giving up an average of 20.0 points per game.
A total of nine familiar faces return to the starting offensive lineup, including a complete package of skill players. Gustavus ranked eighth in the league in total offense (311.7 ypg), running for an average of 153.8 yards per game and throwing for an average of 157.9 yards per game.
Senior Logan Becker (Easton, Minn.) returns as the full-time signal caller for the second straight season. Becker proved to be both a threat through the air and on the ground last season. He was 159-for-268 for 1529 yards with 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Becker was also the team’s second leading rusher with 417 yards on 144 carries for an average of 41.7 yards per game.
Taking care of the ball is one of the areas that coach Haugen wanted to see improvement this season, something he says that doesn’t have to fall solely on the shoulders of his quarterback. “Logan has demonstrated to this point that his decision making has greatly improved from last year,” commented Haugen. “He has worked really hard and embraced his role as a leader. When you are a first year quarterback, you are so consumed with trying to function that its hard to do both at the highest level. He has come into his own and really has control of the huddle right now.”
The trio of senior Elliott Herdina (Blooming Prairie, Minn.), and juniors Andre Creighton (St. Paul, Minn.) and Muresuk Mena (Inver Grove Heights, Minn.) at wide receiver boasts speed and quickness, allowing for a variety of options in the passing game. Mena led the Gusties in catches last season with 59, compiling 354 yards, averaging 35.4 yards per game and scoring three touchdowns. Creighton made 17 catches for 233 yards (23.3 ypg) with two touchdowns. Herdina will look to get back on track after missing seven games due to injury last season. He led the team in receiving as a sophomore with 46 catches for 555 yards and seven touchdowns.
“We have a competent group of receivers returning and they are challenged every day to become more complete players, both blocking and receiving,” said Haugen who expects his wide-outs to play an active role in both the perimeter running and passing games.
Sophomore Jeffrey Dubose (St. Paul, Minn.) returns as the number one running back after having a breakout year in his rookie season. Dubose ran 147 times for 721 yards last season, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 72.1 yards per game. Sophomore transfer from MSU-Mankato Philip Butler (St. Paul, Minn.) will also see action as the second running back after turning heads with a solid training camp.
“Jeffrey has some really strong leadership ability and guys have been really drawn to the way he plays,” remarked Haugen. “And Phillip too made a name for himself in camp, which opens more doors and provides another threat for us. Even thought they both sophomores, Jeffrey and Phillip are expected to play old.”
The offensive line features the return of four of its five starters from a year ago. Senior Robbie Porter (Lakeville, Minn.) returns at center with senior Ryan Steele (Maple Grove, Minn.) and junior Brian Grundmeyer (Inver Grove Heights, Minn.) making up the guard combo. Sophomore Lance Erickson (Pelican Rapids, Minn.), who worked into a starting role late last season, will return at right tackle, while left tackle will be filled by the combination of sophomores Pat Tracy (St. Louis Park, Minn.) and Alex Brodjeski (Savage, Minn.).
Although the offensive line appears undersized on paper, Coach Haugen has confidence in the strides in which they have made as a group in the offseason. “We are really athletic and have done a nice job coming together in preseason. It’s a cohesive group that has bought into both the fundamentals and techniques of our system,” Haugen said.
Seniors Darin Wagner (Hayfield, Minn.) and Cody Williams (Welcome, Minn.) round out the offense at tight end. Wagner brought in 12 catches for 132 yards and one touchdown last season, while Williams had two catches for 10 yards.
Junior Tom Heupenbecker (Middleton, Wis.) will anchor the kicking game as both the place kicker and punter. Huepenbecker was 3-for-7 on field goal attempts and 20-for-25 on extra point tries last season. The Gusties ranked seventh in the MIAC in punting last year with a net average of 28.9 yards per punt. The team ranked second in the league in punt return average at 11.9 yards per return, as Brad Kruckeberg had 10 returns for 98 yards (9.8 avg/ret.).
“We are looking to be more consistent in the kicking game, both from a kicking and protection stand-point,” commented Haugen on special teams. “Good thing for us is that we have ‘Hueps’ back because he has the capacity to be a top kicker in this league.”
The Gustavus football team will open the 2011 season on the road against #14 Wartburg College on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 7:00 p.m. in Waverly, Iowa. Wartburg defeated the Gusties 27-6 on Hollingsworth Field in last season’s opener, going on to a 10-1 overall record and making the NCAA Playoffs after winning the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (IIAC) with an 8-0 mark.
“They [Wartburg] are well schooled. They don’t make mistakes and we will have to play a solid game, there is no question about it,” said Haugen about the upcoming game with Wartburg. “Being able to run our base offense and defense will be key on Saturday night. I want to see a level of execution in keeping with the level of preparation we have put forth.”