The Gustavus football team will open the season with a non-conference road test against Simpson College on Sept. 8 at 1:00 p.m. in Indianola, Iowa. Simpson enters Saturday’s game with a 1-0 record after defeating UW-River Falls 31-22 last Saturday in River Falls, Wis.
The live call of the Gustavus vs. Simpson game can be heard on AM 860 KNUJ and through the Gustavus Athletics website via the link below. Play-by-play broadcaster Tom Wheeler and Ethan Armstrong will be on hand at Bill Buxton Stadium to bring fans the live call of Gustavus’ season-opener.
Live video and stats will also be provided by the Simpson Sports Information Department through the link below.
The Gustavus Adolphus football team enters its 2012 campaign with a chip on its shoulder and a commitment to improve on last season’s 2-8 record and seventh place conference finish.
“Consistency has been strong and there hasn’t been a lot of highs and lows. That starts with our seniors and upperclassmen. They have set the tone for how to practice and how to go about life as a college football player,” said head coach Peter Haugen. “Practices have been shorter this year, but the tempo has been great. Tempo is big for this offense and that is encouraging to see.”
Haugen, now in his fourth year at the helm of the Gustie football program, returns an experienced offense and an athletic, yet young, defense to the field. The Gusties lost 21 letterwinners from last year’s team, while 27 (13-offense, 14-defense) come back to the program in 2012.
Offensively, Gustavus ranked seventh in the league in scoring offense last season, scoring an average of 20.1 points per game. The Gusties also ranked seventh in total offense (305.7 ypg), averaging 169.5 yards per game through the air and 136.3 yards on the ground.
The looming question heading into the offseason was how to replace two-year starting quarterback Logan Becker, who accounted for over half of Gustavus’ offense last season. Senior Muresuk Mena (Inver Grove Heights, Minn.) was the answer. Mena, a staple of the Gustie passing game as a slot receiver the past two seasons, adds a new dynamic to Gustavus’ spread offense. Mena will be backed up by senior Tim Stepka (New Prague, Minn.), who returns to the team after a season’s absence.
Coach Haugen is encouraged by Mena’s progress in the passing game and is confident in the ability of both his senior quarterbacks. “Yeah, there are some unknowns when you move a player who has played three years at a position, but what we know about Muresuk is that he is a proven leader and he is athletic. He’s a hard worker who holds himself accountable and the transition is right on track.”
Fortunately for the inexperienced quarterback, the offensive line returns as Gustavus’ most veteran position group. With seniors Brian Grundmeyer (Inver Grove Heights, Minn.) at tackle and Lyle Opdahl (Norwood Young America, Minn.) at guard, Mena’s blind side will be well protected with size and experience. Juniors Lance Erickson (Pelican Rapids, Minn.) and Wyatt Adams (Chaska, Minn.) are slated to see time at guard and tackle, respectively, on the right side, while fellow junior Alex Brodjeski (Savage, Minn.) will also be in the mix. Rounding out the offensive front at center is junior David Gschneidner (Edina, Minn.).
Much like the offensive line, the receiving corps and backfield will feature many familiar faces. Senior Andre Creighton (St. Paul, Minn.) is the top returning wide-out of the group, bringing in 31 catches for 307 yards and two touchdowns last season. Junior Cole Engen (Crosslake, Minn.), sophomore Michael Hintze (Brooklyn Park, Minn.), and freshman Matt Boyce (Excelsior, Minn.) are expected to compliment Creighton on the outside.
Junior Phillip Butler (St. Paul, Minn.) will look to make an impact both out of the slot and in the backfield after primarily playing running back a year ago. Junior Jeffrey Dubose (St. Paul, Minn.) will once again be the feature running back. Dubose eclipsed the career 1,000-yard rushing mark last season after gaining 574 yards on 122 attempts and scoring seven touchdowns.
“We feel like there are eight guys ready to play on the offensive line and they are competing every day in practice. Both physically and conceptually, this group is the foundation on which this offense is based,” commented Haugen on the strength of his offensive line.
“We have the weapons in the backfield and receiving corps to make plays. What we need to do is make sure everyone plays within themselves,” he added about his skilled position players.
Rounding out the offense at tight end will be juniors Jordan Rudenick (Nicollet, Minn.) and Trevor Winkelman (Eagan, Minn.), who both see elevated roles entering the season. Winkelman will serve both as a tight end and an offensive lineman through the season.
Unlike the offense, Corey Shea’s defensive unit will feature many new faces, as it will have to replace six starters lost to graduation. Junior Joe Haas (Mission, Kan.) will lead a linebacking group that, although young, gained a great deal of game experience last season. Haas, an outside linebacker who led the team with 82 tackles last season, will be joined by a trio of sophomores who all saw the field extensively last year. Matt Keller (Eagan, Minn.) takes over full-time duties in the middle, while Anthony Boyce (Excelsior, Minn.) and Cameron Cropsey (Eagan, Minn.) will play opposite Haas. Senior Zach Stackhouse (Houston, Minn.) and junior Lucas Kleinschrodt (Alden, Minn.) will provide depth on the outside and in the middle, respectively.
“These linebackers are all coming into the year with a great deal of experience. It’s an athletic group and we expect them to build on that experience and really take a step up.”
The Gustavus secondary will have a new look after the loss of Brad Kruckeberg at safety, and Dan Optiz and Jason Cook at corner. The Gustie pass defense showed steady improvement from start to finish last year, ranking third in the MIAC in pass defense after allowing 158.1 yards per game. Safety Beau Bachman (Jr., St. Peter, Minn.) started in nine games in 2011 and will be complimented at free safety by sophomore Jake Forcier (Watkins, Minn.). Junior Kellan Euerle (St. Cloud, Minn.) will also be expected to contribute at safety. Junior Torey Asao (Chaska, Minn.) brings experience at cornerback, while his counterpart Zach Dilger (So., South St. Paul, Minn.) will enjoy his first full season at the top of the depth chart.
The defensive line will also have a new look after it graduated three of its starters in Tom Einberger, Jr., Dane Mellgren, and Todd Kremmin. Junior Donte Green (Minneapolis, Minn.) will look to clog up the middle once again as the front’s top returning tackler from last year. Joining Green in the interior will be senior Jesse Newell (West St. Paul, Minn.) and sophomore Travis Pepper (Overland Park, Minn.). Seeing time early at both ends of the defensive line has been junior Nolan Wester (Kettle River, Minn.) and sophomore Andrew Lonneman (Adrian, Minn.).
“We lost a good group in both the secondary and defensive line and we have a lot of fresh faces stepping into greater roles. We have confidence in what we see in practice and on film right now, but only game experience will tell us how smooth this transition will go,” remarked Haugen.
The kicking game will once again be anchored by senior Tom Huepenbecker (Middleton, Wis.). Huepenbecker was 6-for-10 in field goal tries and 21-for-24 on extra points last season. He averaged 51.2 yards per kick off and 33.5 yards per punt with seven downed inside the 20-yard line.
“This team is coming into the season with a chip on its shoulder because of the way we lost games last season,” concluded Haugen. “It made an absolute commitment to its training throughout the winter, spring and summer and it is showing early on.”