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2013 Bison Football Preview

August 20 - Bethany, W. Va. - When the 2013 Bethany College football team takes the field this season the Bison will have a new, all be it, familiar face patrolling the sidelines, as well as a new look and feel on the turf.

Former offensive coordinator, William (Bill) Garvey, took over the reins of the Bison football program in the offseason, and is looking forward to his new role as the head coach for the upcoming campaign. Garvey takes over the lead role, after coaching the offense for seven seasons and feels that he is ready to take the program to new heights.

“We are coming into this season looking to add a new form of toughness to the team,” remarked Garvey of his plans for the program. “We will be tough in every aspect of the game, from offense to defense and even special teams.

“We plan to be physically demanding on our opponents, and to do so in every game, quarter and on every down, from start to finish.”

Offense

On the offensive side of the ball, the team returns three of its offensive playmakers from a year ago, including senior quarterback Matt Grimard (Lowell, Mass./Dracut), junior running back Phil Acrie (Verona, Pa./Linsley) and sophomore wide receiver Eric Blinn (Beaver, Pa./Western Beaver).

“Our goal has always been to be as balanced as possible, but with the weapons we had on the offensive side of the ball last year, we were able to throw a lot more,” said Garvey. “With the loss of some four-year starters to graduation, especially in the passing game, we will have an opportunity to become more balanced in our attack this year.”

Quarterbacks

One of the biggest pieces to the offensive puzzle is the return of Grimard for his senior campaign at the quarterback position. Last season, Grimard made the most of his junior season, leading the Presidents’ Athletic Conference in multiple categories, including total offense (3,127 yards), passing yards (2,605), total completions (266), and passing touchdowns (23). He also eclipsed Bethany’s single season marks in completions, passing yards and touchdown passes. Along with completing 62.1 percent of his throws (also a school record) Grimard was given the nod as the Conference’s top QB, earning First-Team All-PAC.

“Matt has grown so much over the past three seasons,” remarked Garvey of his quarterback. “We feel like he has really improved a lot since his freshman season. When you are the quarterback, you are naturally in a position to be a leader, and we are excited to have him back to fill that role for us again.”

Running Backs

With the return of two running backs that played in all ten games last season, Coach Garvey hopes to have a more balanced attack in 2013.

“Every season, you want your offense to be as balanced as possible,” explained Garvey, “but with the weapons that we had on the outside, we turned more into a pass heavy offense.

“This season we plan to show more balance and get our backs more touches in the backfield rather than as part of the passing game.”

Returning in the backfield this season are juniors Phil Acrie and Brandon Hill (McKeesport, Pa./Elizabeth Forward). Acrie made the most of his touches last year out of the backfield, as even with just 121 attempts (12.1 per game) he still netted 538 yards (4.4 avg.) and five touchdowns.

“Phil is a player,” remarked Garvey of his returning tail back. “We want to try to give him more touches and get our running game going. He proved at times last year that he has what it takes to be one of the top backs in the conference, and we would like to give him the chance to show that this season.”

Also returning to the field is Hill, who appeared in all ten games last season and netted 141 yards and a touchdown.

“Committing to the run game is something we haven’t done a great job of, but I feel that it’s time,” said Garvey. “By getting those guys more touches, it’s going to take more pressure off of our passing game and allow us to control the clock and the tempo a bit more.”

Wide Receivers

Arguably the biggest challenge for the Bison this season will be to find replacements for Jonathan Foster and Ed Holmes, both which the team lost to graduation. Foster and Holmes combined last season for 1,166 receiving yards, 83 catches and 12 touchdowns.

“It’s never easy losing a four-year player, let alone two like we had in Foster and Holmes,” remarked Garvey of his departed wideouts.

“However, I feel that with Eric (Blinn) back and a number of other talented guys, we can still spread the ball around like we did last season.”

Blinn is the top returning receiver on the Bethany squad this year. The sophomore is coming off a breakout season in which he led the team, and was second in the PAC in receiving yards (790) and averaged 15.8 yards per catch while scoring six touchdowns during his freshman year.

“Eric has proven that he is an explosive athlete, but he still needs to learn how to step up and be the number one guy,” said Garvey.

“He will be on everyone’s radar this season, so it will be interesting to see how he will handle press coverage and double teams. We think that he has a special talent and if he continues to improve on the little things, can be the number one wideout in the conference.”

Joining Blinn in the receiving corps are Chris Collins (Youngstown, Ohio/Ursuline) and Cam Cooper (Hurricane, W. Va./Hurricane), as well as a host of incoming freshman that will look to fill roles on the team.

Collins returns to the team after missing most of the 2011 and 2012 seasons with injuries. Prior to succumbing to a knee injury last season, the senior had appeared in four contests and made 13 catches for 147 yards and a touchdown. His best season was in 2010 when, as a freshman, he led the team with four touchdown receptions.

“It’s good to have Chris back and healthy,” said Garvey, “his versatility will be a welcome addition to the offense this season.”

Cooper, another returning senior to the team, we also look to play more of an extended role in the offense this season. In 2012, Cooper appeared in all ten contests and led the team in yards per catch (19.4) and scored one touchdown.

“The goal of our passing game this season is to be a bit more creative in our game plans and put all our receivers in the best spot to make plays,” claimed Garvey. “We have a lot of talent coming back and we feel that we have implemented a system that will allow everyone involved to flourish.”

Offensive Line

The offensive line is an area for the Bison that saw a number of talented players leave the ranks due to graduation, but Coach Garvey is confident that they have brought in the pieces they need to possibly make the line stronger than ever.

“We have a great group of young talent on the offensive front that we feel very good about coming into camp. We feel with the past two recruiting classes we have found the talent to replace the four starters that were lost.”

Two returning players that saw significant playing time on the line last year are seniors Evan Sargo (Munhall, Pa./Serra Catholic) and Adam Atwell (Glen Allen, Va./Deep Run). Sargo has appeared in 18 of the last 20 games over the past two seasons for the Bison, and spent the majority of last season as Grimard’s starting center.

“Sargo has a great head on his shoulders,” remarked Garvey of his senior lineman, “we feel that he can really step up and be the leader that the offensive front needs this season.”

Atwell has seen some good playing time as well, appearing in five games last season. Other names fans can expect to see up front include junior Terrel Carter (Gaithersburg, Md./Gaithersburg) and sophomore Tim Walters (Pittsburgh, Pa./Shaler).

“We are going to be young on the front line,” said Garvey of his offensive unit, “but we feel that with both Sargo’s and Grimard’s leadership, this year’s offensive front has a chance to be extremely talented.”

Defense

Just as is the case with the offense, the defensive side of the ball also will look to some younger players to fill key roles that were left by four-year starters who have since moved on.

“Last year, we allowed too many big plays and didn’t finish things all the way through on defense,” said Coach Garvey. “We need to prove to teams this year that we can finish, so expect physical play from the defense on every down.”

D-Line and Linebackers

The Bison will look to move on from a defensive front seven last year that allowed 232.1 yards per game on the ground, and lost Bethany’s all-time leading tackler in Kyle Arrington.

“Just like with the offense, it isn’t easy to lose such a key piece the way that Arrington was, but we believe that we have put together a front seven that will be as physical as anyone in the conference.”

“Last season, we just weren’t physical enough on the front seven to stop the run. You can expect that to change this season,” remarked Garvey of his defense. “We feel really good about the class we brought in last season and believe that those guys will step up and make big plays for us this year to stop the run.”

Junior Greg Roberson (Upper Marlboro, Md./Frederick Douglas) will look to make more of and impact on the defensive line and become a key piece as a defensive end this season. Last year Roberson totaled 22 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He was also credited with a forced fumble.

Other names Coach Garvey expects to make an impact include seniors Nick Greer (Jefferson Hills, Pa./Thomas Jefferson) and Brian McLee (Uniontown, Pa./Uniontown), sophomore Eric Campbell (Hurricane, W.Va./Hurricane) , and sophomore Ethan Barnes (Weirton, W.Va./Weir).

“We feel as though we have put together a talented group of defensive lineman with one intention, to be physical and play through every down,” said Garvey. “Even though we lost some talented playmakers from last year, we feel great about the pieces that are in place.”

In the linebacking corps, the Bison return seniors Chris Burg (Martinsburg, W. Va./Martinsburg) and Josh Moody (West Mifflin, Pa./Serra Catholic) as well as junior Sherman Hodges (Cheltenham, Md./Frederick Douglas). Burg appeared in nine games last season at linebacker while totaling 31 tackles, the most of any returning lineman or linebacker. Hodges appeared in eight contests last season while Moody took the field three times.

“In order to stop the run more consistently, we need the linebackers to step up and make big plays in the hole or in open space to limit yards gained by running backs,” remarked Garvey. “It is my feeling that with the guys we have coming back, as well as some new guys coming in, we will be able to do that.”

Secondary

Possibly one of the strongest areas for the Bison last season was their pass defense, and that looks to continue this season as Bethany returns juniors Wyssmy Despagne (Riverdale, Md./Parkdale) and Dion Williams (Clinton, Md./Frederick Douglas). Both players hold the distinction of being the team’s top returning tacklers (39 each) and the two combined for 29 passes defended or broken up last season.

Despagne is coming off a sophomore campaign where he was honored with a Second-Team All-PAC selection. He totaled 22 solo tackles and 17 assisted. He also swatted away 17 passes, registered two takeaways and even blocked two kicks on special teams.

When asked about his all-conference corner, Coach Garvey replied, “We feel like we have the best corner in the league in Despagne. He can do it all and we feel like he is our lock down guy.”

Joining Despagne and Williams in the defensive backfield will be senior Michael Howcott (Waldorff, Md./Frederick Douglas) and sophomores Aaron Fry (Vandergrift, Pa./Kiski) and Ricky Clark (Garner, N.C./Garner Magnet).

“This could possibly be the best defensive backfield we have ever had in my tenure here,” remarked Garvey. “These guys are physical, fast and they just know how to make plays out there. We are very confident in each one of their abilities.”

Special Teams

The special teams were the area that was possibly hit the hardest by outgoing seniors. Anyone who returned a kick or punt last season has since moved on, and just one special team starter remains, which is punter Steve Amic (McDonald, Pa./West Allegheny).

Amic was tabbed as a Honorable Mention All-PAC selection last season as he placed fourth in the conference in punting average (36.9) as a sophomore.

“Amic has great talent out there and could be a first team guy,” said Garvey. “He has the potential to be a really solid punter, and will help us out immensely in those games where field position is the most crucial.”

When the team gets underway with its’ first season under Coach Garvey, it will not be an easy road, but he feels they are up for the challenge.

“The conference, and our schedule are about as competitive as they have ever been,” remarked Garvey. “In the PAC, I feel that anyone can beat any team on any given night so we have to make sure to bring it each day.

“Also, with our out of conference schedule, I believe we have as good of a scheduled as anyone in the PAC.”

The team will open the season with two consecutive road games, September 7 at Centre College (Ky.) and September 15 at Geneva, before hosting three straight games. The team’s home opener will be September 21 vs. Randolph-Macon before hosting back-to-back games against PAC foes Grove City and Washington & Jefferson on September 28 and October 5. The rest of the schedule includes home games against Westminster and Thiel, with the team traveling to Waynesburg, Thomas More and Saint Vincent.

In order to turn around a 3-7 record from last season, including four losses by less than a touchdown, Coach Garvey says it’s all about toughness.

“We talked about it every day in the offseason,” remarked Garvey. “We discussed doing everything better than we did the previous year. We will use last season as motivation to play through until the final whistle in every game, and by the end of the year we will know we left it all on the field.”