August 18 – BETHANY, W. Va. - Looking to capture the team’s first conference championship since the 1980 season, the Bethany College football team will aim to build off of last year’s success that saw their best record since 2001. The Green & White will turn to a solid nucleus of returning talent to help the team accomplish even higher goals in 2015.
Entering his third season, Head Coach Bill Garvey has posted a regular season mark of 10-10 through his first two years with the Green & White, the second-highest win total of any coach through two seasons in school history. With a host of returning talent, the Bison were selected third in the 2015 Presidents’ Athletic Conference Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the highest preseason ranking for Bethany in program history.
“It is great to have the recognition of being picked among the best in the conference,” said Garvey of the preseason poll. “The team has really worked hard over the last couple of years to change the culture around the program and I believe people are starting to notice.”
The 2015 version of the Bison football program welcomes back 29 letterwinners to a team that captured five conference victories one season ago.
“The strength of our upperclassmen is going to be a real advantage for us this season,” remarked Garvey. “The leadership group on this year’s team is one of the strongest that it has been in a long time. We have a number of different players that are not only the emotional and vocal leaders of the team, but are leaving great examples for the underclassmen.”
The senior-laden roster sees 24 different players returning for their final year of eligibility, including AFCA All-American defensive end Nadim Raddar (Laurel, Md./Old Mill) and two time First-Team All-Presidents’ Athletic Conference performer, wide receiver Eric Blinn (Beaver, Pa./Western Beaver).
The Bethany offense sees 16 letterwinners and nine starters return to a team that ranked sixth in the PAC in total offense one season ago (357.3). Unlike in previous seasons, the Bison produced their yardage with more balance, totaling 185.6 yards per game through the air and 171.6 in the running game.
The Green & White return several pieces to a running game that saw a resurgence in 2014. Last season’s leading rusher, junior Jalen Holmes (New Castle, Pa./New Castle), looks to be a focal point in a two-headed rushing attack. In 2014, Holmes averaged 5.1 yards per carry, totaling 625 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. He will be joined in the backfield by senior Phil Acrie (Pittsburgh, Pa./Linsly) who missed all but one quarter of the ’14 season due to injury.
The offensive line is perhaps the most experienced group returning to the field for the Bison as five seniors will make up the front five for the Green & White. Second-Team All-PAC tackle, Beau Bertus (Parkersburg, W. Va./Parkersburg South) returns for his final season, as do seniors Alex Verikas (Carnegie, Pa./Carlynton) , James Norkus (Salem, Ohio/Salem), Tim Walters (Shaler, Pa./Shaler) and Ethan Barnes (Weirton, W. Va./Weir). Last season, the group helped the Bison rank third in the PAC in rushing yards per game (171.6) while averaging 4.1 yards per carry.
“We expect our offensive line to be a big physical presence for us this season,” stated Garvey. “Any time you get a group of guys that has grown and learned together over the span of a few seasons, you get something that has the potential to be very special.”
Not only was the offensive line solid in the run game, but they also ranked third in the PAC in total sacks allowed during the 2014 season, giving up just 19 on the year. Even with a new signal caller in 2015, Coach Garvey believes that the experience of the O-line can lead to success in the passing game.
“The offensive line can really help with a new quarterback’s confidence,” remarked Garvey. “Letting someone get their feet wet under center, knowing that they have an experienced group in front of them, can really help with comfort levels.”
Blinn will look to shoulder the load for the Bethany receiving corps. A three-time all-conference performer, he holds the distinction of being the only Bethany wide receiver in history to post back-to-back 1,000 yard campaigns. After a 1,300-yard season in 2013, Blinn once again showed his prowess, catching a career-high 106 passes for 1,038 yards and nine touchdowns during his junior year.
Blinn enters 2015 as the NCAA Division III career active leader in receiving yards (3,125), receptions per game (8.1) and receptions (245). Having already broken numerous Bethany marks, Blinn sets his sights on two PAC records. Currently, he stands just 79 yards and 19 catches from Alex Baroffio’s (W&J) conference records in both categories.
“Eric has been a great leader for us as far as leading by example, but it is time for him to be the vocal leader of the team,” commented Garvey. “He has always been a physical leader on the field, but this season he has already started to show that he can be the captain of the offense.”
Other top returners to the receiving corps include senior Dom Jefferson (Gaithersburg, Md./Gaithersburg), junior Tyler Ambush (Germantown, Md./Northwest) and sophomore Terry Linyard (Jersey City, N.J./Lincoln).
“As a whole, we feel very confident in what our receiving corps has to offer,” stated Garvey. “Ambush has been able to be a consistent presence on the field when healthy and we are expecting big steps for Dom and Linyard. Overall, the receivers have a chance to be really good across the board.
“Just like the offensive line, all the returners to the offense will help a new quarterback to transition into the fold. We feel like we have surrounded anyone who comes into the game with a group of playmakers and upperclassmen that can help control the contest.”
The Bethany defense, like the ground game, saw a renaissance during the 2014 season, helping the Bison to their most victories since 2001.
Overall, eight letterwinners and five starters return to a defensive front seven that helped the Bison rank first in all of Division III in tackles for loss during the 2014 season (120). The Green & White tallied 43 sacks and held teams under 250 total yards of offense on five separate occasions (4-1 in those instances).
On the defensive line, Raddar returns to his defensive end position after a 2014 campaign that saw him earn PAC Defensive Player of the Year honors. He tallied 81 total tackles last season, posting 21.5 for loss and adding 12.5 sacks. He also forced three turnovers, including two forced fumbles and one recovery.
“It’s very possible for Nadim to repeat the output that he had last year because he has a non-stop motor and a tremendous work ethic,” said Garvey of his All-American. “He is on everyone’s radar this season, and for good reason as he is probably one of the best defensive ends in the country.”
Five different players who tallied at least 10.0 tackles for loss return to the fold including Raddar, senior linebackers Donavan Hayden (Hyattsville, Md./Northwestern) and Larry Kpadehyea (Monrovia, Md./Gaithersburg), senior defensive tackle Eric Campbell (Hurricane, W. Va./Hurricane) and junior linebacker Matt May (Egg Harbor City, N.J./Cedar Creek).
Campbell enters his final season as the lone returning defensive tackle. Last year, he anchored the Bison “D”, posting career highs in tackles (64), tackles for loss (13.5) and sacks (4.5). He bolstered the defensive front seven that held two different opponents under 50 yards rushing in a game in 2014.
The linebacking corps of Kpadehyea, Hayden, senior Dylan Stewart (Claridge, Pa./Penn-Trafford) and May has the potential of being one of the best in recent memory as the group combined for 299 total tackles a season ago. Hayden led the Bison with 110 tackles in 2014, while Kpadehyea totaled 102. From the middle linebacker position, May tallied 46 while Stewart added 42. The four-pronged attack lived in opponents’ backfields, combining for 48.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.
“The linebacking corps might be the most dynamic group of players we have on this entire roster,” remarked Garvey. “They are great blitzers who can also play well in coverage. The versatility is something that is going to really benefit us during the season.”
The defensive backfield also sees a pair of solid athletes return to the fold as seniors Dion Williams (Clinton, Md./Frederick Douglass) and Aaron Frye (Vandergrift, Pa./Kiski Area) will look to patrol the secondary in 2015. Last season the pair combined for six interceptions and seven turnovers. Frye ranked fifth on the team in total tackles (63) while picking off two passes and accounting for 10 pass breakups. Williams led the team in forced turnovers (5), including four interceptions.
“Overall, the name of the game is just to continue to improve everyday on the defensive side of the ball,” commented Garvey. “The defense really came together well last season and did some big things for us. I think with another year under their belts, they are ready to do something even better in 2015.”
Bethany opens the 2015 campaign on the road at the University of Mount Union, who enters the season ranked second in the Preseason Top 25 by D3football.com. The contest with the Purple Raiders in Alliance, Ohio is scheduled for September 5 at 1:30 p.m. The Bison will then open their home schedule on September 12 with a night game against Thiel College at 7:00 p.m.