Aug. 29 – BETHANY, W.Va. - Looking to continue their climb up the ladder in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference, the Bison football program will turn to a solid nucleus of returning starters to improve on a .500 record from a season ago.
“We’re putting a very strong emphasis on the proper attention to detail. We want our players to understand that to have a championship-caliber program, they must put in the work on and off the field. Our guys have done well so far and we need to carry that into the semester,” said head coach Bill Garvey.
Entering his fourth season at the helm of the Bison, Garvey has placed the Green & White in a position to flourish over the past few seasons. The Bison have not had a conference record below the .500 mark since Garvey took over the reins of the program, and Bethany is coming off back-to-back Eastern College Athletic Conference Bowl-eligible seasons as they head into 2016.
The defensive side of the ball is where the Bison see a bulk of their returning starters, including three-time All-PAC honoree Aaron Frye (Vandergrift, Pa./Kiski Area) and two-time Second Team all-conference linebacker Donavan Hayden (Hyattsville, Md./Northwestern).
Garvey knows where his strengths lie. “There’s no question our defense is going to lead us this year. They’ve shown us a lot so far and we expect them to continue that leadership throughout the season.”
Hayden comes into 2016 having posted back-to-back 100+-tackle seasons, becoming just the second defensive player in Bethany history to accomplish the feat. He tallied 109 stops during the 2015 campaign, ranking second in the conference. Along with those numbers, Hayden totaled 12.0 tackles for loss and forced a trio of fumbles.
Senior Matt May (Egg Harbor City, N.J./Cedar Creek) will join Hayden on the starting linebacking unit, getting his first chance to be an every day starter for the Green & White at middle linebacker. May will aim to recapture the form of his sophomore season, when he totaled 46 tackles, including 10 for loss.
On the defensive front, the production of former American Football Coaches’ Association (AFCA) All-American defensive end Nadim Raddar will need to be replaced. For that, the Bison will look to sophomore defensive tackle Daniel Gibson (Pittsburgh, Pa./Woodland Hills) to pick up the slack.
Gibson had an all-conference season in 2015, registering 50 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. He also led the Green & White in forced fumbles with four.
Along with his solid numbers from his freshman campaign, Gibson also cut his teeth on international play, when he competed as a member of Team USA in the U-19 World Championships in Chiba, Japan.
Rounding out the defense, a three-time all-conference honoree in Frye will anchor the secondary and look to help improve the Bison’s pass defense which ranked eighth in the PAC last season. Frye ranks second among all of the Bison’s returning players in total tackles, having amassed 57 in 2015
Joining Frye in the secondary is sophomore Daulton Freeman (St. Clairsville, Ohio/St. Clairsville), who burst on the scene as a freshman with a pair of interceptions on the year. A nose for the football, Freeman finished the year with eight total passes defended, ranking second on the roster.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Green & White will need to replace the PAC’s all-time leading receiver in Eric Blinn during the upcoming campaign. However, another Bison record holder appears to be up to the challenge.
Last season, running back Jalen Holmes (New Castle, Pa./New Castle) had the best year by a back in Bison history, as he set the Bethany single-season rushing record in both yards (1,353) and touchdowns (14).
“Jalen is a special player. His role will increase in a manner where we can continue to take advantage of his abilities throughout the entire season,” added Garvey.
In 2015, Holmes spent the year as the feature back in the Bison’s offense, posting 226 carries and averaging 5.6 yards per rush. He scored at least one touchdown in nine games during the year and eclipsed the 100-yard mark six times.
In order for Holmes to have the same success, the Bison will need to replace four starters from an offensive line that helped the Green & White rank third in the PAC in rushing yards per game last year.
The lone returner on the line is senior James Norkus (Salem, Ohio/Salem), who returns for his final year of eligibility at the center position.
The Bison also have the task of naming a new starting quarterback. However, Garvey is confident in the position’s talent, despite its inexperience.
“There is a lot of talent in the freshman class at quarterback but Chase Kinemond (Shadyside, Ohio/Shadyside) has had a good camp as well. We’ll make some decisions before Ursinus and whoever we go with, we will have high expectations for, along with the rest of the offense.”
The junior Kinemond is the only returner with experience, having appeared in five games under center in 2015, completing five-of-eight passes for 18 yards.
At the receiver position, senior Tyler Ambush (Germantown, Md./Northwest) is ready to make a name for himself as the Bison’s top aerial threat. The speedy Ambush finished the 2015 season with a career-high six touchdowns, while posting 18.1 yards per catch.
The Bison will open their season on Saturday, September 3, as they play host to Ursinus College in Bison Stadium. The remaining home games on the schedule include dates with Westminster College (Sept. 24), Case Western Reserve (Oct. 8), Grove City College (Nov. 5) and Saint Vincent (Nov. 12).