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BETHANY PRIMED TO OPEN SEASON SATURDAY AT HIRAM

Sept. 5 - BETHANY, W.Va. – After sitting through their bye week, the Bethany College football team will finally begin the 2007 season Saturday when they travel to Hiram (Ohio) College for a non-conference tilt. Kickoff at Henry Field is set for 1 p.m.

Now in his second year after guiding the Bison to a 4-6 finish last season, head coach Tim Weaver says a full season under his staff’s belt and a larger roster of 90 players helped make it a productive training camp.

“Camp was very good,” said Weaver. “Our numbers are up to where it helps with depth and competition for positions. We were also more demanding as a staff this year and the players were up to those demands, so I was very pleased with camp.”

Bethany will have a new quarterback under center Saturday, with senior Milton Joyner (Pittsburgh, Pa./Westinghouse) filling the void left when Brent Owens graduated. Joyner, a three-year starter at receiver until this year, will have plenty of help around him when he makes his first collegiate start. Among those who Weaver cited for having good camps were junior RB Nick Neratka (Markleysburg, Pa./Uniontown) and the offensive line, which returned four starters in sophomore LT Chad Sedlacek (Monaca, Pa.), junior LG Justin Elkins (Columbus, Ga./Pacelli Catholic), sophomore center Chris Bailey (Pittsburgh, Pa./Shaler) and junior RG Brian Liptock (New Salem, Pa./Uniontown).

“Offensively, we saw a lot of players develop through camp,” said Weaver. “Neratka is much improved and is completely over the foot injury that hampered him throughout last year. And the offensive line has progressed quite a bit. It’s not a surprise because we knew four of them were coming back but we are getting exactly what we expected from them.”

On the defensive side of the ball, Bethany has nine starters back from last year and improved a great deal through preseason, according to Weaver. The Bison coach also says junior CB Brandon Zeman (Bridgeville, Pa./Chartiers Valley) enjoyed a productive camp and that the early returns on moving sophomore Casey Elson (Schnecksville, Pa./Parkland) from tight end to defensive end are good.

“Zeman was one of our best players last year and he had a phenomenal camp,” said Weaver. “We are going to look for him to be a playmaker and provide leadership for us.

“And moving Elson from offense to the defensive line looks like it was a good move,” said Weaver. “He’s big, runs well and likes to hit, so we’re anxious to see what he can do Saturday.”

It will also the season opener for Bethany’s foe on Saturday, as Hiram had their bye week as well. Following a 0-10 finish in 2006, the Terriers have a new head coach in Bob Wolfe, who previously served as head coach for eight years at Tiffin (Ohio) University and two years at Allegheny (Pa.) College. One of Hiram’s losses last year was a 42-7 setback at Bethany, which was Weaver’s first victory on the Bison sideline.

Of BC’s six touchdown, five were from 27 yards or longer, including a 93-yard kickoff return by junior WR Taylor McNeil (Old Saybrook, Conn.), a 51-yard touchdown reception by sophomore WR Matt Cruse (Naples, Fla./Barron Collier) and a 35-yard interception return by Zeman.

The Terriers have 17 starters back from last year, including six on offense. Pacing Hiram’s efforts will be junior QB Trevor Henderson, who threw for 783 yards and five scores, while also rushing for three TDs despite missing five games because of injury. He is joined in the backfield by bruising sophomore TB Jon Agnew (6-2, 205), who ran for a team-leading 319 yards and one touchdown, which was a three-yard scoring play against Bethany.

“With Henderson and Agnew, Hiram has two guys that scare you,” said Weaver. “Agnew’s abilities put him in the upper echelon of backs we’ll see all year. Henderson can make all the throws, can run and is poised, with it being his third year as the starter.

“They scrimmaged Case Western Reserve and we exchanged tapes with them,” said Weaver. “They kept it real simple but we saw enough to know that Agnew is a year better and Henderson is a threat.”

Hiram will have the services of eight returning starters on defense. The main players to watch are LB Tom Canitia, who was third in the North Coast Athletic Conference last season with 103 tackles. Up front, DT Humphrey Caswell posted 46 stops, including 6.5 for loss. They will lead a unit that is switching from a base 3-4 to a 4-3 look this season, although Weaver says his team has prepared for whatever front Hiram shows.

“Again, they didn’t show a lot in their scrimmage and didn’t blitz once, so we aren’t real sure what they could do,” said Weaver. “We know they are switching to a 4-3 but we saw three- and four-man fronts in last year’s game, so we’ve prepared for both.”

The first game of the season can mean a lot of uncertainties, so when looking at this week’s game, Weaver just wants his team to keep it simple and set a pattern for the rest of the season.

“What we want to do this week is protect the football, make good decisions on offense, and take good angles and tackle well on defense,” said Weaver. “And the last thing we want is for our whole team to play as hard as we can for the entire game. Our buzzword through camp has been consistency and we want to establish that for this week to set the tone for the whole season.”