Aug. 19 - BETHANY, W. Va. - Entering the 2014 campaign, the Bethany College football team will look to a host of returning players to continue to move the program up the ranks of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference. The Bison boast 36 returning letterwinners and 19 starters from a year ago under second-year head coach Bill Garvey.
The Bison will enter the 2014 campaign riding the coat tails of a team that captured four wins in conference play for the first time since the 2010 season. The offense returns seven starters to the field, while the defense boasts nine familiar names from a 2013 team that defeated the likes of Washington & Jefferson, Waynesburg and Grove City.
Despite the large number of returning players, the Bison will have to deal with a changing of the guard under center this season, as Bethany will look to fill the hole left by four-time All-PAC performer Matt Grimard. In his four years, Grimard was a symbol of consistency, starting in 39 games and finishing his storied career with 11,560 total yards of offense.
Three upperclassmen are currently in the running to be the heir to Grimard, including juniors Jake Riddell (Hopewood, Pa./Laurel Highlands) and Lincoln Reyes (Gaithersburg, Md./Gaithersburg) as well as sophomore Brian Vales (Pittsburgh, Pa./Avonworth).
Riddell has the most experience of the three returners, spending most of the 2013 campaign with the second-team offense. Ridell officially ushered in the new era of quarterback at Bethany in the final quarter of the season last year, when he threw a touchdown pass late in the game against Saint Vincent College. That score was the first touchdown pass not thrown by Grimard in four seasons.
The wide receiving corps is one of the more experienced positions on the field for the Bison, and the corps will be led by junior wideout Eric Blinn (Beaver, Pa./Western Beaver). Last season, Blinn burst onto the scene to become one of the most electrifying pass catchers in all of Division III. He finished the year with Bethany records in both receptions (95) and receiving yards (1,300). He ranked second in the country in receptions per game (9.5) and third in receiving yardage per contest (130.0). He also finished the 2013 season ranked eighth in the National Collegiate Athletic Association in all-purpose yards per game (185.5).
Joining Blinn on the receiving corps are senior Chris Collins (Youngstown, Ohio/Ursuline) and sophomore Tyler Ambush (Germantown, Md./Northwest), who both appeared as full-time targets in the receiving game last season. Collins ranked second on the team in receptions in 2013 (47) and totaled 412 yards and four scores. Ambush came on as a freshman last season and posted 18 catches for 322 yards and two touchdowns.
Other upperclassmen that could see time on the perimeter include junior Dominic Jefferson (Gaithersburg, Md./Gaithersburg) and sophomore Robert Seman (Canfield, Ohio/South Range).
Returning for their senior campaigns, running backs Phil Acrie (Pittsburgh, Pa./Linsley) and Brandon Hill (McKeesport, pa./Elizabeth Forward) are looking to make more of an impact with the possibility of a larger work load for the running game in 2014.
Last season, Acrie and Hill made the most of limited carries, as the duo combined for 732 yards on just 127 carries, averaging 5.7 yards per rush in 2013. The two-headed monster also helped out in the passing game, combining for 43 catches for 374 yards. The duo combined to score eight touchdowns on the year, but will be looked upon to carry more of the load in 2014.
Other upperclassmen that could see playing time this season along with Acrie and Hill include junior Corey Vandergrift (Moody, Ala./Moody) and sophomore Jalen Holmes (New Castle, Pa./New Castle).
Losing just one starter from a year ago, the Bison offensive line has quickly become one of the strengths of the Bethany offense. Lone senior Terrell Carter (Gaithersburg, Md./Gaithersburg) along with juniors Alex Verikas (Carnegie, Pa./Carlynton), James Norkus (Salem, Ohio/Salem) and Beau Bertus (Parkersburg, W. Va./Parkersburg South) make up the solid core of returners to the Bison “O-Line”.
Other upperclassmen that will vie for time on the offensive line include juniors Ethan Barnes (Weirton, W. Va./Weir) and Tim Walters (Shaler, Pa./Shaler) as well as sophomore Zac Yates (Beaver, Pa./Beaver Area).
“Every one of these guys are fully capable of starting on the offensive line for us,” said Garvey. “We have a number of players that are ready to step up and be leaders. We don’t expect just one guy to step up from the offensive line, rather, we expect the line as a whole to work together to improve not only themselves and each other, but the whole team.”
Just like the Bison offense, the Bethany “D” has a plethora of returning stars who will look to continue to improve on their way to try to become the top defense in the conference.
The Green & White did not lose a single player on the defensive side of the trenches heading into the 2014 campaign. Sophomore Khallid Pierce (Youngstown, Ohio/Ursuline) returns to the field after a freshman campaign that saw him rank among the conference’s best in sacks. Pierce finished his freshman year with 37 tackles, including 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
Joining Pierce on the line include seniors Greg Roberson (Upper Marlboro, Md./Frederick Douglass) and Brian McLee (Uniontown, Pa./Uniontown) on the ends, as well as senior Nick Greer (Pittsburgh, Pa./Thomas Jefferson), junior Eric Campbell (Hurricane, W. Va./Hurricane) and sophomore Brandon Barnes (Midland, Pa./Western Beaver) on the interior.
The duo of senior Chris Burg (Martinsburg, W. Va./Martinsburg) and junior Larry Kpadehyea (Monrovia, Md./Gaithersburg) will look to lead the Bison linebacking corps this season. The pair ranked first and second on the team in tackles last season, combining for 143 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
Also returning to the field at linebacker this season include juniors Martin McCoy (Capitol Heights, Md./Frederick Douglass) and Dylan Stewart (Claridge, Pa./Penn-Trafford), as well as sophomore Matt Conover (Galloway, N.J./Cedar Creek).
If a team decides to throw on the Bison, the air will be protected by a very talented and experienced group of defensive backs, led by senior Wyssmy Despagne (Riverdale, Md./Parkdale). Despagne, who was named a Preseason First-Team All-American by USA College Football, ranked first on the team in pass deflections in 2013 with 12.
Despagne will be joined in the defensive backfield by all-conference selections, juniors Aaron Frye (Vandergrift, Pa./Kiski Area) and Dion Williams (Clinton, Md./Frederick Douglass), who each earned All-PAC Honorable Mention status last year. Frye ranked third on the team in total tackles with 65 a year ago, while Williams led the Bison in interceptions, totaling three in 2013.
Other returning players that could expect to see playing time in the secondary include senior Brooks Kursey (Martinsburg, W. Va./Hedgesville) and sophomores Channan Scott (Willow Grove, Pa./Abington) and Jucqui Taylor (Uniontown, Pa./Uniontown).
Behind Honorable Mention All-Conference and Third-Team Preseason All-American selection Stephen Amic (McDonald, Pa./West Allegheny), the Bison special teams will look to stay more consistent in the 2014 campaign.
2013 was a stellar year for Amic, as he ranked first in the PAC in not only net yards per punt (38.8), but also in punts placed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line (18).
Also returning on special teams in 2014 include kick off specialist, junior Umar Moore (Coraopolis, Pa./Moon) and sophomore field goal kicker, Pedro Lalor (Orlando, Fla./Dr. Phillips).
Bethany will open the season on September 6th when they host eleven-time national champion, The University of Mount Union. Following the game with the Purple Raiders, the Bison will hit the road for a non-conference game with Thiel College on Sept 13. The Green & White will then open the 2014 PAC season on September 20 at Westminster.
Other games of note include an October 4 matchup at Case Western Reserve and October 11 showdown with Carnegie Mellon University, the two new members of the PAC. Along with Mount Union and CMU, the Bison will host Waynesburg (Sept. 27), Washington & Jefferson (Oct. 18) and Saint Vincent (Nov. 15). As well as the games listed above, Bethany’s road schedule will also include Geneva (Oct. 25) and Grove City (Nov. 1).
Part one with Head Coach Bill Garvey
Part two with senior linebacker Chris Burg