BLUFFTON – A strong finish to the 2013 football season brings a great deal of optimism to the Bluffton University football camp this season.
Bluffton reeled off three consecutive victories to end the 2013 campaign and now the Beavers start off the 2014 season with a new head coach.
Denny Dorrel takes over a Bluffton program that went 4-6 (4-4 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference) in 2013. Dorrel becomes the 13th head football coach in school history.
Dorrel comes to Bluffton from his alma mater, Hanover College (class of 2001), where he was the defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator, as well as the academic coordinator for the past two years.
Previously, Dorrel was an assistant coach and defensive coordinator at both Marietta College (2008-11) and Thomas More College (2004-07). He was also the linebackers coach at Thomas More.
Tyson Veidt, who guided the Beavers for six seasons, left Bluffton to go to the University of Toledo to be the linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator.
The Beavers started last season 1-6. A stunning 24-17 victory over a Franklin team that went 31-1 in the Heartland Conference the past four years, highlighted the strong finish for Bluffton.
Dorrel inherits a Bluffton roster that boasts more than 70 returners.
“It’s not a situation where we’re walking into an empty nest,” Dorrel said. “Coach Veidt did an unbelievable job. We have a lot of returners, a large senior class, 24, 25 guys. So, there’s some good leadership there.”
With this being Dorrel’s first head coaching stint, he realizes there’s a great deal more responsibility placed upon his shoulders.
“Personally, being the head coach and knowing all the calls go through me, that’s a little different,” Dorrel said. “I’m a person that is full of emotion, a coach that’s full of passion. I think that in order to play football you have to play with that kind of intensity. Trying to change that with players that have been around for the past three years, it doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t come as quickly as you want it to.”
Dorrel will enjoy the luxury of having several skill players back.
At quarterback, fifth-year senior Nick Sheehan (6-foot-2, 214 pounds) returns after suffering a shoulder injury midway through last season. In 2013, Sheehan completed 99 of 178 passes for 1,182 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“Right now, Nick Sheehan will probably be our starting quarterback,” Dorrel said. “He’s a senior. …He deserves a right to lead this offense. He’s a great leader, a great human being. Over the summer he met with our offensive coordinator as much as he could, in order to grasp this offense as much as possible.”
Sheehan’s favorite target will be senior Donovan Brown (5-11, 191), who established a new school record with 10 TD receptions, including a game-winning catch in the waning moments of Bluffton’s win over Franklin last season. Last year Brown had 44 catches for 676 yards, which was the seventh-highest single-season total in school history.
When it comes to the running game, the Beavers should be strong. Leading rusher Eric Fox (5-7, 184, Sr.) returns in the backfield.
Last season Fox rushed for 439 yards on 109 carries (4 yards per carry). He also was a threat coming out of the backfield as a receiver. In 2013, Fox hauled in 34 passes for 290 yards. Fox was rewarded for a solid junior season as he was named First Team All-HCAC.
Dorrel will focus on utilizing his playmakers as much as possible.
“We’ll run a multiple pro-style offense….It’s a lot of up-tempo,” Dorrel said. “We’ll try to be as balanced as we possibly can. Our thing is always going to be – get the ball to our playmakers and let them go.”
Defensively, the Beavers should be solid up front. Dorrel will focus on his strengths on the defensive line.
“We have a defensive line that is intact from last season,” Dorrel said. “It’s a multiple 4-3 defense. It’s a very pressure-oriented defense. We’re going to try to get after the quarterback. Hopefully, we can get a lot of tackles for losses and sacks.”
Seniors Ryan Leopold (6-2, 247, Ottawa-Glandorf) and Ben Schamp (6-2, 212, St. Marys), along with junior Ryan Aelker (6-4, 230) and sophomore Link Laroche (6-2, 225, Hardin Northern), head the list of returning defensive linemen for Bluffton.
“With Ryan Leopold, I expect some huge things out of him. I expect big things out of our defensive line in general,” Dorrel said. “We can go 10-12 players deep. So, when we move from a 4-man front to a 5-man front, we’ll get another guy on the field with that group.”
Leopold said Dorrel’s enthusiasm is contagious.
“So far, camp has been really exciting,” Leopold said. “Coach Dorrel brings a lot of excitement. He’s a very energetic and passionate guy. And he’s really gotten us very passionate about football.”
Leopold feels the way his team finished out last season gives this year’s team something to build upon.
“It showed us what we could do if we played to our full potential. Taking down the No. 9 team (Franklin) in the nation was extremely exciting for us. It showed us that if we all worked together, how much we could get done and how successful we could be,” Leopold said.
Bluffton opens the 2014 season Saturday when Ohio Wesleyan comes to Salzman Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m.