ADA — Ohio Northern isn’t waiting around until Saturday.
Ohio Northern will be the first in Division III football team to kick off when it gets under way Thursday afternoon with a businessmen’s special.
ONU opens its season at 3 p.m. Thursday against Wisconsin-River Falls at Dial-Roberson Stadium.
It will be carried on a webcast on ohiocollegefootball.com.
“It’ll be different, exciting,” ONU quarterback Kyle Simmons said. “Our whole team is excited for it. We know the spotlight will kind of be on us.”
ONU coach Dean Paul said the 3 p.m. Thursday match was River Falls’ idea.
“Being that they were so far away, they wanted to play on Thursday,” Paul said. “We said, ‘Let’s do it,’ but because we don’t have lights we couldn’t play a night game, but it was his idea that we play earlier. … We’re hoping that, locally, some people will get off work a little bit early and people think the Buckeyes play that night and this is the start of college football and we’ll go watch Ohio Northern at 3, then go watch the Buckeyes.”
ONU is ranked No. 11 in Lindy’s College Football Magazine preseason poll. The Polar Bears were picked second in the Ohio Athletic Conference preseason poll.
The high rankings are based on ONU returning seven starters on offense and seven on defense from a team that went 8-2 (7-2 OAC) last season.
The offense is stuffed with experience including Ohio Athletic Conference’s offensive back of the year, quarterback Kyle Simmons. The 6-foot-1 senior from Orrville threw for 1,793 yards with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also ran for 441 yards and 10 TDs.
“First thing, he makes very few mistakes,” Paul said. “He makes good decisions out there and puts us in the right plays. In addition to that, he’s a good throwing quarterback and an accurate throwing quarterback. He’s also a very effective scrambler.”
Running back Brent Donley, a 5-9, 220-pound bulldozer, was named second team all-America by D3football.com and first team all-OAC. He ran for 1,104 yards (4.8 average) and 16 TDs.
Returning receivers include Jay Priest (32 receptions, 376 yards, 1 TD), track standout Ryan Fleming (22 receptions, 544 yards, 5 TDs), Michael Busch (10 receptions, 148 yards, 3 TDs) and Brook Crawford, who missed the final eight games after suffering a broken collarbone.
“The key is to stay balanced and attack the defense in different aspects, on the ground and in the air. We like to spread it out and make them cover sideline-to-sideline,” Simmons said.
Paul added, “Balance for us doesn’t necessarily mean run and pass. It could be 400 yards passing this week and 350 yards rushing the next week.”
Three graduate on the offensive line, including second team All-American Andrew Benchic. The returnees are guard Justin Southwick (6-6, 280) and tackle Pat Dochenetz (6-3, 285).
The defense will miss linebackers Gabe Washington (75 tackles) and Jake Myers and end Josh Horn. But there’s plenty back to fill in.
On the line are end Trygve Henrikson, tackle David Rush (Ada) and sophomore nose tackle Cody Kelly. The secondary is stocked with veterans with cornerbacks Eric Wenzler, a four-year starter, and Vince Calloway and safties Jesse Richards, Chad Coward and Marvin Mitchell.
“We did lose a lot of good players and those were good guys, but we have a lot of returning starters,” Wenzler said. “Even the guys who didn’t start every game, we have a lot of guys with a lot of experience.
“I like that we are really aggressive. … We blitz almost 50 percent of the time, so I’d say we’re definitely an aggressive defense and we like it that way.”
It all adds up to what should be a promising season.
“We like high expectations. We would have it no other way,” Paul said. “We want to embrace those high expectations. We want people think that we can be good. We think we can be good. But we know we still have to go out and earn it.
Coach: Dean Paul
Years, Record at school: 7, 42-18
2009 record: 8-2 (7-2 OAC)
Returning letterwinners: 40
Returning starters: Ryan Fleming (Sr, WR); Brook Crawford (Sr., WR); Justin Southwick (Sr., G); Pat Dochenetz (Sr. OT); WR Jay Priest (Jr., WR); Evan Elliott (Sr. FB); Brent Donley Sr, RB); Kyle Simmons (Sr., QB); Trygve Henrikson (Jr. DE); Cody Kelly (Soph., NT); Eric Wenzler (Sr., CB); Jesse Richards (Sr., S); Chad Coward (Jr., S/LB); Marvin Mitchell (Sr., S); Vince Calloway (Jr., CB).
Key newcomers: Kyle Baker (Soph., WR); Tyler Joseph (Soph., DL); Joe Powell (Soph., LB); T.J. Allen (Fr., WR); Justin Buenger (Fr., RB); Mike King (Fr., DL).
Player to watch: Quarterback Kyle Simmons was the offensive back of the year in the Ohio Athletic Conference last year. He threw for 1,793 yards and 16 TDs and also ran for 441 yards.
OHIO NORTHERN SCHEDULE
THURSDAY WISCONSIN-RIVER FALLS 3 pm
Sept. 18 at Otterbein-x 1:30 pm
Sept. 25 MUSKINGUM-x 1:30 Oct 2 at Mount Union 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 9 HEIDELBERG-x 1:30 pm
Oct. 16 BALDWIN-WALLACE-x 1:30 pm
Oct. 23 at John Carroll-x 7 pm
Oct. 30 at Marietta-x 1:30 pm
Nov. 6 CAPITAL-x 1:30 pm
Nov. 13 WILMINGTON-x 1 pm
HOME GAMES IN BOLD
x-Ohio Athletic Conference