BLUFFTON – Bluffton head coach Aaron Krepps said he feels like he is finally catching his breath.
Beginning his second season as the Beavers head coach, Krepps has been on sort of a whirlwind ride since he was hired last year. He was hired during the summer last year and was immediately thrust into the uncertain world of coaching a new team.
Krepps learned what all head coaches learn. There are a lot of moving parts and it is not easy to implement everything he would like. However as he enters season two the Beaver head coach said he feels better about the team’s prospects this season and looks to bring back a winning season after Bluffton endured a 3-7 season and 3-5 record in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC).
“It never seems to stop but culture wise and coaching of the game and our preparation week in and week out I noticed was we needed to change for the long haul,” Krepps said. “It was tough. I got the job in the summer and we didn’t have as much time to prep and get everything ready. We were hiring staff all the way up until camp started but it is a phenomenal learning experience.”
Krepps admits that a person is not fully prepared what to expect when they take over as head coach but at the same time he feels much more ready for the upcoming season. Bluffton opens the season at Wooster at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“Coming into year two we are much more prepared and organized with a lot of things on and off the field,” Krepps said. “Our biggest reflection from last year was our change of culture. We are very accountability driven in our program, on and off the field, and in the classroom and striving to make sure our guys great young men in the community, in the classroom and on the field.”
Krepps added that during last season the coaches primary focus was prepping for the next opponent and that left little room to fully coach and implement what he wants to accomplish in the program.
But with a full offseason this year, Krepps and his staff worked on these intangibles as well as working on the intricacies of the offense and defense.
“We came back in the spring with the focus of changing the culture and mindset within the guys returning and we tried to enable them to coach the new guys and be that learning curve for the new guys and say this is our expectations and this is our standard here, and we didn’t have that last season.”
Krepps added that those returning players have been beneficial in the transition to the coach’s style and expectations.
“We turned the ball over a lot on offense and that was a big plug heading into the season this year and that we needed to do a better job of taking care of the ball.”
Krepps said they have made some changes on offense to rectify some of those areas of concern.
One of those changes will come at the quarterback position. Perry product Plummie Gardner, who played quarterback at the start of last season and was then moved to receiver, will start as a wideout this season.
Zac Nobis, out of Bryan, took over the signal calling chores and produced two victories over Anderson and Defiance. Nobis will be challenged for the starting job by two transfers, Ryan Markoff, who played at Kettering Alter and then Valparaiso University and Samuel Coleman out of Troy, who also played for Wilmington University .
Krepps said Nobis improved late in the season but this year said coming into fall camp he called what they had was a “quarterback derby’ with the two transfers arriving vying for playing time.
A starter has not been named yet.
Joining Gardner in the receiving corps will be the Beavers’ top receiver last year Adam Duncan who had 32 catches for 481 yards and five touchdowns.
“He (Gardner) has had a really good spring and fall camp, and we expect huge things from him,” Krepps said.
Returning in the backfield is senior Drake Campbell who led the team in rushing with 512 yards and three touchdowns on 126 carries. Darian Bailey, who was beset with injuries last season, recorded 97.8 yards per game his freshman year and comes in into this season healthy.
Two lineman, Von Thomas and Cade McClellan, return and will be joined by Wapakoneta product Kais Chiles and Caleb Heilman at the tight end position.
Krepps added that there are still some question marks up front for the Beavers.
“We have a lot of new faces on the offensive side of the ball so I am very anxious for Saturday,” Krepps said. “Until the ‘bullets start to fly’ you really don’t know what you have on offense. We think we have upgraded in most positions through recruiting and the restructuring of who is in. This is the best receiving corp we have had in my three years here.”
Krepps said he was encouraged by the performance of the offense in the team’s first two scrimmages and added that the key to the offense being successful is trust.
“We’ve been preaching to the guys trust and worry about your responsibilities and don’t do too much,” Krepps said. “Take care of your position and take care of your responsibilities. If all 11 guys do that we will be good.”
With the offense looking for some consistency and an identity, the Beavers’ defense will be counted on to help carry the team through the early part of the season.
In 2018, the Beaver defense led the HCAC with 124.9 rushing yards allowed per game. The 303.2 total yards allowed were second in the conference, while the 20.6 points Bluffton allowed per game were third in the HCAC.
“We were No. 2 in the conference in total defense, and we had the top rush defense in the conference last season and we were teaching that during the season and now with the returners we have on defense, and we have a lot of them, they know the system and what we are striving for. I expect improved play from our defense. We want to be the top defense in the conference and with what we are returning I think that is very well within reach.”
The Beavers said good-bye to All-American and AC Burcky Award winner Isaac Zickafoose who was a four time first team All-HCAC selection and was twice the HCAC defensive most valuable player.
Back for the Beavers on defense on the line are juniors Dana Shoulders II and John Boyd. The two combined for 50 tackles and 6.5 sacks last year. Junior linebacker Dylan Shaffer, who led the team in tackles with 72 last year, spearheads a solid linebacking crew.
Perhaps the strength of the defense comes in the secondary. A trio of starting defensive backs return. Antonio Crostty, an all-HCAC selection, had 58 tackles last year. The junior pair of Brian Coleman Jr. and Stephen Kosakowski will be back along with Bath graduate Dylan Burkholder who had 24 tackles and three pass breakups while earning HCAC honors.
“Ill put our secondary up against anybody’s in the conference,” Krepps said. “Defensively speaking I am very excited about what this unit is capable of.”
Krepps added that the defense will be counted on to help carry the Beavers in the early part of the season as the offense irons out the kinks.
Last year, the Beavers posted a three-win season and Krepps said that is a little deceiving as the team lost several close games.
“We turn the ball over one less time each game we might be sitting at 6-4 or 7-3 in all honesty,” Krepps said. “I think this leads us in to our expectations. We are not playing for second place. We showed we could compete, and we are building on that from last year. I think our guys are hungry and anxious for the opportunities they are going to have each game.”