2004 Ferris State University Football Preview
The forecast for success in the 2004 season appears to be an unclear one for the Ferris State football team at first glance.
After all, the Bulldogs are coming off of a 6-5 overall record in 2003 which included a fourth-place tying 5-5 mark in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) with a senior-dominated group. Injuries to key personnel made it challenging to meet team expectations. Moreover this season, Ferris State must overcome the loss of key personnel while facing the most challenging schedule in the program’s history with two-time defending NCAA Division II National Champion Grand Valley State serving as the season-opening opponent and a trek to national runner-up North Dakota in early October.
However, 10th-year head coach Jeff Pierce and his coaching staff aren’t ones to dwell on the negative but instead are focusing all their efforts on putting Ferris State back on the winning track and in the national spotlight through committment, work ethic, productivity, consistency and perseverance. And there’s certainly reason for optimism this fall as Pierce can count on seven returning starters and 18 returning letterwinners to a defense which was dominate at times in ‘03. Offensively, the Bulldogs have talent and experience at most positions but must avoid the rash of injuries and inconsistencies which hampered productivity a season ago. FSU also returns the same number of starters and letterwinners on offense, which has undergone some offseason adjustments to become more “user friendly” and increasingly productive.
“I believe we’re capable of fielding a highly-competitive team this season,” said Pierce, who’s one victory shy of becoming Ferris’ all-time winningest coach. “The work ethic in the offseason has been tremendous and there’s no question this team is committed to doing everything it takes to be successful.
“We have a lot of experienced players coming back and it’s now time for our veteran group to emerge. Certainly, the ability for us to stay healthy will be a key to our success,” Pierce added.
As its 2004 slogan states – One Team, One Goal!
Quarterback – Senior Tom Marsan (6-3, 195) enters fall camp atop the depth chart and is poised to make the most of his final campaign. The three-year starter threw for 1,983 yards and 12 TD’s on 182-of-329 passing (55.3) in 11 games a season ago. Marsan, who ranks fifth among the school’s all-time passing leaders with 5,870 career yards, recorded six 200-yard single-game passing performances last fall and finished the season strong with eight consecutive 100-yard aerial efforts. Depth wise, the Bulldogs appear to be solid with a trio of young, talented signal-callers in junior Ryan Kaul (6-0, 197), sophomore Steve Fusee (6-2, 213) and redshirt freshman C.J. Van Wieren (6-4, 223) battling for backup duty. Competition will also come from junior college standout Jimmy Peyton (6-3, 227), who guided Joliet (Ill.) Junior College to the 2002 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national championship title while passing for a school-record 2,251 yards and 25 TD’s.
Running Backs – The lack of backfield depth is a concern, especially at the tailback slot. Derek Fudge, a three-time all-league pick and the second-best rusher in the program’s all-time annals with 4,024 career yards, has graduated. Senior Andrew Terry (5-8, 196) and junior Shawn Grigg (5-9, 194), the team’s two returning experienced tailbacks, went into this spring’s camp as the primary rushing threats. Unfortunately, Grigg suffered a season-ending spring game injury. Terry will handle the chores after repeating as FSU’s second-leading rusher with 206 yards and 6.1 yards per carry in 11 2003 outings. Sophomore John Vandenberg (5-11, 251) is the frontrunner at fullback with redshirt frosh Mike Hamilton (6-2, 238) in reserve.
Wide Receivers – Ferris State welcomes back three of its four top receivers, including the top go-to guy in junior flanker Carlton Brewster (5-11, 200). The big-play receiver had a career-leading 66 receptions for 745 yards and eight TD’s last season en route to achieving second-team All-GLIAC accolades. Senior Delano McKinney (5-11, 160) and junior Larry Burton (5-8, 173), one of the squad’s fastest players, are the backups. At split end, senior Andy Thwaites (6-2, 185) returns as the starter with junior Brandis Bowie (5-10, 187), who averaged 12.1 yards per reception, right on his heels. A possession-type receiver, Thwaites was fourth in team receiving with 23 grabs for 220 yards while Bowie had 39 catches for 473 yards and two TD’s to finish as the team’s second-leading receiver. Sophomore Matt Hohne (5-11, 187) is an up-and-coming competitor who will see more action this fall.
Offensive Line – A cast of quality linemen will man the trenches and depth is definitely a strong suit as injuries afforded last year’s reserves considerable game experience. Senior Kevin Park (6-8, 298), one of the casualties, should start at right tackle with sophomore Kevin Teeple (6-7, 298) likely to get the nod at left. Senior Jeff Williams (6-2, 298) hopes to rebound from an ‘03 season-ending injury and regain his 2002 All-GLIAC Honorable Mention form at right guard. Senior Matt Desmarais (6-1, 276) will vie with sophomores Allen Feigel (6-4, 327) and Chris Putra (6-3, 260) for the starting duties at left guard. All are versatile blockers with game experience. Another victim last season was junior center Jamie Bretl (6-3, 276), who has been given a clean bill of health and appears ready to regain his starting role.
Tight Ends – The Bulldogs would like more productivity and may have their wish granted as a trio of talented blockers and receivers battle for action. Junior Ryan Fritz (6-3, 244), who’s been plagued by injuries, is the lone returnee with game experience. He had one reception for 21 yards last fall. Senior Nate Wruble (6-7, 225), a former basketball player, turned in a stellar spring ball performance and could develop into a legitimate receiving threat due to his size and athletic ability. Sophomore Dan Boulter (6-1, 225) has moved over from the defense and has made strides in the transition.
Defensive Line – Controlling the line of scrimmage was the backbone of a solid defense last season and the Bulldogs are primed for another go around this fall with three all-league starters back. Senior right tackle Whitney Bell (6-2, 284) proved to be a dominant interior force with 99 tackles, most among the conference’s linemen. He also chipped in with 16.5 tackles for loss, which included seven quarterback sacks en route to claiming first-team All-GLIAC and second-team All-America recognition by the Don Hansen’s Football Gazette. Flanking Bell on the left will be sophomore Bob Cain (6-1, 281), who totaled 14 tackles in ‘03. Junior Nate Pranger (6-4, 262) and sophomore Jereld Sawyer (6-0, 269) are expected to push for playing time. Senior defensive ends John Hazle (6-2, 240) and Jesse Schnitker (6-2, 255) are the incumbents on the
outside. A second-team All-GLIAC selection, Hazle will anchor the right side after turning in a career-high 77-tackle effort last year. He paced the Bulldogs in both tackles for loss (17.5 for 93 yds.) and sacks (11 for 77 yds.). Schnitker responded well in his initial season as a starter with 63 tackles, highlighted by 6.5 tackles for a loss of 57 yards. Senior Brad Morris (6-3, 243) is an experienced, high-energy defender who provides capable depth and is an effective specialty teams player.
Linebackers – The linebacking corps should remain one of the GLIAC’s top units with the return of senior outside linebackers Kevin Myers (5-11, 210) and Rob Mida (6-2, 225) at the “Will” and “Chuck” positions, respectively. Myers, a consensus All-American last season, racked up a career and conference-high 141 tackles in ‘03 as his season tackles total ranked 13th best among the school’s career leaders. Nationally, the ‘03 All-GLIAC First Teamer finished second in solo tackles (7.9 avg.), fourth in total tackles (12.8 avg.) and fourth in forced fumbles (0.45 avg.). Mida earned conference honorable mention plaudits last fall with 88 stops, including 11 tackles for loss. Sophomore Mike Klobucher (6-2, 229), who tallied 54 tackles as a reserve, will step into the starting middle linebacker position. Redshirt frosh Jordan Moore (6-0, 181) shows promise and will provide depth in the middle with senior Brad Bigelow (6-2, 205) and sophomore Nick Maeder (5-10, 198) doing likewise on the outside. Maeder netted 22 stops in ‘03 and was a spring practice notable.
Secondary – Some retooling is necessary with the graduation of the team’s starting all-conference strong and free safeties. Senior Jason Davis (6-2, 195) and juco transfer Tim King (6-3, 200) along with senior Cory Strader (5-11, 197) hope to fill the strong safety void. At free safety, sophomore Nick Beaudry (5-9, 195) is listed as the starter although the Machalaks, Jason (5-10, 195) and Chris (6-0, 200) figure to make the position a competitive one. The situtation at the corners is more stable as both regulars in junior Jim Skodak (6-0, 198) and senior Ryan Carruthers (5-10, 180) are back. Skodak, who Pierce considers one of the GLIAC’s top cornerbacks, attained all-conference honorable mention laurels a season ago after producing a career-high 54 stops (35 solos). Carruthers chipped in with 42 tackles as an ‘03 starter but senior Bruce Cook (5-9, 175) is ready to challenge. He accumulated 23 hits in a backup capacity last season.
Special Teams – For the first time in four years, the kicking game will feature a pair of new faces. Redshirt frosh Levi Slager (5-11, 166) takes over the punting duties but lacks experience as does sophomore Justin Rudy (5-11, 170) in placekicking. Matt Desmarais is back for his third season as the top long snapper. Carlton Brewster averaged 16.8 yards per kickoff return and 8.9 yards on punts to garner All-GLIAC Second-Team kudos as a return specialist. Jim Skodak and Brandis Bowie both have game-breaking speed and are capable return men.