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NEW CONCORD — Just one victory is all that is needed to push the Muskingum University football program to the milestone mark of 500 wins as the 2013 season gets under way.
Last year, the Fighting Muskies averaged 19.9 points and 285.2 yards of offense a game while finishing with a 3-7 overall mark and a 3-6 mark in what is arguably the toughest Division III conference in the nation — the Ohio Athletic Conference.
Beginning his seventh season at the helm of his Alma Mater, Al Logan returns 27 lettermen including 17 starters, 10 of them on offense, after losing eight seniors to graduation.
On offense, 10-of-11 players return this year including sophomore quarterback C.J. Snider (6-2, 215), who finally emerged as the starter the final part of the year playing in eight games. Snider poses a dual threat as he can throw the ball or tuck in away and run.
Last year, the freshman carried the ball 124 times for 455 net yards for five touchdowns and completed 69-of-119 passes for an additional 820 yards and four TDs while suffering six interceptions.
“He can both run and throw,” Logan pointed out. “Last year, he did a lot due to his athletic ability and he is developing his skills now. We also have another sophomore, Cody Williams, working at quarterback and we brought in five freshman quarterback candidates.”
Senior running back Shane Dotson (5-8, 210) is expected to shoulder the load in the backfield from the running back position, but Logan has some others that are working for an opportunity to tote the pigskin.
Dotson played in all 10 games last fall and carried the ball 103 times for 381 net yards and two scores. He also hauled in nine passes for 59 yards out of the backfield.
Junior Tracey Barnes (5-7, 190) returns after missing last season due to knee surgery. Another junior, Garrett Clark (5-10, 198) along with sophomore transfer Melvin Smith (5-10, 220) and sophomore Alex Dickey (5-7, 150) a vying for playing time in the backfield.
“The best group of guys on the team are at this position,” Logan stated. “Dickey is small but he has great speed.”
Snider, or whoever calls the signals, will have a talented receiver corps to throw to including second team all-OAC honoree (his second year as an all-conference selection) and pre-season All-American senior wide receiver James Washington (6-3, 186). Last year, he led the Muskies with 43 receptions for 666 yards and eight touchdowns. He was second in the OAC in touchdown receptions, seventh in receiving yards per game and eighth in receptions per game. He is currently ranked third all-time at Muskingum with 1,523 receiving yards.
Junior receiver Marvin Morris (5-11, 160) will also be counted on as a receiver after grabbing 25 catches for 294 yards and one score last year. Junior Nate Poling (6-4, 195) and senior Alvin Taylor (5-7, 160) add depth to the wide receiver corps.
Senior Wes Rataiczak (6-2, 230) a graduate of Shenandoah, along with junior Bryson Stephen (6-5, 228) from Barnesville will both play a valuable role at tight end in the Muskies spread-option offense. Last year, Rataiczak snagged 12 passes for 139 yards and one TD.
“I think we can be a balanced team between the run and the pass,” Logan said. “We are a spread-option team and the schemes never change. As a freshman, for Snider to do what he did last year was outstanding, but you can’t run every time in this conference. You have to be able to throw it. We have two good tight ends and plan to use a lot of two tight end sets this year. ”
Mike Gibbs was the only offensive lineman who graduated off a unit the helped the Muskies average 130.3 yards rushing per game and 285.2 yards of total offense per outing.
Zac Snively (6-1, 270) returns at center where he started the last half of the season last year.
Another preseason All-American pick, senior captain and two time all-OAC selection Denny Ardman (6-1, 280) and junior Derrek Fulk (6-3, 285) return at the guards.
One tackle, Sam Lucas (6-4, 260) is back while the other tackle slot will need to be filled during preseason drills.
Seniors Shawn Hannon (6-1, 255) from Cambridge, Jared Penrod (6-1, 240), Frederick Lowe (6-5, 300), junior Joey McGovern (6-3, 285) and sophomores Patrick Hoben (6-2, 275), Gerald Hall (6-4, 275), Jacob Clark (6-1, 270) and Christopher Hoffman (6-4, 305) are all vying for playing time on the line.
“Hannon could play a role at either guard or tackle,” Logan said. “We also have several freshmen that could develop and push for time later in the year. With the amount of players back on offense, the offense is ahead of the defense at this point. We had a good spring practice and haven’t changed anything so everyone should have a good understanding of what we do.”
With just six starters back on defense, the Muskies will strive to improve on last season’s numbers where they gave up 25 points and 319 yards of offense per game. The defense is under the guidance of 2011 OAC Assistant Coach of the Year Shap Boyd.
The strength of the defense will be the secondary with the return of senior captains corner Darell Jones and safety Hank Smith. Senior corner Tristan Heath also returns and senior safety Alex Adams is back.
Jones had 33 tackles and picked off four passes with 10 pass break-ups last year. Smith added 27 tackles and one interception, while Heath had three interceptions to go with four break-ups.
“The question yet to be answered is who will be our fourth guy,” Logan pointed out. “There are more players back in the linebacker corps and Chaney Fulton (6-1, 205, So.) is one of the best linebackers in the conference.”
The linebacker group will be led by senior Erik Hall (5-11, 205) who had 56 stops last year and forced one fumble. Fulton broke into the lineup last year and finished leading the Muskies with 67 tackles as a freshman.
Other linebacking hopefuls include junior Damond Goggins (5-9, 220), sophomores Zach Barry (5-11, 215), Steven Vinson (6-0, 228) who all saw some playing time last year. Sophomore transfer Tyler Parker (6-0, 225) and sophomore Ian Cottrill (6-0, 180) from Cambridge.
The real question marks are up front with the interior line and defensive ends. Being looked at for positions there are seniors Evan Wiggall (6-2, 240) and Josh Frederick (6-4, 265), junior Nick Beany (5-11, 240) and sophomore Joseph DeWitt III (6-2, 230). At the defensive ends may be senior Luke Weber (5-10, 210) and junior Tony Moore (5-9, 225).
“We have some questions up front and with the ends,” Logan admitted. “We are looking at these players and hoping that some of the freshmen can step in there.
“Our coaching staff returns intact,” he added. “You can have a good team and play well, but it not show in the record. People don’t always see that. I feel optimistic about the year. It is kind of good to be the underdog with the team we have this year.”
Besides the defensive coordinator Boyd, other assistant coaches include running backs coach Jim Kaser in his 16th season at Muskingum, defensive end coach Joe Montgomery in his seventh year, coaching the linebackers is Nick Harding entering his fourth season and three coaches, Luke Summers (offensive line), Christopher Mobley (defensive line) and Steven Harris (wide receivers) are all in their second year.
Senior Caleb Carpenter returns to handle the kicking duties for the Muskies after connecting on 3-of-5 field goals last year with the longest a 35-yarder. With the graduation of punter Danny Snively who averaged 39.6 yards on 57 punts ranking him 22nd in the nation, a punter will have to be found although Carpenter can also punt.
“Our punter won’t be decided until camp,” Logan said. “We have some very talented freshmen punter in Joseph Chadwick from Toronto, Samuel Green (Fairfield Union) and kicker Robbie Baskent from Upper Arlington.
Looking at the OAC this year, Logan sees Mount Union and Heidelberg as the two top teams, while Baldwin Wallace has a great team back and John Carroll should be good.
“Heidelberg has a nice team back and return their quarterback and running back,” he pointed out. “I like our schedule as to who we have at home this year. We play Ohio Northern and Heidelberg at home and we have always played them tough at home.”
The Muskies open the season with non-conference foe Waynesburg on the road and they will try to avenge a 34-23 loss last year. Waynesburg has received some votes nationally in the poll and returns a good team this year.
“The opener is a big key,” Logan admitted. “Waynesburg will have a good team and has gotten some mention in the national polls, but I like the group we are doing it with. Our focus from day one is how to beat Waynesburg.
“We have to try and stay as healthy as we can,” he added, “but you have to play with the group you have. We have nine JV games scheduled this year and the development of the kids starts there. Most of our starters today played on the JV team as freshmen.”
Muskingum treks to Waynesburg for that non-conference opener on Sept. 7. The following Saturday is a bye week and Muskingum will then get into the heat of the OAC schedule hosting the Division III defending national champion and preseason No. 1 pick the University of Mount Union.