30 Iowa Conference titles
PELLA--Coach Jeff McMartin is confident Central College will have another high-caliber football team. And with heavy graduation losses and a challenging schedule, he knows it will need to be soon.
The Dutch return only seven starters from last year’s 7-3 team. Yet winning football has been a certainty at the traditional Division III powerhouse. Central hasn’t had a losing season since 1960 and is the second-winningest football program of any NCAA college or university in that span. The Dutch have captured a record 30 Iowa Conference titles with 20 Division III playoff berths.
What is less certain is this year’s lineup.
“We’re traveling into unknown territory,” McMartin said. “We’re young but I see great promise in this team.”
Central flashed potential during a solid offseason.
“There was a lot of energy, excitement and good work ethic in our spring practices,” McMartin said. “We’ve got to have that passion and enthusiasm. If you don’t have it, you’re already behind, but the teams that play the game with those two intangibles take a big step in the right direction.”
The Dutch return just two starters from last year’s offensive unit that led the Iowa Conference in rushing and finished second in scoring. The Dutch averaged 443.5 yards and 36.4 points a game.
“We might see some big changes this year as we develop offensively,” McMartin said.
In a question-filled preseason, there will be none bigger than quarterback, where three-time all-Iowa Conference pick, three-year starter and team MVP Nate Snead has graduated.
Senior Jack Flaherty (5-11, 200) gets the first look. He threw six passes last year, completing three for 51 yards, and tallied 21 yards on four carries.
“Jack’s a smart player who works very hard and is competitive,” McMartin said.
Austin Blom, a 6-0, 190-pound junior, is back after studying in Europe through Central College Abroad last fall. Sophomores Cody Gullet (6-0, 200) and Aaron Eiseler (5-11, 195), and freshman transfer Brandon Boerm (5-11, 180) are also in contention.
“The quarterback position will come down to who leads the team and who can take care of the ball,” McMartin said.
The Dutch will work to develop more of their pass options this year.
“ We had a lot of options last year with Nate (Snead) because of his size and agility,” McMartin said. “We will need to play to the strengths of this year’s quarterbacks. We have to continue to evolve as an offense.”
The offensive line was hit harder by graduation than any other area, as the Dutch lost four starters and some of the top back-ups.
“We’ll be very physical up front, but we need to figure out our identity,” McMartin said.
The lone starter back is guard Colton Smith, a 5-10, 255-pound senior.
“Colton is a very good guard who is technical and physical,” McMartin said.
He’s joined in a wide-open scrap for offensive line positions by seniors Anthony Wolf (6-0, 275), Spenser Fuller (6-2, 320), Garrett Veldman (6-4, 265) and juniors Matt Schrafel (6-2, 260), Travis Hook (6-3, 260) and Joe Flaherty (6-2, 250). Sophomores Caleb Lynch (5-11, 260), Josh Tack (5-11, 260), Matt Guinane (6-4, 240), Lucas Sears (5-9, 220), Garrett Young (5-11, 240) and Ryan Collins (6-0, 235), along with transfer Jordan Youngman (6-3, 310), could also land a spot.
“All of these players have an opportunity to play a lot of football and contribute to the team,” McMartin said. “We need all of them to take a step up from where they were last year.”
Sophomore Jack Norgaard (6-3, 220) will bid to fill an open tight end spot after moving from wide receiver. Sophomore Daniel Reiman (5-11, 210) and a number of freshmen will also get a look.
“Tight end is an area we’ve got to continue to shore up and get better,” McMartin said. “We’ve always had good tight ends here, not just from a running standpoint but from a pass-catching standpoint.”
Central’s hybrid fullback/wingback position is another unsettled area. Senior Christian Rich (6-0, 230) is back after being sidelined by injury and has moved from tight end. Sophomores Austin Shaver (5-11, 215), Alan Pfandenhauer (6-0, 215) and Tyler Lenox (6-0, 210), who moved from the fullback position, could also make an impact.
“These players all compete well against each other,” McMartin said.
The offense gets a lift with plenty of experience returning at running back.
Ross Doehrmann, a 6-0, 205-pound senior, was Central’s second-leading rusher last year behind Snead, tallying 570 yards on 135 attempts and scoring five touchdowns.
“He finds a way to run the ball very effectively for us,” McMartin said.
Sophomores Josh Osborn (5-8, 195) and De’Andre Currie (5-5, 165) each had stunning rookie campaigns. Osborn, the O’Donnell Award winner as the team’s top freshman, averaged 6.5 yards a carry and scored six touchdowns. Currie averaged 4.0 yards in eight games and found the end zone twice.
“Josh is a big-play threat and if he can get to level two he can take it to the house,” McMartin said. “De’Andre is explosive and has speed.”
Sophomores Conner Freeman (5-10, 195) and Schyler Bardole (5-11, 190) provide capable support.
The receiving corps also has depth and is led by Ben Lechtenberg, a 6-5, 220-pound senior who caught 28 passes for 550 yards last year and scored two touchdowns. He received the team’s Claussen Award as the most improved player.
“He’s the first guy to catch your attention,” McMartin said. “At 6-5 he has size and speed and we’re going to utilize it all. Ben’s gotten better every year and he’s a player we need to focus on.”
Seniors Grant McArdle (6-2, 205), Joseph Kotz (5-11, 185), Bobby Daigle (6-0, 185) and Trent Heetland (5-11, 180), who is transitioning from the defense, are also looking for time.
Juniors Keegan Frisch (6-0, 185) and Austin Aldrich (6-0, 180) add depth. Junior Nolan Blythe (6-2, 190) is back after studying abroad last spring and sophomore Blaine Forsythe (6-1, 195) has moved to receiver from quarterback and will contend for a starting spot.
“We have good depth and a lot of competition at this position,” McMartin said.
Defensively, what the Dutch lack in numbers they make up for in speed. Central returns five starters from last year’s squad that led the conference in total defense and sacks.
“We’re going to fly around and play fast,” McMartin said. “We have speed and we’re going to utilize it. We need to get back to creating more turnovers. We did a good job last year getting to the quarterback but we need to create more opportunities getting fumbles and picks.”
Central regains the services of junior Danny Samson, a 5-11, 250-pound junior, on the defensive line. He made 29 tackles including 4.5 sacks and 9 tackles for loss last season.
“He jumps out at you right away and could be a real force for us this year,” McMartin said. “We’re excited to see what we can do. We’re going take advantage of his speed and strength and let him go make plays.”
Senior Derek Beckman (6-0, 220) will get a look as a defensive end. And seniors Brandon Burrell (6-2, 290), a converted offensive lineman, and Spencer Matlock (5-11, 285), are back with experience at nose guard.
“They all need to have great years and come ready to compete,” McMartin said.
Top contenders for other spots include juniors Jack Shipley (6-2, 235) and JJ Kotz (6-0, 230) and sophomores Brody Janssen (6-1, 230), Dan Borgerding (5-11, 215), Clay Eustice (6-0, 235) and Dillon Olsen (5-9, 215).
Seth Carson, a 6-1, 240-pound senior, is the top returnee at linebacker. He posted 61 tackles, including 38 solo stops, last year with nine tackles for loss and two interceptions.
“Seth’s very smart and knows the defense inside-out,” McMartin said. “We need him to be at his best and to make plays.”
Senior Keith Rush (5-10, 185) was a first-team all-conference selection, but is questionable due to an offseason injury. He led the Dutch last year with 79 tackles, 44 on his own, 11.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
“He flies around and is a very physical player,” McMartin said. “We just don’t know if he will be ready.”
But the position has been reinforced. Senior Andrew Weaks (6-2, 220) moved from tight end to bolster the position, as did junior running back Sam Armstrong (5-6, 195), and junior Luke Geneser (6-0, 215) could also be used at inside linebacker, along with sophomores Jordan Wachter (5-11, 205) and Brayton Meeker (5-11, 225). Junior Jesse Beringer (6-0, 205) and sophomores Mitch Schroeder (6-0, 185) and Gideon Kluge (6-0, 200) are in the picture at outside linebacker, along with junior Zach Brennan (5-10, 220), who has moved from defensive line after missing time with injury, sophomore Nick Henry (6-0, 205), formerly an inside linebacker, and junior Mike Young (5-11, 190), previously a defensive back.
“Linebacker is a very untested area for us and everyone is in a wide-open battle,” McMartin said.
The secondary is young but has experience. Cornerback Jason Breon, a 5-9, 170-pound senior, made 36 tackles last year including 27 solo stops with three pass break-ups. Spencer Boeyink (6-0, 175) started all 10 games as a freshman at the other cornerback spot, recording 22 stops, two interceptions and eight pass break-ups. Eric Larson, a 6-1, 175-pound sophomore, picked up significant experience at the end of his first season and had five tackles.
Sophomores Michael Daigle (5-7, 160), Landon Coker (5-9, 175) and Brian Zahnle (5-5, 140) also show promise.
The Dutch graduated a pair of safeties but Jacob Edleman (6-0, 175), who was in the two-deep as a rookie, is back after year off. McMartin is also looking at large group of juniors including Mike Young (5-11, 190), Mike Rus (5-11, 190) and Tug McCleery (5-10, 195), along with sophomores Jake Tune (6-1, 190), Cory Eckels (6-1, 180) and Spencer Beekman (5-10, 165).
“They’ll all have opportunities to show us what they can do,” McMartin said. “We need players to step up and become solid safeties for us.”
The return of first-team all-conference kicker Kevin Sheldon gives the special teams a boost. Sheldon, a 5-11, 170-pound sophomore, made 7 of 11 field goals last year, with his longest coming from 40 yards out. He was 47-of-48 for extra points, hitting his first 46 and setting the school’s season conversions record.
Sophomore Drew Kleis (5-11, 210) and Tanner Price (5-10, 240) are back-ups.
Forsythe, Price and junior Levi Ross (5-9, 190) are in the mix to handle the punting chores. McMartin is still looking for punt and kick return men after losing two four-year starters.
“We need to get back to being special on special teams and win the battle of field position,” McMartin said.
A promising recruiting class with over 40 newcomers will help fill some holes down the road if not immediately.
“We have talented freshmen coming in at every spot,” McMartin said. “Some will have the opportunity to crack the travel squad or two-deep but those that don’t we’ll be talking about next year.”
The early-season schedule is tough, with long treks to Wis.-Oshkoshand Albion (Mich.) sandwiched around a contest with Augustana (Ill.), followed by the league opener with last year’s champion Dubuque. The Dutch close the conference slate with title contenders Wartburg and Coe.
“We have a challenging schedule,” McMartin said. “There are no easy teams.”
But Central’s first priority will be nailing down starters at each position.
“We need to get guys on the field and identify a two-deep in quick fashion to get our players enough reps so they’re comfortable and confident,” McMartin said.
Once gameday arrives, the Dutch will use the same strategies that have pushed the program to 50 winning seasons since 1961.
“We want to play smart, be physical and play with passion,” McMartin said. “The team that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins. This season is going to be a lot of fun and very exciting.”