30 Iowa Conference titles
2014 record: 8-2 overall, 6-1 Iowa Conference (second place)
Starters returning: 4 offense, 5 defense, 2 special teams
Starters lost: 7 offense, 6 defense, 4 special teams
Letterwinners returning/lost: 41/24
Returning all-Iowa Conference players: 1 (second-team LB Drew Carlson)
Iowa Conference titles: 30 (18 in past 32 years)
Last NCAA Division III playoff appearance: 2009 (L, 42-40 vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor, Texas)
NCAA Division III playoff berths: 20
All-time NCAA playoff record: 21-19
All-time W-L record: 588-312-24
Centrals’ record at Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium (opened in 1977): 165-37
Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl appearances: 3 (first, 1974; second, 1984, 1988)
Not even the graduation of a large and talented class has diminished the enthusiasm of coach Jeff McMartin about Central College’s 2015 football squad.
Admittedly, questions abound, none bigger than the identity of this year’s starting quarterback, but the Dutch have both talent and experience up front on each side of the ball, and that provides a nice foundation for a swift rebuild following last year’s resurgent 8-2 campaign.
Central won its final six games last year and climbed into second place in the Iowa Conference, narrowly missing an NCAA Division III playoff berth.
“I think we were playing really good football at the end of the year,” McMartin said. “Now we’ve got to reload a little bit but we were still kind of a young team last year. We lost some very good players but we also played a lot of young guys. A lot of these guys have played in games, started games and been a part of a good team."
Five starters are back on defense and four on offense, and several other returnees have starting experience, with 42 letterwinners back overall.
The squad got a head start on the process in May, when McMartin led several team members on the program’s third trip to Italy, continuing a 30-year tradition of international travel.
Central does have a little returning experience at quarterback due to last year’s starter, Aaron Eiseler, missing some early season action due to injury. Junior Noah Stochl got a start and completed 20 of 37 passes for 197 yards with one interception and two TDs.
“Noah came in and did a great job last year,” McMartin said. “He’s a good athlete who runs the ball well and throws the ball well. He’s worked very hard and we’re excited to see where he’s at this year.”
Another junior, Riley Gray, flashed promise. He appeared in eight games, completing 6 of 7 throws for 49 yards while running for 93 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.
“Riley came off a freshman-season injury but, as his sophomore season went on, played more and more,” McMartin said. “We used him in some situations as a running quarterback and he also did a good job when we asked him to throw the football.
“I think both Noah and Riley will come in ready to compete and play.”
Sophomores Jordan Fox and Kohle Helle spent time on the junior varsity and will get a long look.
“Both of them have potential,” McMartin said. “Jordan is probably more of a dropback passer while Kohle is little bit more of an athletic quarterback. In fact, you could probably use Kohle in multiple roles in our offense.”
McMartin is also open to considering a talented transfer and some incoming freshmen.
“It’s an open race and if someone comes in and they can grasp our offense, are comfortable with it and can make plays, we’ll give them a shot,” he said. “We’re going to have to do a lot in the preseason to give our quarterbacks enough reps and put them in a situation where we can evaluate their ability to move the football team and get us in the end zone. This preseason is critical for us to be able to do that and for us to find that player, or players, who can give us the best chance to win.
“We’re going to give people a lot of opportunities to make that happen. And if it’s somebody new, then it’s somebody new. It’s a wide-open race and we owe it to the legacy of this program to play our best players and to give this team the best chance to have success.”
There are good options at running back as well, although filling the void left by graduated all-Iowa Conference standout Josh Osborn is not easily resolved. Osborn led the league in rushing (1,284 yards) and scoring (90 points), finishing as the fourth-leading career rusher in school history with 3,173 yards. He’s tied for seventh on the career charts with 29 rushing touchdowns.
“Josh Osborn made some huge contributions over the last four years,” McMartin said. “We have a lot of new and returning players who are going to compete for the opportunity to take over that role in our offense.
Senior Adam Lindell is among the more experienced potential replacements.
“He’s contributed more and more and has continued to grow his impact on the program,” McMartin said. “Adam is an exciting player and we’re looking forward to seeing what he can do on the field this year.”
But the Dutch have a host of young talent to look over.
“Kane Carstens, Cory Archer and Derrick Gray all had productive freshman years and looked good, and we could even see Kyle Gritsch, who was our S-back, used as a running back if we need to and there are some freshmen in our recruiting class I really like.
“I do believe what we have with our returners and our incoming players can help us put something together that will help our team move the ball on the ground.”
But the uncertainty means how the backs are used in practice will differ from when there was a clear favorite.
“In the situation we’re in this year, it’s competition,” he said. “Guys are going to come in and they’re going to compete. Every snap, every rep is going to be important and so there’s an urgency there that’s a little bit different.”
Gritsch should continue to make strides as the S-back.
“He started last year as a freshman and did a great job,” McMartin said.
Junior Matt Williamson saw action as well.
“He’s a very capable player and blocker,” he said. “He’s got good hands.”
Two starters return in the offensive line, senior left tackle Nick Watson and highly regarded sophomore center Josh Brunk.
“Nick’s in his third year as a starter,” McMartin said. “He was one of the guys who went down to injury but until he got hurt, he was having a great year.”
Another senior, Travis DeFrancisco, is competing.
“Travis provides great depth and leadership and had a good spring,” McMartin said.
Juniors Kyle Pepper and Cole Tanner gained experience last year when injuries hit the Dutch.
“Kyle came in and started for us the last half of the season as a center and did a great job,” McMartin said. “He’s a very good shotgun snapper. He’s a big body that moves well.
“Cole came in and was a starter the last half of the season and is going to be a hard person for us to move off the field. He did a great job.”
Senior Curtis Weeks and junior Yaqoob Ahmad are in the mix.
“Curtis played last year as a guard for us and is going to come in and compete,” McMartin said. “He’s a big, physical kid who moves well and continues to improve his technique. We’re excited about him.
“And Yaqoob is versatile and can help us at a lot of positions.”
The line got a big lift with the return of junior Greg Smith. A part-time starter as a freshman, Smith flashed great promise but transferred prior to his sophomore season.
“We’re excited to have Greg back,” McMartin said. “He had a great first year for us and has a lot of ability. He will definitely compete for a starting position and it’s great to have him back in the Central family.”
Josh Brunk can play either center or guard as one of several talented sophomore linemen.
“He’ll compete for a starting position,” McMartin said.
Will Pigg and Cal Smith are also highly regarded sophomores.
“Will is another big, physical player who I think can do a great job for us,” McMartin said. “Cal will definitely compete for a starting position. He played a lot as a freshman, he’s gotten bigger and stronger and could play a big part in our offense.”
Sophomores Steve Peterman will likely line up as a tackle.
“He’s continued to improve,” McMartin said. “He’s got a great frame. Having a great off-season and putting on some pounds is helping him and he will be a factor because he’s a good athlete.”
McMartin will also keep a close eye on sophomores Tyler Christensen, and Max Hytone.
“Tyler Christensen will compete at center,” he said. “He was around our program at camps when he was in high school and has really gotten to know our system.
“Max Hytone showed great improvement his freshman year. He’s another big body and needs to continue taking the next steps.”
Senior Jake Wassenaar caught just two passes but saw considerable time at tight end.
“He’s done a great job of being a leader on the field and off the field,” McMartin said. “He’s gotten bigger and stronger each year and we’re really excited to see what he can do this year.”
Another veteran, junior Mitch Boerm, emerged as a threat. He caught 14 passes for 138 yards and four touchdowns.
“Mitchell Boerm had a great sophomore season for us,” McMartin said. “He’s played a lot ever since he got here as a freshman and had some really big games last year. He’s an athletic big guy with great hands and someone who can be a real weapon for us this year.”
Junior Tucker Ornsby will also see action.
“Tucker had a great spring and has gotten bigger and stronger,” McMartin said. “He’s somebody we’re looking for great improvement from.”
Others pushing for time include junior Rey Acevedo and sophomores Kolby Whisner, Drew Doehrmann and P.J. Norem.
“Rey Acevedo returned to Central last year,” McMartin said. “He came in as an offensive lineman and we moved him to tight end. He’s athletic and had a very good spring for us.
“Kolby Whisner came in as a quarterback. We took a look at him at tight end and he played tight end when we were over in Italy and did some nice things.
“Drew Doehrmann has great hands and good speed. He’s a good athlete. He just needs to continue to compete and grow in the position.”
“P.J. Norem is coming off an injury but is coming off a great off-season of rehab. He’s another big, physical body who I think can help us.”
The Dutch have good numbers at tight end and intend to take advantage of it.
“You’ll see us in a lot of two tight sets this year,” McMartin said. “We feel like we’ve got great depth at tight end, with some great players—guys that can really help us.”
Talent abounds at wide receiver, ratcheting up the need for Central’s new quarterback to throw the ball effectively.
Senior Taylor Cox gained prominence returning punts and kicks, but has developed as a receiver as well with 13 catches for 114 yards last year.
“Taylor is just a fearless player who plays the game at a high speed and has a great motor,” McMartin said. “He’s a competitor. He’s got excellent hands and we want to see him have a great senior year.”
Sam Markham played basketball in his first year at Central but joined the football squad last year and, after a late start due to injury, quickly opened some eyes with 52 catches for 650 yards and three touchdowns. That’s matches the fourth-highest season receptions total in school history and resulted in him receiving the O’Donnell Award as the team’s top freshman.
“Sam came in last year and did a great job,” McMartin said. “He has big-play potential. He’s got great hands and jumping ability and we’re excited to see him take another step in year two of his career.”
Juniors Zach Martinelli and William Meredith are looking for increased playing time. Martinelli appeared in five games and Meredith was in three.
“Zach has really worked hard to get stronger and understand our offense,” McMartin said. “He’s a great route runner who makes plays. He’s going to be in the mix.
“William Meredith did a great job last season before he got hurt. We need him to have a big year.
Sophomore Dillon Bates moved from quarterback.
“We feel like that’s a good move for him,” McMartin said.
Sophomores Justin Wimbish, P.J. Carey, Jeremy Shannon, Mat Mills and Chase Allen are also contenders.
“Justin Wimbish had a great track season,” McMartin said. “We look for him to compete along with P.J. Carey, who was on the baseball team. Jeremy Shannon missed a lot of his freshman season because of injury but battled through it and had a good spring. Mat Mills and Chase Allen are also going to come in and compete at the Z and H spots for us. They improved a lot.
“We’re excited to see what these players can do for our football team.”
Senior Dustin Smith is Central’s most experienced defensive lineman. He made 19 tackles last year with 2.0 sacks.
“Dustin has done a great job,” McMartin said. “He battled through some injuries but when he’s healthy, he’s a very talented defensive lineman. He’s big, he’s physical and he’s always around the football.”
And the Dutch appear to have a difference-maker in sophomore Corbin Blythe, who transferred to Central as a freshman and quickly forced his way into the lineup. He made 33 tackles, including four for loss and had nine tackles against Monmouth (Ill.).
“He was really the iron-man of our defensive line,” McMartin said. “He makes plays, hustles, has a great motor and has great size to go along with it. He’s a guy we expect great things from in his sophomore season.”
Junior Wes Wheat is eyeing an increased role after making seven tackles in a part-time role at nose guard.
“He did a great job,” McMartin said. “He’s a big body and he’s strong.”
McMartin thinks the Dutch have found the right spot for junior Edwin Etiene.
“We moved him from S-back over to the defensive line and he battled through some injuries but definitely had a good season for us,” he said. “We’re very happy with his progress. He’s a playmaker.”
Senior Trent Smothers, a member of the track and field squad, had 14 tackles, including 5.0 for loss.
“He’s done a great job,” McMartin said. “He’s very athletic. We need him at his best this fall.”
Junior Brett Boddicker made eight stops as a sophomore.
“Brett has a high motor and great drive,” McMartin said. “He’s got good size and we need him to continue to make improvements.”
Junior Peter Ferrill saw occasional duty last season.
“He’s another junior who we want to see take the next step, compete and play,” McMartin said.
Senior Clay Eustice, junior Sam Drawbond and sophomores Justin Dilk, Jared Keenan and Brennin Miller are contending as well.
“Clay has worked hard to get himself in a position to compete,” McMartin said. “He’s battled through some injuries and we’d like to see him have a good season.
“Sam Drawbond has gotten stronger and better each year. Justin Dilks has also gotten bigger and stronger. He traveled with his to some road games and is a guy we’d like to see step up and help us. He’s got a big frame and I think putting a year in the weightroom is going to provide a big boost for him.
“You can say the same thing about Jared Keenan. He’s gotten bigger, he’s gotten stronger. He’s physical and is the kind of guy we’d like to see take off.
“Brennin Miller had some injuries as a freshman but he’s a strong player who can play nose guard for us. He had a great off-season. He’s got good quickness and does a really good job of taking care of the middle of the field.”
Officially, junior Jessie Peterson, is the lone returning starter from last season at inside linebacker. But the Dutch are loaded with experience, as the top tacklers from the past two years return. Mitch Schroeder, Central’s leading tackler in 2013, was sidelined by injury in the preseason and had to sit out but is back for another shot at his senior season. Central also regains the services of junior Sam Norgaard, another preseason injury victim in 2014 who was expected to be on the field.
“We’re excited to have those guys back in the fold because of their ability and their leadership,” McMartin said. “
Peterson, meanwhile, filled the void by becoming Central’s top tackler in 2014 with 80 stops, including 33 solos with 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.
“Jessie flies around and plays the game with great passion,” McMartin said. “He’s somebody who can be an anchor for us there.”
Sophomores Andy Butts, Tyler Olson and Carson Remick show promise.
“They all traveled last year and we need them to continue to step up and be ready to compete and play both at linebacker and on special teams,” McMartin said. “They have the opportunity to be important factors for our defense.”
There’s depth on the outside as well.
Junior Drew Carlson ranked second on the squad tackle charts with 71 last year, including 33 unassisted tackles. He also had an interception, two fumble recoveries, a pass breakup and a blocked kick.
“He had a great season for us last year,” McMartin said. “He’s one of the fastest players on the team. Early in the season he was playing at inside linebacker because of our injuries, but when we moved him back to the outside, that’s when he really took off and where he plays his best football.”
The Dutch look to find another starter from among junior T.J. Huizenga and sophomores Chris Neeld, Jake Walters, Josh Scheible, Ben Mitchell and Tyler Peters.
“T.J. shows promise and is going to have a chance to compete,” McMartin said. “Chris Neeld is probably one of the 4-5 fastest players on the team. Jake Walters has gotten bigger and stronger. He’s physical and very steady.
“The off-season was good for Josh Scheible. He’s competitive and a good player. Ben Mitchell has a chance to do a nice job. And Tyler Peters is returning after a year off. He had a great freshman year and we’re excited to have him back on defense.”
Central graduated two regulars at safety, including consensus all-America pick Jake Edleman.
Safety is definitely an area where there is an opportunity to play and compete,” McMartin said. “It’s one of the positions going into the season which is a question for us to shore up and see who going to be on the field.”
Junior Zach Matter made 16 tackles, including 10 solos, in a reserve role. Also contending are sophomores Jacob Zimmerman, McKay Carstens, Steven Adkins and Tate Jensen. Carstens could also play at cornerback.
“Zach has worked very hard to be in a position to compete,” McMartin said. “McKay missed last season due to a hand injury but is healthy now. He ran track last spring and we’re excited to see him come back.
“Jacob Zimmerman is a smart player. He was around the ball a lot in the spring and it will be exciting to see what he can do. And Steven Adkins worked hard in the off-season. He’s done a good job of learning the system.”
Yet another track and field competitor, Jensen could get a chance at safety.
“Tate Jensen has played cornerback but could also play safety,” McMartin said.”We’ll find out in the preseason where the best fit is for him. He’s got great speed. He’s a good athlete and a playmaker.”
Central graduated all-conference standout Eric Larson but has a returning starter at cornerback with junior Tony Oros, who missed the last half of the season due to injury. That injury allowed his replacement, senior Cael Halfman, to also gained starting experience.
Halfman made 13 tackles and an interception while Oros, in just five games, had 21 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, with one pass breakup.
“Cael switched to defensive back after coming in as a freshman year at quarterback for us,” McMartin said, “Cael did a great job. He was a great leader this off-season. He’s a senior who I think is really helping our team understand the culture here. He’s a winner and a guy we’re going to rely heavily on to have a great senior year."
“Both Cael and Tony have started, have played games and are competitive. They just need to go out, play their game and help us be our best."
Senior Lakota Smith and junior Sam Schmitz look to get on the field as well.
“Lakota will have an opportunity to prove himself,” McMartin said. “Sam has steadily improved. They have the ability to help our football program, not only as defensive backs but potentially on special teams.”
McMartin also has hopes for sophomore Nick Greteman.
“Nick shows great potential,” McMartin said. “He’s tall and athletic and we want to see him take the next step.”
The punting and placekicking positions are highly valued in McMartin’s program and both spots are up for grabs with the graduation of Edleman and all-region kicker Kevin Sheldon, although McMartin likes his options.
“Punter is wide open,” he said. “It most likely will be one of our incoming recruits but we could find someone else on the team like we did last year. At kicker, (sophomore) Aaron Marcellus, who has been a kicker and running back for us, had a great spring. We recruited him heavily to be a kicker and now he is getting his opportunity.”
Also contending will be sophomore John Courtney.
“John’s continuing to work hard and develop his kicking skills,” McMartin said.
Central’s top return man last year, Taylor Cox, averaged 5.8 yards on 18 punt returns and 21.0 yards on 15 kick returns. Oros can return as well, averaging 18.8 yards on 10 kicks before being injured last season. The Dutch could also call on Martinelli and Kane Carstens.
“Having Taylor Cox back is big and Tony Oros has done a nice job, too,” McMartin said. “And we may find a freshman who can help us if they’re not playing a lot at another position. I feel confident that we’ll have we’ll have good returners.”
McMartin and his staff are enjoying an uptick in recent recruiting success and that continued with this year’s class, which brings more than 50 new players to the Dutch roster.
“We brought in some very good athletes,” McMartin said. “We’ve got some guys who are going to compete right away and help this football team. It’s a good group and we’re excited to see what they can do.”
The coaching staff was expanded three years ago with an emphasis on recruiting, and is starting to see great results.
“We feel like our recruiting process has improved and the kids we’re getting are better,” McMartin said. “The overall environment and the culture of the program are really good right now and I give our young players credit for that. They’re buying in, they’re hungry and they want to get better. Our new freshmen need to come in and become a part of that. That’s an exciting challenge.”
The foundation again starts up front, and fuels McMartin’s optimism about 2015.
“I think we go into this season with experience in the offensive line,” he said. “We go in with guys that are physical. These kids are tough and I love that. Our defensive line has experience and is well-prepared. Our linebackers have experience. There are promising skill players as well."
“I really feel that we have big-play receivers and tight ends,” McMartin said. “We’ve got great depth at both positions. This is an offense that is tight end-friendly. When you’ve got tight ends and S-backs you can shift around and they can block and catch and are threats to do both, that creates a lot of opportunities for the offense. So I think we can be better in those areas. I’m excited to see what some of these returners are going to produce."
“I expect that we will be a disciplined football team. Finding ways to win by not beating ourselves will also be a goal.”
The Dutch can’t ignore some significant graduation losses. The challenge is finding ways to get better.
“When you look at it from a position standpoint, at every spot, there’s holes to fill and guys have to step up,” McMartin said. “Even the guys who played last year need to improve. If they come back and play the way they did last year, then we’re going take a step back backwards and we don’t want that. That’s not our expectation. We want to leave the jersey in a better place than we found it. Guys taking the next step, improving. Have they improved, have they done what they need to do from a work standpoint? Those are things that have been in my thoughts in the off-season.”
Some of those holes are obvious.
“Finding that quarterback, finding the defensive backs, finding the running back, those are position-specific things I think about,” McMartin said. “But most importantly, we want to make sure we stay in the moment and focus on the process. We want to improve each day.”
Process matters, McMartin said, and it’s an integral part of the Central football program.
“That’s one of the things we did really well last year,” McMartin said. “We were very process-oriented. They were very hard-working guys but they could still have fun playing football. Just maintaining our culture and what that is and what that’s about."
“Our number one priority is that we come in and we work hard and we embrace that mentality, that we come in ready to compete against our own best self and be ready to get everyone else’s best shot. We need to embrace the challenge. Trust is huge. Guys with integrity, they develop that trust. Playing the game and practicing in a way that builds that trust. We finished last year on a high note, we got better each week and we want our team to do that again this year. That’s my goal for this football team.”
While the opponents on the 2015 schedule are the same as last year, a scheduling quirk sees the Dutch on the road for six of 10 games. But for the second straight season—and only the second time since 1976—Central has a home game at night, opening Sept. 5 with a 6 p.m. contest with Benedictine (Ill.). McMartin said it’s not something that will necessarily become a staple on the Dutch schedule, but playing under the lights last year generated a favorable reaction.
“It was a great atmosphere,” McMartin said. “We had great fans. Our players enjoy it. It was a lot of fun.”
Even with the graduation losses, McMartin thinks Central’s program is again on the rise, but the conference race will be intensely competitive.
“Top to bottom it’s a tough league,” he said. “There’s been improvement by every school, in their coaching staffs and their facilities. Everybody’s stepping up their game. There’s an expectation at every school to have success. It’s going to be a dogfight."
Another lofty finish for the Dutch won’t come easily.
“Going into the season with the question marks we have and the places where we need to step up, it’s going to be a challenge,” McMartin said.
For now, however, he isn’t looking beyond the Sept. 5 opener with Benedictine. Central’s 31-7 triumph at Lisle, Ill. last year was far closer than the final score, he will remind his players.
“We’ve got to come out of the gates ready to play well,” McMartin said.
But McMartin knows the formula to rely on.
“Last year we had the right attitude and the right culture,” he said. “To me, it’s going to be another year of focusing on that.”
Schipper Stadium upgrades
There are more improvements at Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium as the result of a busy summer. A new entry plaza and the areas surrounding the grandstand and stadium received an upgrade.
“It’s exciting to see the improvements at the field,” McMartin said. “I think they’re going to improve the game-day experience for our fans and our alumni and will continue to make Schipper Stadium a place where our players are excited to play. It puts everybody in an environment to have some great Saturdays.”
The bigger picture
Central has one of the nation’s winningest football program. The numbers can be quickly recited by the Dutch faithful: No losing seasons since 1960, 30 conference championships, 20 NCAA Division III playoff berths and an .800 winning percentage since 1975, the nation’s third-highest percentage at any level of college football.
McMartin cherishes the Central football tradition and wants his players to understand it means more than trophies and titles.
“I want these guys to understand the legacy of the program and to build on that and improve on it,” he said. “And that’s a big goal, that’s a heavy task, to improve on the legacy of this program. But that’s why people come to Central College.
“To me, the legacy is beyond winning and losing. It’s a mindset. It’s the belief you have in yourself and each other—your teammates and your coaches. It’s a closeness, a bond that is special. It’s in the way we prepare --we value hard work. It’s also in the way we compete. Our theme this year is: ability plus behavior equals performance We believe that playing football at Central is a special thing because it’s such a family. Our great teams here have been very close. They have been guys who care about each other, they play for the team and not for themselves. Most importantly they play for Central. That’s ultimately what I want for this program.”