The coaching staff is new. The offense is new. The defense
is new. There are more than two dozen fresh faces on board. Before the first
practice was even held, it was obvious the 2011 Hamline University football season
will look decidedly different than its predecessors. First-year head coach John
Pate wouldn’t have it any other way. Having been involved with five NCAA
Division 1-AA championship teams at Georgia Southern, Pate is looking forward
to the challenge of running a team in one of the best Division III conferences
in the country, the MIAC.
It starts for real this Saturday when the Pipers visit Washington state for a rematch with Pacific Lutheran. Last year, the Lutes held off the Pipers for a 27-20 victory at Klas Field.
What will be different this year?
“We will be more athletic,” Pate
said. “I can promise you that. We will be young and inexperienced in some
areas. But we will grow together. If you are athletic and mobile, you can
accomplish a lot of good things on the field. And that is what we are looking
to accomplish in 2011.”
45 players return for Pate and his staff. Among them is a
pair of senior quarterbacks – Adam Meyer (Cold Spring, Minn.) and Connor Sathre
(Waconia, Minn.) Meyer saw the majority of the action last season, throwing for
1583 yards and nine TDs. Sathre appeared in nine games and finished second on
the team in rushing yards. Sathre is expected to get the starting nod Saturday afternoon.
“Adam and Connor know the league better than I do. That’s
important because they can tell us coaches things that aren’t always apparent
on film,” Pate said.
Speed is of the essence in the option offense Pate intends to employ. Tim Queck
(Sr-Annandale, Minn.) has moved from a
wide receiver position into the backfield and joins junior Blake Cook (Fridley,
Minn.) as the top returnees. First-year players Zach Deitchman (Phoenix,
Ariz.), Corey Touchette (Bainbridge Island, Wash.), Hoyfal Adam (Brooklyn Park,
Minn.) and sophomores Peterson Pierre (Saint Paul, Minn.) and Joey Propati
(Borrego Springs, Calif.) are also in the mix. “It’s going to be an
interesting, open competition,” Pate said.
With Queck, who caught 41 passes last year, likely to move
to the backfield, new faces will likely abound in the receiver positions. Dessalien Similhomme (So-Rochester, Minn.) and
Terry Schwartz (Sr-Saint Paul, Minn.)
may get the first looks but there are plenty of first-year players in
the mix. Arthur Moore (Maplewood, Minn.) is one of three first-year players expected to start Saturday. One of the most interesting transitions may occur at tight end where
former OL Andrew Viereck (Sr-Prior Lake, Minn.) has battled with junior Ben Del
Greco (Jr-Sandstone, Minn.) for playing time. “It’s all about athleticism,” Pate said. “We
really won’t know for sure until we see them in training camp for a few days.”
Fortunately, a veteran offensive line, anchored by center
Jimmy Stone (Sr-Taylors Falls, Minn.) returns. Guards Morgan Scheper
(Sr-Carleton, Ore.) and Joe Morelli (So-Linwood, Wash) and tackles Patrick Chilton
(So-Hesperia, Calif.) and Stephen Girard (Jr-Milaca, Minn.) are accustomed to
the MIAC grind. In all, there were a dozen offensive linemen in camp. “This
could be the strength of the team,” said Charlie Hopkins, the team’s offensive
line coach. “We need these guys to be leaders for us.”
As is the case on offense, the Piper defense will feature
some familiar faces in new roles. Cory Olsen (Sr-Elk River, Minn.), who was
third on the Pipers in tackles in 2010 as a linebacker, has been moved to the
end position. “He runs well for a guy who is 6-5, 250,” Pate said. Eric Klaers (Jr- Elk River, Minn.), a second
team All-MIAC pick a year ago, is being
moved to a tackle spot as well. He and senior Nick Wyatt (Jonesboro, GA) offers
size and agility up front. “It looks like we may have some depth there,’ too,”
Pate said. “That’s a definite plus.”
There is movement as well in the linebacking corps. Alex
Ferguson (Jr- Kent, Wash.) had a terrific spring after being moved up from the
secondary where he had eight solo tackles last year. He will likely start Saturday along with Josh Bain, a fifth year
senior (Grand Meadow, Minn.) and Olajuwan Stiffler (So-Troutdale, Ore.), who was
fourth in tackles in 2010, have the early inside advantage for starting jobs.
In the secondary, FS John-Michael Vandenberg (So-Bothel,
Wash.), who led the Pipers in tackles, breakups and deflections in 2010,
returns. From there, however, new faces have emerged. Marc McDonald (Jr-Portland,
Ore.) had a solid spring after moving from cornerback to strong safety, where he will be the starter. This
leaves openings for new corners. “That is the biggest unknown we have going
in,” Pate said. “”This could be the most competitive battle in training camp.” Damon Woods (Fy-Burnsville, Minn.) and Guelord Mpaghize (Jr-Rochester, Minn.) are listed as Saturday's starters.
John Broback, the first team All-MIAC placekicker and second
team punter in 2010, has graduated. Ferguson will handle the
punting and placekicking duties Saturday. Queck tied for the team lead in kickoff
returns last year. Deitchman and
sophomore Peterson Pierre (Saint Paul, Minn.), who is also a backfield
candidate, may also get a chance to return kicks.
The Pipers were one of two teams that did not play last weekend. They spent part of their training camp at Camp Ripley, located a couple of hours off campus. Normally a training facility for military recruits, Pate and his staff used it as a time to get the know the players better ... and vice versa. "It was a great experience," Pate said. "I think everybody learned a lot." After this matchup with the Lutes, HU returns home September 17 to open MIAC play against Augsburg, who stuck HU with
the most heart-rendering loss of the 2010 season, a come-from-behind 42-38
It is one of just four games the Pipers will play at Klas
Field. HU will also face Gustavus Adolphus, Concordia and finished the season
with perennial power St. John’s. They visit Northfield twice to face Carleton
and St. Olaf and also have conference road dates at NCAA Division III
quarterfinalists St. Thomas and Bethel. Their other game is the traditional
non-conference meeting at Macalester.
But that is down the road. For now, there is the special excitement that is always in the air with the first game of the season. That excitement is intensified with the arrival of the new head coach and his staff and the challenge of facing a quality opponent (PLU was 8-1 last year) on the road.
“I’ve heard a lot of good things about MIAC football,” Pate
said. “And I’m very impressed with what I have seen on film. I like this
team. We have some very good athletes here who are hungry to win. There will be
a bit of an adjustment period for all of us. But the players are excited to get
going and so am I. We’re all ready to begin a new era here.”
Piper fans check the game out online by clicking to this link: http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/plu.portal.