Hamline University

HU Gridders Look To Hit Ground Running At Morris

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With  40-plus new faces in camp, Hamline football coach John Pate knew that, when the Pipers open the 2012 season at Minnesota-Morris this Saturday, the team will not look at all like the one that finished the 2011 campaign.


He just didn’t know how much change there would be. 16 new starters will line up at Big Cat Stadium when the Pipers meet the Cougars for the first time since 2005. And Pate heads into the season feeling a lot better about his team that he did when HU opened the 2011 season at Pacific Lutheran.   “We recruited hard,” he said. “We have better numbers than we did last year. That means there was a lot of competition for starting jobs. That breeds success.”

Pate said he has put last year’s winless season in the rearview mirror. But that doesn’t mean it is forgotten. “What we learned is we have to be faster and stronger than we were last year,” he said. “This is a big league … and it is one that doesn’t give you any days off.”

The Pipers showed a lot of that speed in scoring four times in 40 plays in a controlled scrimmage last Saturday against Martin Luther. “Our skills guys are young but very quick,” Pate said. “The scrimmage helped give them a feel for what college football is like.”

After three weeks of drills, here is how the Pipers will line up this Saturday at Morris:


Kevin Ackerley (Tucson, Ariz.), who was in the defensive secondary last year as a freshman, has been designated the starter. A good runner who can throw, he was a QB in high school. Zach Brautigam (Dubuque, Iowa), who threw 21 passes in seven brief appearances for HU in 2011, is listed as the backup. Pate said he will definitely see playing time in the lidlifter.  “In our offense, the QB has to be able to run the ball. He has to have escapeability,” he said.  “But the bigger thing is he has to be able to move the ball. That is what I am looking for Saturday – move the ball downfield.


The backfield has been totally revamped from last year. Alex Ferguson (Kent, Wa.), a senior who played linebacker last year, will start as one three backs behind Acklerley. He is expected to be joined by Terry Pegues, a transfer from Catawba College who played in high school for Pate. Ryan Ferkinhoff (St. Anthony, Minn.) is slotted for the third starting role.   But Pate said as many six backs could see the ball at Morris. First year speedsters Austin Duncan (New Orleans, La.) and Cambrell Turner (Cartersville, Ga.) have impressed in camp and will see action. Pate also has high praise for Kevin Eskuri (Lakeville, Minn.) as a blocker.  “We’re a lot quicker than we were last year,” Pate noted. “That should make a difference this season.”


The Pipers’ run-oriented offense means there will often be just two receivers on the field. Second year players Arthur Moore (Maplewood, Minn.), who caught seven passes last year and then went on to a have a terrific track season and Hoyfal Adam (Brooklyn Park, Minn.) have the starting nods but look for freshman Phillip Sherman (Columbia Heights, Minn.) caught four TD passes in his senior year of high school at the position and soph Cam Knudsen (Maple Lake, Minn.) to line up wide.  “Like in the backfield, we have more speed there as well this year,” Pate said.


The only two returning starters from 2011 are here … albeit at new positions. Junior Patrick Chilton (Hesperia, Calif.), who has started every game the last two years, and senior Stephen Girard (Milaca, Minn., 14 starts) are the only returning starters from last year’s season finale. Some of their new compatriots, however, are experienced college players. Senior Ben Del Greco (Sandstone, Minn.) made the move last year from tight end to see a lot of line duty. Sophs Austin Niederkorn (North Branch, Minn.) and Alec Grimm (Banebridge Island, Wash.) round out the front wall. This is an area where HU hopes to improve greatly from last year. “The starters all have played before,” Pate said. “They know our system now.”


One of the overlooked stats of last year’s MIAC season was the fact that Hamline’s defense chopped 72 yards off the average yards allowed from 2010. “We made considerable improvement on defense but we simply wore down,” Pate said. “With some added depth, hopefully, that won’t happen again.”

Senior Eric Klaers (Elk River, Minn.), who was a second team All-MIAC pick in 2010 and earned Honorable Mention in 2011, anchors a front wall that will rotate between a  4-3 or a 3-4. He figures to get help up front from sophomore Derek Wilson (Eagan, Minn.), a starter in seven games last year. Charles Jones  (St. Paul, Minn.), a transfer from Howard and Tyler Rew (Waseca, Minn.) round out the front wall. Three new faces who may see action early:  Matt Wildes (Shoreview, Minn.), who recorded five tackles in the Minnesota High School All Star game in June, Tyler Clark, who comes to HU with impressive credentials from a 5A school in San Antonio, Texas and first year player Austin Jensen, an All-Lake Conference player at Hopkins.


The linebacking corps will be rebuilt from 2011. One of the pleasant surprised of training camp was Corey Touchette (Bainbridge Island, Wash.) A running back last year, the sophomore had adjusted well to the other side of the ball.  “He’s is in great shape and he is a quick learner,” Pate explained. “He also has great speed. He hadn’t been at that position since high school but he clearly belongs there now.” Junior transfer Patrick Page (Minneapolis, Minn.) was a starter at North Dakota State College of Science last season and Charlie Snyder (Mantorville, Minn.), who also can sneak up on the line if need be, are set.  


The good news is the Pipers’ two leading tacklers from last season – seniors Marc McDonald (Portland, Ore.) and John-Michael Vandenberg (Bothel, Wash.) – are back in 2012 and hitting as hard as ever. The bad news is they play in the HU defensive secondary, which is not where coaches prefer to find their leading tacklers. McDonald’s 47 solo tackles led the team last year. He has moved from corner back to strong safety in 2012. Vandenberg is expected to add to his total of 20 starts and last year’s team high of 86 tackles (which earned him a second team All-MIAC nod) at free safety. “We have invaluable experience back there,” Pate noted.

A welcome old (and new) face is Christian Willman (Rosemount, Minn.) recorded 73 tackles in the defensive backfield in 2009-10, did not play last season. He’s back in 2012. Jack Swanberg (LeSueur, Minn.) was also a pleasant surprise in camp and will see plenty of action.

A bevy of first year players  -- Julian Stubbs (Rossland, GA), a player in the recent Tennessee-Georgia All-Star Game; Darrian Smith (Lawrenceville, GA), whose high school team won 41 straight games; Corey Gardner (Golden, Colo.) and  junior Xavier Tekle (Apple Valley, Minn.), a walk-on from Eastview High School – are likely to see action as well.

 “This group will make us more athletic this year,” Pate said. “We need that.”


John Broback (Rosemount, Minn.) was a first team All-MIAC choice as a kicker in 2010 when he was a perfect 22-for-22 on extra points and converted six of eight field goals. After taking 2011 off, Broback is returning as a senior to assume the kicking duties. “He gives us a weapon we didn’t have last year,” Pate said. “He’s got a good leg for kickoffs and field goals as well as being an excellent punter. “  (In 2009, he boomed a 77-yard punt – two yards short of the school record). Broback was held out of last week’s scrimmage but is ready to go this week.  Forrest Coughlin (Maple Lake, Minn.) is a capable backup.

All in all, Pate feels his staff … and his team … are prepared to get the 2012 season off to a good start. “We’ve had a good camp,” he said. “We’re relatively healthy. It’s the second year of our system for many guys. We know how to utilize the players better and they know what to expect from us. I think we have more playmakers this year.”

The Pipers are hoping to get off to a better start than they did last year when they lost their starting quarterback to an injury on the fifth play of the season. With a bye next week before heading into MIAC play at Carleton Sept. 15, a victory on the road over the Cougars, who were 5-5 last year in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (and picked to finish sixth this year), would be a big building block.