2005 WWU Football Preview
July 18, 2005
BELLINGHAM, Wash - The last two seasons have been ones of ones of maddening inconsistency for the Western Washington University football team. Big victories have been followed by frustrating losses.
In 2004, the Vikings were 6-4 overall and 3-3 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. Along the way they had a victory over Nebraska-Omaha, the champion of the powerful North Central Conference, and a triumph over archrival Central Washington in the second annual Battle in Seattle. But there was also a loss to Central, and losses to Western Oregon and Humboldt State, teams Western defeated by 49 and 35 points, respectively, later in the season.
So entering 2005, coach Rob Smith (17th year, 105-56-1), the winningest coach in Western history in both total victories and winning percentage (.651), wants to see his team perform to its potential not just occasionally, but consistently.
"Our number one goal as a team needs to be finding a way to play to our talent level each and every Saturday," Smith said. "We clearly didn't do that last year, and that was the great frustration of the season. We need to learn from the shortcomings of last year." One positive factor in reaching that goal is the experience of the team. The Vikings return 36 letter winners, with seven starters returning on offense and six back on defense.
"We have a large number of returning players, they lived it last year and no one was more frustrated than the players," Smith said. "They've worked hard and they're very excited about the upcoming season. The players believe in one another. They've set high goals and they should set high goals."
The big weapon in Western's attack is senior wide receiver Andy Olson (Chehalis/W.F. West), a D2football.com honorable mention All-American last year. Western's Offensive Player of the Year the last two seasons, he had 68 catches for 1,075 yards and 15 scores in 2004, ranking 10th in NCAA II in receiving yardage (107.5 avg.).
"He is as competitive a football player as I've had in 17 years of coaching," Smith said of Olson. "He wants the ball on the first play, and he wants it in critical situations. Andy has good size and speed, but what burns inside sets him apart."
The Viking schedule is a tough one. They open with four non-conference games, three of them on the road. Included in that are two games with North Central Conference schools - the home opener against St. Cloud State MN on Sept. 10 (6 p.m.), and a visit to North Dakota on Sept. 17.
After a bye week, the Vikings play their six GNAC contests, highlighted by the third annual Battle in Seattle on Oct. 8 (6 p.m.), when Western faces archrival Central Washington at Qwest Field. The Wildcats also visit Bellingham on Oct. 29 (1 p.m.). Here's a position-by-position look at the Vikings:
The Vikings averaged 35.4 points and 415.8 yards a game last year, and most of the key elements return.
"We have talent, leadership and experience on offense, and we need to use all of that to be a very productive offensive team," Smith said. "We led the GNAC in every offensive category last year and we have most of the key players back.
Line: With six letter winners returning and some younger players appearing ready to contribute, the Vikings look like they have depth on the offensive line that often is tough to find.
Anchoring the group is senior center Loren Winter (Bothell/Juanita), a first-team all-GNAC and honorable mention D2football.com all-Northwest Region selection who has started 27 games over the last three years. The right side of the line also returns intact, with seniors Will Freitag (Maple Valley/Eastside Catholic) and Justin Simpson (Kennewick/Kamiakin) the returning starters at guard and tackle, respectively.
"We have a very veteran group, led by Loren Winter," said Smith. "Will Freitag has improved tremendously in the off-season and is prepared to have an outstanding year; Justin Simpson has been a starter for two-plus years and we need him to perform to his talent level."
On the left side, guard Peter Van Datta (Bremerton/Central Kitsap) and tackle Brandon Torrey (Graham/Bethel), both juniors, return. Torrey started seven games last year, Van Datta two. Another important returnee is junior Tyler Sleeman (Black Diamond/Tahoma), a two-year letter winner. Additional depth is provided by redshirt freshman center Dan Trask (Aberdeen), redshirt freshman tackle Dale Moore (Vancouver/Evergreen) and sophomore guard Zach Myers (Sammamish/Skyline), who lettered at Central Washington in 2003. A key addition is redshirt freshman Tyler Ashby (Seattle/Ballard), a transfer from Washington.
Quarterback: Junior James Monrean (Bellingham/Sehome) has just one career start, but he's already shown he can perform under pressure. In that start, against Saint Joseph's IN last season, he tied a school record by throwing five touchdown passes. On the year, he completed 30-of-55 passes for 374 yards and six scores. As a freshman, he also directed a game-winning drive against Central Washington after two other quarterbacks had been injured.
"James is ready to be the starting quarterback," Smith said. "It is his fourth year here, he's played a fair amount, and he's had success in critical situations."
Smith said his concern at quarterback is establishing a backup behind Monrean. Redshirt freshman Adam Perry (Longview/R.A. Long) enters the fall as the No.2 after a strong spring, but sophomores A.J. Porter (SeaTac/Kennedy) and Ben Huebschman (Vancouver/Mountain View) are also in contention.
Wide Receiver: Olson is in position to obliterate most of Western's current receiving records. He currently ranks third in school history in receptions (150) and touchdown grabs (27) and fourth in receiving yards (2,480), and is just 31 catches, 788 yards and three touchdowns short of the school career marks in each category. He also enters the season with a school and GNAC-record string of nine consecutive games with a touchdown catch.
"Andy Olson is our guy," Smith said. "Defenses will focus their game plans on slowing him down, but that's our strength, because we have other players who can take advantage of that."
Olson is far from the only threat among the receiving corps. Sophomore slotback Chris Robinson (Lakewood/Clover Park) had 40 receptions for 432 yards and three touchdowns to earn GNAC Freshman of the Year honors.
"He's the next guy to step into that key role as the top receiver," Smith said of Robinson. "He made some big plays as a redshirt freshman."
A number of other players are contending for time at the receiving positions, including two players returning from injuries. Sophomore Matt Wilson (Auburn) missed all of last year with a knee injury, but enters fall camp at the top of the depth chart in the receiving spot opposite Olson. He had eight catches and a touchdown in 2003.
Sophomore Brett Upchurch (Sammamish/Eastlake) who had five receptions and a score in 2003, is back after missing last season with a thumb injury. Sophomore Casey Dell (Moxee/East Valley) and junior Zach Russell (Bothell/Lake Washington) also return after lettering a year ago, and Travis McKee (Bothell) is one of a number of redshirt freshmen who may contribute.
Tight End: Senior Nick Yoney (Arlington) saw extensive action in two tight-end sets last year and made five starts. He had 20 receptions for 188 yards and was second on the team in touchdown receptions with four.
Running back: It is difficult to fathom a position being deeper than this one. It starts with two seniors who have shared time since they were freshmen - Duncan Sherrard (Seattle/Roosevelt) and Jake Carlyle (Olympia/Capital).
Sherrard rushed for 811 yards and five touchdowns and added 16 receptions for 185 yards and score a year ago, earning first-team all-GNAC honors for the third consecutive season. He ranks fifth in school history in career rushing yards with 2,258 and is attempting to become just the fourth player to lead Western in rushing four consecutive seasons. Carlyle ran for 228 yards and five scores last year, and also had 11 receptions for 115 yards.
"They've done it for three years," Smith said. "Both would love to start, but they understand the situation and respect each others talent."
There's also depth behind them. Sophomore Jon Williams (Redmond) ran for 202 yards last year, including a 142-yard performance against Western Oregon, although his status is in doubt because of injury, and redshirt freshman Jordyn Jackson (Vancouver/Columbia River).
The Vikings finished the season strongly, allowing an average of just 17.0 points and 237.0 yards a game over the last three contests. There's a number of players back to help build on that, especially at linebacker and in the secondary.
Line: This is the least experienced area of the squad, with just five letter winners, one of whom was injured last year and another who lettered while playing offensive line.
Sophomore end Ryan Conwell (Kent/Kentwood) had 14 tackles last year, including five in the final game, and two of his four tackles for loss were sacks. At tackle, senior Noel Tafoya (Pittsburg, CA) started all 10 games and was a second-team GNAC all-star, being credited with 28 tackles, 9.5 for losses; and junior Ryan Lucas (Vancouver, B.C./North Delta) overcame early-season injuries to play in five games and had two tackles.
Two other letter winners may contribute at end. Senior Geoff Hise (Snoqualmie/Mount Si) moved over from the offensive line in the spring and grabbed a starting spot entering the fall, and junior Aaron Dahl (Gig Harbor) returns after missing all of last season with an arm injury.
Two players who attended Palmer High School in Alaska five years apart are part of the mix at tackle. Redshirt freshman Junior Aumavae (Palmer, AK) may possibly start, and sophomore Joe Samuels could also contribute. At end, junior Matt Overton (Tracy, CA) a transfer from Diablo Valley JC in California, is another possibility.
Linebacker: A deep area led by senior middle linebacker Craig Keenan (Salem, MA/Hamilton-Wenham), who arrived almost unknown last year and ended up being Western's Defensive Player of the Year and a second-team all-GNAC pick. Keenan led the Vikings in tackles with 85, including 5.5 for losses, had two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, and forced two fumbles.
"Craig Keenan was a tremendous surprise last season," Smith said. "I knew he was a good player, but I didn't think he'd do as much as he did. I didn't even meet him until the first day of training camp last year, now he's been in the program, he knows the system, and he's been elected one of our captains, which is quite an accomplishment for a guy who has only been here nine months."
The backup middle linebacker entering fall camp is sophomore Brandon Elliott (Auburn/Fife), who made three starts last year and had 17 tackles on the season.
Also back after starting all 10 games last season is senior strong-side linebacker Adam Klingenberg (Walla Walla), who had 58 tackles last year, including seven for loss, and led the Vikings in fumble recoveries with three. Also in that spot is sophomore Shane Simmons (Kent/Kentlake), who played three games for the University of Idaho as a true freshman.
The other outside linebacker spot is hotly contested. Sophomore Tieba Bropleh (Bremerton) started five of the seven games he played a year ago, and had 27 tackles. But at the top of the depth chart entering the fall is sophomore James Day (Vancouver/Mountain View), who had 15 tackles last year.
"Our defense needs to be led by the linebacker corps," Smith said. "We have good talent and experience there, and there's great competition for those spots. All the starters should feel they're being pushed for the job."
Secondary: Cornerbacks Sly Whitfield, Jr. (Seattle/Garfield), a junior, and Brett Hall (Kennewick), a senior, both return. Whitfield led Western in interceptions (3) and passes broken up (5) last year, and also had 32 tackles. Hall had one interception and three passes broken up. Pressing them is junior Kevin Jones (Seattle/Kentwood), a transfer from Utah State, who was a Seattle Times Blue Chip as a high school senior.
Another experienced corner is sophomore Ocie Moore (Seattle/Kent-Meridian). Smith said sophomore Mike Schmit (Vancouver/Columbia River) and redshirt freshmen Anthony Rosso (Walla Walla) and Maurice Jones (Tacoma/Spanaway Lake) will also see the field.
Another returning starter in the defensive backfield is junior free safety Todd McClellan (Lacey/Timberline), who arrived at the 2004 fall camp late after two years away on a church mission, yet still had 37 tackles on the season.
At strong safety, redshirt freshman Steve Davis (Kennewick/Kamiakin) enters the fall at the top of the depth chart. Senior Ekene Agwuenu (Chino Hills, CA/Ayala) also will see action, in fact, Agweunu, a transfer from NCAA Division I Nevada, where he was the nickel back, could play almost anywhere in the secondary.
Russell overcame nearly two years of limited playing time because of injuries to return two kickoffs for touchdowns, the first Viking to do that since 1970. Overall, he averaged 33.7 yards on nine returns.
Olson averaged 11.5 yards on 14 punt returns, and Conwell blocked three kicks. There's also a number of coverage team leaders returning, such as senior Jason Barton (Gig Harbor), and at long snapper, Overton was recruited primarily to fill the spot, and Porter returns after taking on the role last season.
The one question on special teams is the kicking, as All-American Michael Koenen, a record-setter as a punter and placekicker the last four years, has taken his talents to the training camp of the Atlanta Falcons.
Sophomore Corbin Anderson (Veradale/University), a transfer from Eastern Washington, figures to be the punter, and the battle for placekicking duties is between true freshmen Bobby Peck (Edmonds/Meadowdale) and Ace Younggren (Snohomish).
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