BEREA — Challenging is the word that best describes the outlook for Baldwin-Wallace’s season.
The Yellow Jackets open with a game at Franklin (Ind.) College today. This will be the first-ever meeting with the Grizzlies, who are a perennial Heartland Athletic Conference powerhouse and participated in the Division III playoffs last year.
“This will be the most challenging season opener since I’ve been B-W’s head coach,” said John Snell, who is 6-0 in openers with the Jackets.
After a week off, B-W hosts crosstown rival John Carroll in the Ohio Athletic Conference opener. It will be the Jackets’ first game played on the new FieldTurf of the newly named Tressel Field at George Finnie Stadium.
From there, it is eight straight weeks of OAC foes, including home games against Mount Union on Oct. 4, Heidelberg on Oct. 25, Ohio Northern on Nov. 1 and Capital on Nov. 15 in the regular-season finale.
“Each year our goals are the same,” said Snell, whose 2007 team finished 6-4 overall, 5-4 in the OAC. “Those are to win the OAC championship and to make it to the playoffs.”
Twenty-six lettermen return, including 10 starters — five each on offense and defense.
Junior Anthony Gardner will see the bulk of the time at quarterback, but fellow junior Zach Haudenschild could get some snaps.
Gardner completed 54 of 107 passes for 796 yards and six touchdowns last season, when he shared the job with Mickey Mental.
Seniors Matt Lepley and Mike Kowal are back to lead the receiving corps. Lepley caught 32 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns, and Kowal had 10 catches for 115 yards. They also excel as kick returners.
Sophomore John McGraw, a North Ridgeville graduate, returns as one of the leading running back candidates, though he’ll miss today’s game with a knee injury, but hopes to be back for Game 2. McGraw gained 211 yards in 54 carries (3.9 yards per carry) and scored two touchdowns last year.
Junior Kyrell Crook, who was injured in last year’s opener and missed the remainder of the season, is expected to contribute in the backfield.
The offensive line sees four players coming back who were either full- of part-time starters in 2007. Broc Dial, John DiMattio, Brett Scarl (North Olmsted) and Danny Love look to be the anchors.
Senior tackle Joe Kowalski, an All-OAC pick in 2007, Joe Hance and Dale Buckner are the key returnees to the defensive line. Kowalski recorded 61 tackles and 7.5 sacks last year and has 125 tackles and 15 sacks in his career.
Paul Burger returns as an inside linebacker after fighting nagging injuries that limited him to three games in 2007. He had 36 tackles and one sack after leading the team with 92 stops in 2006.
Amherst graduate Ryan Kish shined in Burger’s absence. He had 59 tackles, including four for loss, recovered a fumble and had two interceptions.
Senior captain and safety Karl Schreiber (Bay) will again be a leader in the secondary. He led the Jackets with three interceptions and had 40 tackles.
Three-time All-American punter Kevin Soflkiancs and three-year starting place-kicker Adam Wilburn have graduated, leaving the Jackets scrambling in special teams.
“We return a solid nucleus of student-athletes who matured and grew with our program last year,” said Snell. “Now it is up to each of these players to make his mark and to continue our tradition of excellence.”
Those sentiments certainly ring true as the Yellow Jackets look to have their 41st winning season in the last 42 years. This is also the 30th anniversary of Baldwin-Wallace’s national championship, a feat that will be recognized during the Homecoming game against Mount Union.
Contact Jerry Henson at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
Baldwin-Wallace at Franklin (Ind.)
WHEN: Today, 1:30 p.m.
WHERE: Faught Stadium, Franklin (Ind.)
RADIO: B-W campus station, WBWC 88.3-FM. The game also is available via the WBWC Web site at www.wbwc.com.
RECORDS: This is the season opener for both teams. COACHES: John Snell is 41-21 in his seventh season at Baldwin-Wallace and overall. Mike Leonard is 30-21 in his seventh year at Franklin and overall.
SERIES: This is the first meeting between the teams.
THE SKINNY: The Yellow Jackets were 6-4 last year, 5-4 in the Ohio Athletic Conference, to clinch their 41st winning season in the last 42 years. Junior QB Anthony Gardner will lead B-W’s offense after completing 54 of 107 passes for 796 yards and six touchdowns last year. Sophomore John McGraw (North Ridgeville), expected to be one of the team’s running stars, is out with a knee injury, but Kyrell Cook returns after missing eight games last year with an injury. Matt Lepley and Mike Kowal lead a solid receiving corps. Joe Kowalski is one of the team’s defensive standouts with 61 tackles and 15 tackles for loss and 71/2 sacks.
The Grizzlies went 9-1, claimed the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship and played in the NCAA Division III playoffs. Senior QB Chad Rupp is back to lead an offense that averaged 45.1 points and 504.5 yards of total offense. Defensively, the Grizzlies gave up 22.5 points a game and an average of 372 yards of total offense in 2007. Junior linebacker Teddy Henkle had 61 tackles.