2014 UU Football Season Preview

URBANA, Ohio (August 29, 2014) – For the first time since the 2009 season, All-American quarterback D.J. Mendenhall won’t be taking snaps for the Urbana University football team. The Mountain East Conference’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year graduated, leaving the Blue Knights with a question mark at quarterback for the first time in five years. Many may be contemplating how the Blue Knights will replace Mendenhall’s almost 12,000 career yards and 132 career touchdowns. Meanwhile, seventh year Head Coach Dave Taynor and his squad are trying to figure out how to take the next step, capture an MEC Championship and make the program’s first appearance in the NCAA Division II playoffs this November. 

“We had a phenomenal quarterback in D.J. Mendenhall, and obviously, we have to replace that leadership,” admitted Taynor at the Mountain East Conference’s Media Day. “But this is a team game. This is an opportunity for the team to step up and cover that loss. Going into this year, we have to depend upon some of our leaders on offense to make up for the loss of our quarterback.”

There are no shortage of veterans in key spots returning on the 2014 Urbana offense. Up front, Urbana returns three starters to an offensive line unit that has always been a strength under former All-American center and Urbana alum Taynor. Senior Sufyan El-Geroushi (Hilliard, Ohio/Darby HS) started all 11 games at guard for the record-breaking Blue Knights. Sophomores Trent Fielding (Sunbury, Ohio/Big Walnut HS) and Donald Adams-Baggett (Cincinnati, Ohio/Mt. Healthy HS) also return after starting as redshirt freshmen in 2013. Others returning with a year of experience in Taynor’s system include Larry Sampson (London, Ohio/London HS), Brandon Lewis (West Jefferson, Ohio/Jonathan Alder HS), Andrew Garland (Cairo, Ohio/Lima Bath HS), and Doug Hardin (Grove City, Ohio/Westfall HS). Impact newcomers include transfer Matt Jones (San Diego, California) and freshmen Devan Pankey (Hamilton, Ohio/Hamilton HS), Dustin Vanscoy (Grove City, Ohio/Central Crossing HS), Zach Whittamore (Miamisburg, Ohio/Miamisburg HS), the 7-foot-2 Josh Martin (New Cumberland, WV), and Alex Dupps (Cincinnati, Ohio/Oak Hills HS).

The receiving corps suffered another major blow with the loss of Mendenhall’s favorite target and the leading receiver in UU history, Joe Webb, but eight experienced pass-catchers return, including four seniors. Alvin Busbee Jr. (Columbus, Ohio/Walnut Ridge HS) caught 39 balls for 568 yards and 7 scores in 2013. Marc Johnson (Lima, Ohio/Senior HS) added 32 catches, 559 yards and 8 touchdowns. Johnson has found the end zone 17 times in his three-year Blue Knight career. Sanders Sius (Orlando, Florida) has 37 career catches for 502 yards and 3 TDs, and senior tight end La’Velle Spivey (Newark, Ohio/Newark HS) suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1 of last season, but when healthy, he’s been penciled in as the starting tight end since 2011. He also has a 3-TD game to his credit. Other returners include wide receivers Joe Saffold (Columbus, Ohio/Whetstone HS), Kelly Carter (Columbus, Ohio/Westerville South HS), Dan Krupko (Homeworth, Ohio/Marlington HS), Eric Pelfrey (Trenton, Ohio/Edgewood HS), and tight end Larry Southall (South Lebanon, Ohio/Kings HS). Impact transfers in the receiving corps include Karim Jones Jr. (Shepherd), Rickey Moore Jr. (Sacred Heart) and Tajuan Green (Ohio Dominican).
Urbana rushing attack returns its top four backfield contributors, including senior David Hill (St. Louis, Missouri). A preseason All-American and 2013 MEC Second Team selection, Hill rushed for 875 yards and 7 TDs last fall. He added 19 catches for 133 more yards and another score in the passing attack. The 5-10, 230 pound bruiser enters his senior season fifth all-time in rushing at Urbana with 1,720 career yards. Playing lightning to Hill’s thunder, running backs Cedric Presley (Summittville, Indiana), Deontea Rudasill (Columbus, Ohio/East HS) and wide receiver Saffold return after combining for 54 carries and a score last season. True freshmen Austin Cull (Beavercreek, Ohio/Beavercreek HS) and Christian Evans (Medway, Ohio/Tecumseh HS) have also impressed early in camp and may earn carries or see action at fullback.
A battle to replace Mendenhall will continue between a pair of talented signal callers. Incumbent Cale Burdyshaw (Perry, Ohio/Perry HS) saw limited time as Mendenhall’s back-up as a true freshman in 2013. A 6-4, 215-pound mobile QB, Burdyshaw guided Urbana through their first spring without Mendenhall with much success. The sophomore will be challenged by incoming junior transfer Cody Schroeder (Avon, Ohio/Avon HS). Schroeder spent the past three seasons at California University of Pennsylvania, logging action in 15 games, including 9 starts. Last fall, he finished with 1,262 passing yards and 10 TDs in five starts.

As camp comes to a close, both quarterbacks are playing well enough to earn the nod. Each player brings a different strength to the table, so the Blue Knights may begin the season with the duo splitting duties.  True freshman Colby Speice (Paulding, Ohio/Wayne Trace HS) currently has an edge on the others for the third spot.

Urbana’s defense is the best kept secret on this squad. Mendenhall may have received most of the praise last season, but it was the defense who held five straight conference opponents to 13 points or less during the teams’ five-game winning streak. Leading the way are preseason All-Americans D’Gary Wallace (Dayton, Ohio/Dunbar HS) and Kevin Chapple (Columbus, Ohio/Beechcroft HS). As a sophomore last fall, Wallace led the Blue Knights in tackles (114), tackles for a loss (20) and interceptions (3). A redshirt freshman pass-rush specialist, Chapple finished fourth on the squad with 67 tackles, but his 9 sacks were a conference high and his 13 tackles for a loss were second only to Wallace in the MEC.

In all, ten Blue Knights with starting experience return to a defense that finished fourth in the conference last season. Returning linebackers joining Wallace and Chapple include Taylor Cayot (Bellefontaine, Ohio/Bellefontaine HS), Bo Keener (Waldo, Ohio/River Valley HS), Aaaqil Sheppard (Bronx, New York) and Roy Harvison (Columbus, Ohio/Marion Franklin HS). Harvison sat out all of 2013, but racked up 67 tackles, including 9 for a loss, during an all-conference campaign as a junior in 2012. Freshmen who could make a splash early include Paul Hughes (Columbus, Ohio/Brookhaven HS), Ethan Flynn (Paducah, Kentucky) and Tyler Cruickshank (Cleveland, Ohio/Villa Angela-St. Joseph HS).
The defensive backfield is stacked with starters returning at both cornerback positions, Chuck Wynn (Cincinnati, Ohio/Winton Woods HS) and Jalen Crosby (Columbus, Ohio/Eastmoor), and starters returning at safety, Terrell Hudson (Canal Winchester, Ohio/Eastmoor) and Brian Ridley (Columbus, Ohio/Whetstone HS). Several experienced reserves also return, including T.C. Turner (Columbus, Ohio/East HS), Kenya Coombs (Mansfield, Ohio/Lexington HS), Reggie Gaither (Cincinnati, Ohio/Colerain HS) and JaQuan Hankinson (Troy, Michigan). Those eight players, including seven underclassmen, have a combined 91 games under their belts at UU. Wynn and Hudson started all 11 games last season, combining for over 100 tackles, 4 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Crosby and Ridley did most of their damage in 2012, combining for 90 tackles, 3 picks and 2 fumble recoveries. True freshman Robert Young (Miamisburg, Ohio/Miamisburg HS) is one to watch in the defensive backfield. The collegiate rookie is making his mark early in camp and will likely contribute immediately.
Urbana’s defensive front returns all but one starter. Junior Curtis Galloway (Cincinnati, Ohio/Winton Woods HS) and sophomores Julian Simon (Sunbury, Ohio/Big Walnut HS) and Kendric Dorsey (Dayton, Ohio/Belmont HS) clog the middle to allow for Urbana’s outside linebackers and extra safeties to apply the pressure in Taynor’s 3-3-5 system. Seniors Chris Basil (Troy, Ohio/Troy HS) and Bobby Tucker (Westerville, Ohio/Central HS) and junior Laiven Porter (Alliance, Ohio/Marlington HS) are also experienced returners. Starting power forward and Blue Knight basketball team captain from a year ago, Mike Dorceus (Orlando, Florida), is out of basketball eligibility but attempting to make an impact on the gridiron this fall while finishing his degree at Urbana. Other newcomers looking to make their mark in their rookie campaigns include Corey Ginn (West Jefferson, Ohio/West Jefferson HS) and Mike Hopewell Jr. (Blacklick, Ohio/Licking Heights HS).
New faces will be featured in the Blue Knights’ kicking game. Freshmen Ross Snodgrass (Troy, Ohio/Miami East HS) and Bradley Burkholder (Newark, Ohio/Granville HS) are in the midst of a camp battle for starting place kicker and punting duties. Sophomore Cody King (Huber Heights, Ohio/Wayne HS) returns at long snapper, and speedsters Sius, Coombs, Saffold, Moore Jr., and Trevon Saunders (Columbus, Ohio/Africentric HS) will duke it out to serve as the team’s primary punt and kick returners.

For the second straight season, the Blue Knights were ranked sixth in the preseason MEC Coaches’ Poll. The new kids on the block proved their doubters wrong in 2013, wrapping up a runner-up finish to undefeated conference champion Shepherd University. In Week 3 of last season, upstart Urbana pushed Shepherd to the brink before falling 28-21 in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. This year, the Blue Knights welcome the Rams to UU Stadium in Week 3.

Urbana opens the season at home on Saturday, September 6th against the University of Virginia-Wise. It is the first matchup between the new conference foes. The Cavs ended their inaugural season in the MEC tied for ninth with a 2-9 overall mark. Kickoff is set for 12:00 p.m. The Urbana University Athletic Department and Club 16 are inviting all area youth football players and cheerleaders to attend the game for free. Any youth football player or youth cheerleader in uniform will receive free admission, a free gift from Club 16, and be invited onto the field at halftime to participate in an activity with UU football players and cheerleaders. For more information on Club 16, Click Here.

Urbana University's campus will be buzzing for the home opener.  At 9:00 a.m., the annual Alicia Titus Memorial Scholarship 5K will take place on and around campus.  An Urbana University/Franklin University Staff, Faculty and Family Tailgate Party will begin at 11:00 a.m., and following the game, the UU football team will host their traditional 5th Quarter Tailgate Party.  The UU Softball team is also hosting its annual Wiffle Ball Tournament on the campus' front lawn, beginning at 3:30 p.m.

If you are unable to make it to campus for the home opener, you can follow all of the action here. Urbana will broadcast the game live on its UStream Channel. (Video is also available below, beginning at about 11:45 a.m. on game day.)  Athletic Director Doug Young will once again provide the play-by-play this season.  Live Stats are available here, and for in-game updates on your phone, be sure to follow @UUSports on Twitter. A complete preview of Week 1 in the Mountain East Conference is available HERE.

Live streaming video by Ustream
Play-by-Play by UU Athletic Director Doug Young