The 2012 UU Football Season Preview
Urbana Sets Sights on Championships in 2012
URBANA, Ohio (August 16, 2012) – When Urbana University Head Football Coach David Taynor assumed control of his alma mater in 2008, he probably dreamed of a day when he’d head into a season with a squad as strong as his 2012 edition. The team boasts as many as 19 returning starters, including 13 all-conference performers. Last year’s Blue Knights set school records for wins (8), points per game (36.2), opponents’ points per game (19.0), total yards (5,053), yards per game (459.4), rushing yards per game (190.8), passing yards per game (268.5), touchdowns (56), and average yards per play (6.3), amongst many others.
Taynor’s Blue Knights set a new program standard in 2011, winning eight games thanks to a season-ending six-game winning streak. The six-week stretch was the most dominant in the program’s 27-year history. The offense topped 40 points in all six contests, and the average margin of victory was 37. Three of the six victories came against conference opponents, as Urbana capped its two-year run in the GLFC with back-to-back championships.
In last year’s finale, Urbana appeared to be just starting to hit their stride. The team racked up a school record 69 points in a Senior Day win, putting the finishing touches on yet another assault on the team record books. Urbana’s high-octane offense smashed every team record on the books for the second straight season, and the defense held opponents below 20 points per game for the first time in school history.
Momentum is clearly on Urbana’s side, and the conditions have never been as favorable as they are entering the 2012 season. This fall marks Urbana’s first as a member of an NCAA Division II conference that carries an “earned-access” bid into the national playoffs. The former 4-team GLFC has been absorbed into the 9-team Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC), so the path to participation in the D-II playoffs is set. Urbana needs to finish first in the GLVC and eighth or better in Super Region Three for an automatic berth.
Last year’s 8-3 campaign wasn’t enough as the Blue Knights finished just outside the top 10 in one of the toughest regions in the country. Urbana experienced how tough the region can be firsthand in last year’s season opener. On the road, Urbana dropped a 69-24 decision to nationally ranked, and eventual national runner-up, Wayne State University. Wayne State just barely snuck into the playoffs by grabbing the region’s sixth and final spot before making a run all the way to the National Championship.
As deflating as that experience was at the time, it has this Blue Knight squad believing it can make a similar run.
“We want to continue building off what we accomplished last year with the conference championship,” explains fifth-year senior tackle Ethan Oakley (West Liberty, OH/West Liberty-Salem HS). “This year, we want to take the next step and make the playoffs. After that, I think everyone on the team would like to go on a run.”
Third-year starting quarterback D.J. Mendenhall (West Jefferson, OH/West Jefferson HS) carries Oakley’s confidence a step further, “An undefeated season would be nice, and after we make the playoffs, we want to win a national championship.”
Mendenhall has plenty of reasons to be confident. He finished his sophomore campaign ranked in the Top 10 in D-II in passing efficiency (158.87) and rushing yards by a QB (757).
The signal caller has guided his offense to two of the most successful seasons in school history, earning him a preseason All-American nod entering his junior year. In his first two seasons at the helm, Mendenhall completed 65.7% of his passes for 3,572 yards, 36 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. He also led the team in rushing over that span, racking up over 1,500 yards and 23 additional TDs on the ground. After just two seasons, Mendenhall already owns the school scoring record, but a lot of his confidence might come from playing behind one of the nation’s biggest, most experienced offensive lines.
“It's great playing behind a veteran offensive line,” marvels Mendenhall. “I love having veterans that know what they're doing up front. Most of them have been here three or four years, and some have even been here five years. From Day 1, they approached me and let me know, ‘If you have any problems, let us know and we'll take care of it.’"
Joining Oakley, and his five years of experience on the Blue Knight offensive line, is fifth-year left tackle Alex Maxson (Delaware, OH/Hayes HS), fifth-year guard Andrew Minda (Dublin, OH/Coffman HS), fourth-year guard Scott Porter (Cincinnati, OH/Indian Hill HS), and third-year center Kyle Wallace (West Milton, OH/Milton-Union HS). Together, the group has over 100 career starts for the Royal Blue and White, and four of the five have already earned all-conference honors for their exemplary work in the trenches. It also seems poignant to mention that the front line averages 6’4” and 300 pounds, thank in large part to the 6’6”, 320 pound fifth-year tackle bookends. Oakley and Maxson have started each of the past 33 games together, paving the way for record after falling record.
They’ll also pave the way once again for the returning conference freshman of the year, running back David Hill (St. Louis, MO/DeSmet Jesuit HS). A powerful bruiser, the 5’10”, 220 pound Hill bulldozed opponents for nearly 600 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie fighting for carries in a crowded backfield. His workload should increase significantly in 2012 behind fifth-year fullback Maurice Harden (Dayton, OH/Thurgood Marshall HS).
Urbana’s possesses a strong ground-and-pound game, but the offense’s bread-and-butter is an all-out aerial assault featuring third-year wide receiver Joe Webb (Mechanicsburg, OH/Mechanicsburg HS). Webb led the nation in yards per catch (25.1) as a sophomore, but he was often the third option on a stacked receiving corps. Gone are seniors and top targets Matt Hightower and Jerrell Leak, leaving an opening for someone else to be the benefactor of their combined 119 catches for 1,474 yards and 8 TDs last season.
Webb doesn’t see his role as the team’s dynamic deep threat changing much. He believes Hightower and Leak’s replacements already exist on this roster.
“We're expecting a lot out of Marc Johnson (Lima, OH/Senior HS). We think he'll be the #2 receiver to step up and play a lot for us.”
Webb continues, “In the slot, we have a position battle between Nate Wilburn-Ogletree (Brookville, OH/Northmont HS), Sanders Sius (Olympia, FL), and Alvin Busbee (Columbus, OH/Walnut Ridge HS/Eastern Kentucky). Sanders Sius worked really hard this offseason. I think he'll step up and have a big year. Ogletree and Busbee worked hard too, so they'll push everyone and we'll have a lot of options.”
In all, Urbana returns eleven players with starting experience on offense. Tight end LaVelle Spivey (Newark, OH/Newark HS) assumed the starting role at his position last year after an injury sidelined the incumbent. In his very first start, he caught 8 balls for 87 yards and 3 TDs.
Spivey will be joined by the team’s ultimate utility player, senior Matt Nowak (Garfield Heights, OH/Trinity HS). Nowak was recruited into the program as a tight end in 2009. He caught a couple of passes, including a touchdown, as a true freshman, but before his sophomore season, he bulked up to fill a need at guard for the Blue Knights. The following year, there was a new need for Nowak on the defensive side of the ball, so he made the switch to nose tackle. After just one game on defense, Nowak crossed back over the line to fill injured offensive lineman Scott Porter’s spot. Now, after donning four different uniform numbers to accommodate his many moves, a trimmed-down Nowak is back in #47 to fill the team’s H-back role.
Defensively, Urbana returns 8 of 11 starters. For most teams, that’s a healthy haul, but compared to Urbana’s offense, there is an air of uncertainty surrounding the Blue Knight defense.
New Defensive Coordinator Paul Smith hopes to answer most of the questions in his first camp with the team. Smith comes to Urbana from nearby Tiffin University, where he served on the same coaching staff as Taynor just a few seasons ago. Under Smith, the Blue Knights will continue to run their unique 3-3-5 defense that features fast and active linebacker/defensive back hybrids. One of those returning hybrids is junior David McComas (Dayton, OH/Carroll HS).
“I think that we're handling the adversity of a coaching change pretty well,” explains McComas. “It's basically the same defense with some different calls. I think we're pretty confident, and we're willing to put in the work to accomplish our goals. Coach Smith brings an intensity to the game that I like to see in a defensive coordinator. He has a passion for this game, and he gets us fired up and ready to go.”
McComas will be joined by a bevy of heady veterans on defense, including another preseason All-American, senior defensive end Perry Jenkins (Columbus, OH/Walnut Ridge HS). Undersized, Jenkins utilizes an unstoppable motor to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. Last year alone, he finished with 59 tackles, including a team-high 18.5 behind the line of scrimmage. Jenkins will be joined up front by returners Bruce Parker (Sandusky, OH/Sandusky HS), Kyle Ferguson (West Jefferson, OH/West Jefferson HS), and Rodney Huston (Sidney, OH/Lehman Catholic HS). Parker was a Second Team All-Ohio selection with 36 tackles and a team-high 3 forced fumbles.
The returning linebackers feature three more all-conference performers with a ton of experience. Reigning GLFC Linebacker of the Year Drew Underwood will line up next to Shane Cahill for the fourth straight year at UU after the duo played together at nearby West Jefferson High School during their prep careers. Together, they combined for 114 tackles last year, including 17 for a loss of 87 yards.
The third member of this linebacker trio is no slouch. Lamar Ross (Columbus, OH/Walnut Ridge HS) finished fourth on the squad with 57 tackles in his third year on the job. A trio of juniors, including Kevin Smith (Lexington, OH/Lexington HS), Nick Shaw (Coshocton, OH/Coshocton HS) and Roy Harvison (Columbus, OH/Marion-Franklin HS), add much-needed depth to the heart of Urbana’s defense.
Replacing First Team All-Region performer Wes Edwards at cornerback is high on the defense’s priority list this fall. Edwards finished second in all of D-II in passes defended last season. Urbana opens camps with three vets vying for two starting cornerback slots. Junior Jake Krupko (Homeworth, OH/Marlington HS) has starting experience at the position, and he turned in a strong spring season. His three interceptions were tied for third on last year’s team. Another junior, Kyle Allman (Massilon, OH/Washington HS), saw action in all 11 games last season, and sophomore Kenya Coombs (Mansfield, OH/Lexington) could see significant action at the position after converting from wide receiver.
Questions also remain at some of the other open defensive back spots. Along with McComas, veterans Daniel Goodrum (Cleveland, OH/Villa Angela St. Joseph’s HS) and Eric Fisher (West Jefferson, OH/West Jefferson HS) return to patrol the defensive backfield, but five departures leave a few openings on the team’s defensive two-deep. Trying to replace last year’s conference Defensive Back of the Year Juan McKeever, redshirt freshman Brian Ridley (Columbus, OH/Whetstone HS) shined this spring, but this is a position where Taynor’s team could benefit from a flood of nearly 70 newcomers.
Urbana’s special teams were much-improved in 2011. Former linebacker Clay Lust (Prospect, OH/Olentangy Liberty HS) overtook the punting duties, averaging 39 yards a boot. Marshall Newsome (Huber Heights, OH/Wayne HS) provided stability in the kicking game and earned First Team All-Conference honors along with Lust. Longsnapper John Krabill (West Liberty, OH/West Liberty-Salem HS) returns for his third season to provide additional stability in the kicking game.
All that remains now are the games. Urbana has 11 on its 2012 schedule, including 8 against GLVC opponents. The Blue Knights are 13-6 all-time against current GLVC teams. That includes a 13-1 mark in their last 14. The only unfamiliar opponent on the 2012 schedule is preseason favorite Indianapolis. The Greyhounds were the unanimous pick to finish first in the conference after coming over from, arguably, the country’s strongest D-II football conference, the GLIAC. Indy finished 7-4 last season. They saw their conference title and playoff hopes dashed in a 28-19 loss to Wayne State in their home finale.
Urbana grabbed the second spot in the GLVC’s preseason coaches’ poll. If the predictions hold true, Urbana will host Indianapolis on the regular season’s final day with conference title and playoff implications on the line.
Urbana also opens the 2012 season at home. The Blue Knights welcome familiar foe Tusculum College to town on Saturday, September 1st. Urbana and Tusculum have tussled three times before. Tusculum came out on top all three times, including a 39-36 win on a final drive touchdown by the 24th ranked Pioneers with 24 ticks left on the clock in 2010. On their last trip to Urbana in 2009, the Pioneers escaped with a win in a 45-35 shootout. Kickoff is set for 12:00 p.m. at Urbana University Stadium.
Below, the 2012 team is pictured. The photography is courtesy of Mark Riedinger at Scioto Photo. To view and order prints of all the 2012 Blue Knight Football team, CLICK HERE.