Muskies set high goals for 2005 season
Athletics - posted on 8/16/2005
The past two seasons have given the Lakeland faithful reason to be excited about this season, and has people talking about the opportunity to win the conference outright and make the NCAA Division III Playoffs for the first time in school history. Lakeland was picked in the preseason IBFC Coaches' poll as the league favorite. The fact that the Muskies return the entire offensive and defensive lines, along with only losing one starter on an offense that averaged 37.9 points per game, is fueling the hopes that this could be the year for the Muskies to earn a postseason bid.
"I think we have a chance to be pretty successful," Zebrowski said. "Some people might say that's an understatement if you have 17, 18 or 19 starters coming back. We just want to play day-by-day, game-by-game, play-by-play to the best we can. I think if we play to our ability and the kids come back and can stay healthy, yeah we have a chance to be pretty darn good. I believe that we will compete again for the conference championship. I think if you ask most of the kids, they'll say their goal is to win the conference championship and make the playoffs."
Offense Defense Schedule 2004 Recap
Key Losses: Sam Scharinger (LB); Jacob Vigliante (DB); Courtney Gatlin (WR); Jed Manders (TE).
Key returnees this season: Ryan Maiuri (QB, 6-0, 190, Sterling Heights Ill./Stevenson); Marcus Denham (HB, 5-9, 162, Zion Ill./Zion Benton); Aaron Barrie (HB, 5-8, 186, Oostburg/Oostburg); Bryon Vandlen (OL; 6-3, 302, Monroe/Monroe); Ryan VanDeLoo (LB, 5-11, 225, Sheboygan Falls/Sheboygan Falls); Nick Zeck (DL, 6-5, 270, West Allis/Hale); David Benton (DL, 6-5, 210, Ashtabule Ohio/Ashtabule).
Key Additions: Evan Lang (LB, 6'3", 230, Tampa Fla./Hillsborough); Shannon Fitzgerald (HB, 6'0", 190, Two Rivers/Two Rivers); John Wagner (LB, 6-1, 200, Kewaunee/Kewaunee); Blaine Hornes (LB, 5-11, 210, Neenah/Neenah); Chris Nitz (FB, 6'0", 225, Lake in the Hill Ill./Jacobs High)
There is a lot of excitement about this year's incoming freshman class, which has the opportunity to not only make an impact down the road, but several players are expected to see significant playing time this year.
"We'll see four or five freshman that will have the opportunity to receive playing time," Zebrowski said. "All these kids are physically ready; we just need to see who is mentally ready to step up. The aura, or whatever you want to call it, is that kids want to play and be very successful. The kids that are already here don't want to get beat out and the kids coming in want to play."
In a year that sees 10 starters return, the offense should once again be dominant this season. Last season, Lakeland was ranked ninth in the country for total offense (473.8), fifth in rushing offense (317.9) and first in the Illini-Badger Football Conference for points per game (37.9).
"We've averaged over 30 points a game the past two years," Zebrowski said. "The kids have been in the system for two years, and coming into their third year we expect some good things, but we need to get better. We expect more specifically from the passing game. We had a lot of kids and we're making up plays in the passing game, so that's a big emphasis to be able to make more plays in the passing game. We have a solid offense; they really are pretty explosive and have a great chance to do things."
The offensive attack will once again be led by fifth-year senior Ryan Maiuri (Sterling Heights Ill./Stevenson) at quarterback. Last year, the IBFC Offensive Back of the Year and first team quarterback threw for 1,472 yards and 15 touchdowns, while also finishing second on the team in rushing with net yardage of 776. He was ranked 68th in the nation for passing efficiency (123.4) and 46th for total offense per game (224.8).
"If you talk with him, he'll probably say the same thing I say, which is that he made first-year quarterback mistakes," Zebrowski said. "As a starter, he wants to become the best. He is one of our strongest kids pound for pound now. He runs exceptionally well. He should be a 2,000-yard passer and a 600- to 800-yard rusher for us. That's the exciting thing about him. He works so hard and we can do some exciting things with him. He actually becomes another running back for us on the line."
Also returning will be the team's leading rusher, second team all-conference junior Marcus Denham (Zion Ill./Zion Benton). Denham led Lakeland with 16 touchdowns, including 15 rushing, while netting 795 yards on the ground.
"He's (Denham) a kid that scored 28 touchdowns his first two years," Zebrowski said of his junior tailback. "He's an 800-yard rusher each year. We rotate halfbacks - that's why he'll never be a 1,500-yard rusher. Marcus's only downfall is that he's 168 pounds. He's a tough kid, physical kid, but over the course of a season you're going to pick up a little bit of a beating. We hope he comes back a little heavier and a little stronger."
Joining Denham at the halfback position is second team all-conference junior Aaron Barrie (Oostburg/Oostburg), who last season finished third on the team in rushing with 598 yards and six TDs and now appears poised for a breakout year for the Muskies in 2005.
"Aaron Barrie is one of the kids that came on late last year," Zebrowski said. "He is one of the hardest working kids we have. He averages 6.6 yards a carry. Barrie will carry the ball a lot (this season). He's a local kid, he's of a shorter stock, but he's a strong pound-for-pound kid that will run people over. I think you're going to see a lot of Aaron as he has done a great job for us."
The biggest question mark offensively is the wide receiver position. Under Zebrowski, the Muskies have been known for their successful running game, but opposing teams will likely concentrate heavily on Lakeland's rushing attack this season. In order to remain successful, the Muskies are looking for some go-to receivers to help take the pressure off the running game.
"Last year we had a collage of kids," Zebrowski said. "The last four games we rotated a lot of players. Our leading receiver was our fullback, Travis Gervais (Ashland/Washburn), who is coming back this year for a fifth year. We have five kids who probably had anywhere between five and 15 catches last year. We need to have two or three kids step up. (Last season) we had a group that played well for us - Eric Bayerl (Wallace Mich./Stephenson), Eric Royal (Oak Park Mich./Stephenson), Rodney Ellison (Pontiac Mich./Northern), Mike Christian (Hobart Ind./Hobart) and Matt Martin (Schaumburg Ill./Conant). They all are great kids, hard workers. Competitively this is going to be my most competitive position to see who ends up playing. We're bringing in some young kids as well that can play. This is going to be a position of who can step up and make plays because we weren't consistent enough (last season). They are great kids, and it's going to be a great competition to see who wants to play."
All but Jed Manders (Kaukana/Freedom) will be returning to the offensive line this year. The leader on the line this year will be senior Bryon Vandlen (Monroe/Monroe), an All-Region honoree as a junior. The offensive line has been the strength of the offense, as the veteran line played an integral role last year in creating holes for the running backs and provided pass protection for Maiuri.
"The strength of a program is to have your whole offensive/defensive line," said Zebrowski. "So what I'm most excited about is we have all but one player coming back on the offensive line."
Lakeland hopes to build on the success of last year's highly-ranked defense. The Muskies were ranked 32nd in the nation in scoring defense (16.3), 15th in rushing defense (91.2), 15th in turnover margin (+1.2) and 46th in pass efficiency defense.
"The most important thing is we have our whole defensive line coming back," Zebrowski said. "Defensively, we have a chance to be dominant upfront. We have a strong group of freshman coming in with a lot of defensive and linebacker kids, so we might get to see some young guys play. On offense we need to be more consistent in the 'big game' and I think we need to do that on defense as well. We need to be more solid in those games and stop people when we need to stop them. Finally, on defense, we need to create more turnovers and create more physical play and really emphasize just shutting people down."
The loss of All-American linebacker Sam Scharinger (Howards Grove/Howards Grove), the team's leading tackler, will certainly be felt as he was ranked third in the nation in tackles for a loss, fifth in the nation in solo tackles and 29th in total tackles. Look for Ryan VanDeLoo (Sheboygan Falls/Sheboygan Falls) to step into a more visible role after the loss of Scharinger.
"Ryan VanDeLoo has been a great two-year player for us," says Zebrowski. "He is going to play predominately inside for us this year. The last two years he played outside linebacker and just a little inside. He is just a solid, get-the-job-done type of kid. He should be an All-Conference performer again and he should be our leading tackler. He is a tremendous player and he has a chance to be dominating back there."
Up front, first team all-IBFC players Nick Zeck (West Allis/Hale) and David Benton (Ashtabule Ohio/Lakeside) should continue to put pressure on the quarterback and also play a key component in shutting down the run. Last season, Benton was second on the team in tackles for a loss (14.5) and forced fumbles (3), while Zeck was second on the team in sacks (9) and third on the team in tackles for a loss (11).
"The two kids up front that got the most accolades last year were Nick Zeck and David Benton," Zebrowski said. "Nick pulled a hamstring that set him back in the last few games. He is a 10-15 sacks type kid, and so is Benton. We have two kids who really can be between 9, 10, 15 sacks. That's where we want to put teams - in positions where they have to throw and not have to bring pressure all the time with linebackers. We've got a front four we think that play exceptionally well. These are the kids that we are really counting on to be the strength, the anchor of the defense."
After living on the road last season, this fall features six home games. The Muskies face a tough non-conference schedule as two of the three teams are ranked in the d3football.com preseason national poll. The Muskies will open the season on Sept. 3 at home against Northwestern (MN) before traveling to Kenosha to take on #13 Carthage on Sept. 10 in the season's only night game. Lakeland will close out the non-conference schedule with a home date against #21 ranked UW-Whitewater on Sept. 17.
"What we've tried to do the past two years is create a non-conference schedule that is very competitive so that when the conference season comes around we'll be prepared," Zebrowski said. "Northwestern is a good solid team out of Minnesota. It is the first game, and that game is always a key because you want to see where you're at. Carthage finished eighth in the country last season and we only lost to them by four points. That should be a great game and it has kind of become our non-conference rival. It's a very heated game. Then there is Whitewater, and in this state anytime you play a state school it's a big game because of the aura that the state schools have. From the fans' perspective we should be rocking this place."
Lakeland opens league play at Benedictine University, before coming home for two games against Eureka College and MacMurray. After those two home games, the Muskies will travel to Mequon to meet Concordia (Wis.) for a game which has been circled on Lakeland's schedule since the end of last season. The following week, Lakeland returns home to take on Concordia (Ill.) before hosting Aurora University for Senior Day 2005. The Muskies end the conference season on the road at Greenville on Nov. 5.
"In conference it's Aurora and Concordia, Wis., that are the two teams that have been in that upper tier," Zebrowski said. "Aurora is always tough and we've been blessed to beat them the last two years, and we lost to Concordia the past two years. If we would have beaten them last year, we win the conference straight out."
2004 Recap: 7-3 (.700) overall; 6-1 (.857) Illini-Badger Football Conference
Since his arrival in 2003, Lakeland has seen nothing but success. After starting the 2004 season off with a win over Northwestern, the program lost two heartbreakers to perennial powerhouse Carthage and UW-Whitewater. The Muskies started the conference season with three straight wins by a combined score of 177-20. After such a successful start, expectations were high going into the Concordia (Wis.) game. Lakeland has struggled with Concordia recently, and despite a 6-6 halftime time, Lakeland dropped its fifth straight game to the Falcons. The Muskies went on to win their remaining three games against Concordia (Ill.), Aurora, and Greenville. The 6-1 conference record earned Lakeland a share of the Illini-Badger Football Conference title, the program's first since 1997.
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