Football Camp Gets Underway Friday
Bears Open 2008 Fall Camp
The University of Northern Colorado football team will begin its 2008 campaign on Friday, Aug. 8 at 7:45 p.m. The team reports to campus at 8:00 a.m. with check in and are in meetings and the issuing of equipment throughout most of the day before hitting the gridiron for the first time in helmets only at 7:45 p.m. Practice is scheduled until 10:00 and is open to the public.
The Bears will practice six days a week leading up to the opener at Purdue on Sept. 6 in West Lafayette, Ind. at noon Central.
Preseason Practice Schedule
Aug. 8 7:45-10:00 p.m.
Aug. 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 19, 24 2:15-4:30
Aug. 10 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Aug. 14, 16, 18, 20 8:00-10:15 a.m.; 7:00-9:15 p.m.
Aug. 22 8:30-10:30 a.m.
Aug. 23 Team Walk-thru 2:00-3:30; BearFest 3:30-5:00
All practices will be held on the practice fields in the Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion. Coaches and players are available for interviews following the conclusion of practice.
Northern Colorado lost nine starters from its 2007 squad. Seven starters on offense, seven starters on defense, one on special teams, and a few players who have had spot duty as a starter return for 2008. The Bears will look for players to step up on both the offensive and defensive lines. The Bears will need to replace three starters on the defensive line, but sophomore Josh Mack and junior Martin Awachie both started a few games in spot duty for the Bears in 2007. Big Sky honorable mention winners Jake Gable (C) and Clint Wright (TE) are also gone from the offensive side of the ball. The Bears have 43 letterwinners, 17 redshirts, and 16 national letter of intent signees on their roster.
Offense (7): TB David Woods (11 starts), LT Jacob Thornbrue (12), LG Chris Jones (11), RG Ryan Kemp (9), RT Eric Christensen (11), TE Ryan Chesla (11), WR Cory Fauver (10)
Defense (7): LE John Eddy (11), LB Casey Herron (8), LB Cristian Sarmento (11), LB Joe Kenney (10), CB Myles Hayes (11), Stephen Michon (12), Quincy Wofford (6)
Special Teams (1): K Zak Bigelow (7)
Other players returning with starts: QB Mike Vlahogeorge (5), RB Tyrone Wilson (1), RT Andrew Dunkley (1), RG James Zapp (3) WR Jason Caprioli (3), WR Brandon Smith (1), WR Brian Barmann (2), LE Josh Mack (1), DT Martin Awachie (2), CB Korey Askew (4), CB Eric Brown (3), K Michael York (5)
Key Players Lost
Offense QB Dominique Breazeale, C Jake Gable, TE Clint Wright
Defense DT Vinny Pallone, DT Ben Sibert, DE Joe Silipo LB Asa Matthews, ROV D.J. Craft
Special Teams P Rafael Mendoza
2008 Season Preview
"This is not a destination. This is a process to achieve success."
Words that Coach Scott Downing uses when talking to his team, to the media, to the fans, in short, to anyone who will listen.
In 2007, 63 of the 90 players on the Northern Colorado roster were true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores. Now those players are another year older and have a great compliment of seniors ahead of them and incoming freshmen behind them.
The 2008 roster is filled with student-athletes who believe in that process and are hungry for success. The process started to show results late in 2007, as the Bears defeated #19 Montana State 16-13 and then fought to the finish in the final four games of the season. Approximately 75 percent of the team stayed in Greeley over the summer for off-season conditioning and are anxious to put their work to the test on the gridiron.
"Our players have got ‘it'," said Downing. "They are self-disciplined and motivated. We have seen a different level of motivation, of commitment out of the players this year."
Northern Colorado returns seven starters on the offensive side of the ball, with six of those starting in at least 10 games in their career. Despite that experience, the Bears will have to replace all-conference center Jake Gable and will have a new quarterback under center. They do, however, return over 87 percent of the rushing yards and 78 percent of the scoring from a season ago.
THE BEARS OFFENSE
With the graduation of Dominic Breazeale and the conversion of Mike Vlahogeorge to tight end, the Bears will have a new play caller in 2008. Junior transfer Bryan Waggener emerged from spring drills as the number one, but sophomore James Schrenk and redshirt freshman Dylan Orms both showed stretches of brilliance in the spring season.
"Bryan brings a lot to our team, especially his decision making ability and his accuracy," stated Downing. "And by accuracy, I don't mean he can hit a guy, I mean he can place a football exactly where the receiver needs it to be so he can catch it and turn it up field to go make a play."
Probably the most experienced position on the offense, both running backs who started last season return in seniors Tyrone (DC) Wilson and David Woods. The pair combined for over 1,000 yards rushing with Woods accounting for 715 of those.
"Woods is a big time Big Sky Conference running back," said Downing. "He made contributions for us last year, but I expect him to up those contributions this fall and be a big player for us."
Four receivers who played in at least 2/3 of the games a year ago return in seniors Brian Barmann, Jason Caprioli, Cory Fauver and sophomore Brandon Smith, but Downing is also excited about the incoming receivers.
"We have some big strong receivers returning, but we have some very exciting freshman coming in this fall as well. They are all very explosive playmakers who are capable of scoring every time they touch the ball."
The first-ever Big Sky All-Conference First Team selection anchors the tight end position and looks to have an even bigger senior season than his junior year, where Ryan Chesla led all Big Sky tight ends with 444 reception yards. Junior Andrew Emmerling, along with sophomore Sam Sewell and converted quarterback Vlahogeorge all had good springs with Emmerling edging out the others for the second nod.
The line went through a makeover this spring, moving different players around to account for graduation and injury recoveries. Senior captain Jacob Thornbrue moved from left tackle inside to guard and junior Chris Jones moved to center from guard.
"Thorny is going to anchor the line for us and lead us on offense," said Downing. "Jones helped us a lot filling in for (Tim) McGraw and gives us the ability to move him back to center should anything happen in the fall.
"The question is when we get everyone back, can we be good as a unit, and get everyone on the same page? I think we can."
THE BEARS DEFENSE
Seven starters also return on defense, three of whom were all-conference selections a year ago. Despite losing four players, this group looks to come back stronger. The defensive line, linebackers and secondary all have vast experience and have the ability to influence the outcome of every contest.
The line rotated a number of different players in all positions and is the youngest portion of the defense. Junior all-conference pick John Eddy leads a unit that lost three of the four starting spots. Ethan Davis, who started as a true freshman in 2006, returns after sitting out all of last season and Martin Awachie and Amal Gumbs have also seen significant on the field action.
"Up front on defense, I saw the emergence of explosive defensive ends who should help us pressure every quarterback in the conference," Downing said.
The bread and butter of the Bears defense, the linebacker corp returns two all-conference selections in second-team pick Cristian Sarmento, who ended the year second in the Big Sky with 135 tackles, and honorable mention pick and two-year team captain Joe Kenney. The Bears also return Casey Herron, Matt King, C.J. Stemo, Thomas Stuemky and Trey Keene that were on the field in 2007, Chris Schardt and Lamont Bryant who redshirted last year and junior college transfer Logan Zabel who was here in the spring.
"The linebackers are a very solid group," said Downing. "They are our most veteran group and will lead the defense with two captains (Kenney and Sarmento). Anybody in that unit can step in and make big plays for us."
The secondary returns as a very experienced unit that went under the radar last year when it came to postseason honors, but should be feared in 2008. The Bears return every cornerback that saw the field last year and seniors Eric Brown and Myles Hayes and junior Quincy Wofford are all extremely skilled.
Stephen Michon and Max Hewitt led the team with three interceptions each last year and junior Ryan Lutz earned all-conference honors on special teams. All made improvements during the spring and could force a large number of turnovers.
"All three corners have great game experience that can be trusted on the field against anyone in the Big Sky Conference," said Downing. "The safeties should be a great ball-hawking tandem this fall."
THE BEARS SPECIAL TEAMS
Downing and his staff spent a lot of time this spring improving the special teams unit. Sophomore Zak Bigelow returns as the starting kicker for the Bears after going 3-for-5 in field goals in his first year, including the 37-yard game winner last year against Montana State. Junior Michael York also returns and he went 9-of-10 in point after attempts last season.
Redshirt freshman Cameron Kaman looks to take over the punting duties vacated by Rafael Mendoza's departure. David Woods also took reps as the back-up punter in the spring.
"Our specialists were very improved this year," said Downing. "We spend a lot of our time working on individual drills to improve skills needed for our schemes."
Big Sky Preseason Honors
In the Big Sky Conference preseason football all-conference team released at the annual preseason kickoff in Park City, Utah, two Northern Colorado seniors were tabbed to the team in tight end Ryan Chesla and linebacker Cristian Sarmento. The team was selected by a panel of media members in the league.
Chesla was named to the 2007 Big Sky All-Conference First Team, becoming the first-ever pick for the Bears. He led the team with 40.4 reception yards per game, gaining 444 yards on 37 catches and four touchdowns, missing the final game of the season due to injury.
Sarmento was a second-team pick at the conclusion of the 2007 season, finishing the year ranked second in the Big Sky Conference with 135 tackles in 11 games, as he also missed the season finale with an injury.
Phil Steele Predicts...
In the Phil Steele's football 2008 preview, four Bears were tabbed on the Preseason Big Sky Teams. Senior tight end Ryan Chesla was named to the first team offense, while junior defensive end John Eddy, senior linebacker Cristian Sarmento and sophomore defensive back Quincy Wofford were all named to the second team defense.
Oh Captain, My Captain
At the conclusion of the spring practices, the team voted and named senior offensive lineman Jacob Thornbrue and senior linebackers Joe Kenney and Cristian Sarmento as captains for the 2008 team. This is the second year in a row Kenney has served as a captain and the first season for the other two.
Records In Sight
Senior Eric Brown currently has 538 kickoff return yards after a stellar junior season on the return team. He needs 16 yards to tie for 10th on the Northern Colorado career charts and 17 to tie for ninth. The record for kickoff return yards is 1,262 yards by Johnny Watkines (1981-84).
Senior linebacker Cristian Sarmento sits at 234 tackles after three years with the Bears, needing just 58 to tie Mike Horton (1979-80) and Vaughn Lechman (1984-87) for 10th on the career charts. The record for tackles is 505 by Bob Knapton (1978-81).
Junior cornerback Quincy Wofford is currently tied for eighth on the record list with two blocked kicks. One more will move him into a tie for fifth. The school record is 15 blocks by Tim Bowie (1992-95).
Van Portfliet On AFCA Good Works
The Allstate AFCA Good Works Team list of nominations was recently released and sophomore safety Michael VanPortfliet made the cut. VanPortfliet is extremely involved in community service and over spring break last season went through a bone marrow donation.
2007 Northern Colorado Team
Nottingham Award (Most Inspirational): Joe Kennedy
Offensive Player of the Year: Ryan Chesla
Defensive Player of the Year: Cristian Sarmento
Special Teams Player of the Year: Ryan Lutz
Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year: Dylan Orms
Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year: Thomas Stuemky
Team Captain Award: Jake Gable, Aaron Henderson, Joe Kenney, Vinny Pallone