August 26, 2007

Football Heads To Hawaii For Season Opener

Aug. 26, 2007

Weekly Release 1: At Hawai'i
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95th Season Of Football Set To Begin

     Northern Colorado begins its 95th season of college football Saturday when the Bears take on Hawai'i at 6:05 p.m. (Hawaiian)/10:05 p.m. (Mountain). The game is the first for NC against a football bowl subdivision (FBS) team since 1986 at Colorado State (L, 46-14).

     The game marks the start of Northern Colorado's second season under Head Coach Scott Downing. Last year, the Bears posted a 1-10 record in their first season as members of the Big Sky Conference.

     This will be the first-ever meeting between Hawai'i and Northern Colorado, but the sixth-straight FBS game against a member of the WAC as all the Bears FBS contests have come against members of that league.


Not Exactly A Walk In The Park

     Hawai'i is the first of eight 2007 opponents that posted winning records in 2006. The Warriors posted an 11-3 record last year and won the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl. The Bears also face Division II semifinalist Chadron State  (12-1) and FCS playoff teams Montana (12-2) and Montana State (8-5). Additionally, the Bears will play San Diego (11-1), Northern Arizona (6-4), Cal Poly (7-4) and Portland State (7-4) which posted winning records.


Breaking Out

     The game at Hawai'i will be the first time in school history the Bears have played outside the continental United States. NC has played on both coasts, last playing on the West Coast last year at Sacramento State and on the East Coast in 2004 at Maine. The Bears have also played as far north as Grand Forks, North Dakota in 2001 and as far south as San Marcos, Texas winning at Texas State last year.


It's Been A While

     For the first time since 1986 Northern Colorado will be facing an FBS team. The Bears played at Colorado State, dropping a 46-14 decision on Sept. 20, 1986. NC is 0-5 all-time against former Division I-A teams and have never faced that subdivision as a member of the FCS (football championship subdivision). In the 1940s the Bears played against both Colorado State and Wyoming several times, but that was before the NCAA had divisions.


Season Openers

     Northern Colorado is 44-47-3 all-time in season openers and is 5-1 in its last six games to start the season. The Bears have also won 15 of their last 18 opening games, dating back to 1989. The three losses came at the hands of Western State in 1994, Angelo State in 2000 and UC Davis one year ago.


Ahoy, Captain

     In a vote by the players, Northern Colorado named three defensive players and one offensive player as their captains for 2007. Senior defensive back Aaron Henderson, junior linebacker Joe Kenney and senior nose guard Vinny Pallone represent the defense, while senior center Jake Gable represents the offense.


What's Back

     The Bears return half of their starters from a year ago, returning seven offensive, six defensive and one specialist from the 2006 season.

     The team also returns 61 percent of its tackles from last season, including leading tackler, junior linebacker Cristian Sarmento who notched 81 total tackles a year ago with 5.5 tackles for loss.


Trying For Two

     Junior defensive back Trey Keene is a rarity among Division I student-athletes in that he is playing two sports for the Bears. Keene is also a member of the NC baseball team, where last season he played in 32 of the team's 51 games hitting .202.


He's Ba-ack

     Senior wide receiver Andy Birkel returns to the lineup after missing the entire 2006 season with a knee injury. In 2005, the Lincoln, Neb., native caught 50 passes for 907 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was named first team All-Great West and his 10 TD catches tied for the fifth most in school history, while his 907 yards ranks 10th on the single season chart.


Tough Competition

     In the first two games of the year, the Bears look to defend against some of the best players in their respective divisions. In Hawai'i, NC faces Heisman Trophy hopeful Colt Brennan at quarterback, while the next week against Chadron State they will see 2006 Harlon Hill Trophy winner Danny Woodhead at tailback.


Proud To Wear Pink

     The home opener against Chadron State on Sept. 8 has been designated "Breast Cancer Awareness" day at Nottingham Field. The entire coaching staff will wear pink shirts helping to raise awareness for a disease that affects millions. It is estimated that 178,480 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in American women in 2007 alone.


Colorado's Team

     There are 90 players on the 2007 roster and 70 of them attended high school in Colorado. California and Oklahoma both have four players representing those states for the next most on the roster. There are also two players each hailing from Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.


Chart Climbing

     Senior punter Rafael Mendoza enters the season ranked sixth on the school's career records list with an average of 39.4 yards per kick... Aaron Henderson is just out of the top 10 in several career categories, including punt return yards (24 ret, 245 yards), kickoff return yards (24, 437) and pass interceptions (eight)... Andy Birkel is currently tied for 12th in school history with 10 receiving touchdowns... Vinny Pallone has played and started in all 22 games of his career, the only senior to play and start in every game of his career (with multiple seasons at Northern Colorado).


Now Eligible

     The Northern Colorado football team is now eligible to compete in postseason play in 2007 after successfully making the transition to Division I. This year marks the first year the Bears are also eligible to win the Big Sky Conference Championship, though the Bears are looking to start with the first win over a Big Sky opponent.


New Season Features New Coaches

During the off season, head coach Scott Downing added five new coaches to his staff. Dan Daniel, Dennis Darnell, Pete Darnell, Jordan Fenner and Kendrick Shaver all joined the Bears as coaches, while Justin Jantz was added to the team as the director of football operations.

     Daniel will serve as a defensive assistant coach. He most recently spent time as the defensive coordinator of the Hamburg Sea Devils, which won the World Bowl over Frankfurt in the NFL Europe Championship.

     Dennis Darnell was named the team's offensive coordinator and brings over 20 years of coaching experience to the table, including head coaching stints at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma and Missouri Western State and Republic High School and Sullivan High School, both in Missouri.

     Pete Darnell will handle the quarterback coaching duties for the Bears. He joins the staff from Tarleton State, where he coached the wide receivers for six months.

     Fenner is in charge of the wide receivers and spent last season at Southern Oregon University, where he worked primarily with the tight ends and special teams.

     Shaver will be responsible for the secondary after handling the same duties last year at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. He also was the recruiting coordinator and monitored the academics at Northeastern.


Scouting The Hawai'i Warriors

     Hawai'i enters the season ranked 23rd in the AP poll and 24th in the USA Today Preseason poll and the favorite to win the Western Athletic Conference title this year. In 2006, the Warriors were 11-1 and winners of the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl.

     Hawai'i returns 15 starters from last year's team with six offensive, eight defensive and one specialist coming back. The Warriors traditionally utilize a Run-and-Shoot offensive formation and a 4-3 defensive formation under head coach June Jones.

     Those six offensive returning starters helped lead Hawai'i to the number one ranked offense in college football a year ago and senior quarterback Colt Brennan led the nation in seven statistical categories and broke 18 NCAA records in 2006.

     On defense, the Warriors return eight from last season's team which held opponents to 24.1 points per game.


Hawai'i Head Coach June Jones

     June Jones enters his ninth season with the Warriors sporting a career record of 64-40. He is the 20th coach in Hawai'i history and his teams have been ranked in the top five in the nation in passing offense each season. In his first eight years with UH, the team has advanced to five games and he has coached 10 All-Americans.

     He also led the 1999 Warriors to the WAC co-champion and he was named the National Football Coach of the Year by CNN/Sports Illustrated that season. He has had 16 NFL draft picks, broken 380 school records and 45 NCAA records and mentored 56 all-WAC performers.


The Hawai'i Connection

     Northern Colorado offensive coordinator Dennis Darnell has a close connection with Hawai'i offensive line coach Dennis McKnight. McKnight played for Darnell at Drake University and then the pair coached together at Southeast Missouri State in 1981.

     NC redshirt freshman Andrew Dunkley also played high school football at Long Beach Poly with Hawai'i senior offensive lineman Hercules Satele. Dunkley was a freshman at Poly during Satele's senior season.


2007 Hawai'i Schedule

Sept. 1      NORTHERN COLORADO         6:05 p.m.

Sept. 8      at Louisiana Tech *                       6:05 p.m.

Sept. 15    at UNLV                                    6:35 p.m.

Sept. 22    CHARLESTON SOUTHERN     6:05 p.m.

Sept. 29    at Idaho *                                    2:05 p.m.

Oct. 6       UTAH STATE *                          6:05 p.m.

Oct. 12      at San Jose State *                      5:05 p.m.

Oct. 27      NEW MEXICO STATE *             6:05 p.m.

Nov. 10    FRESNO STATE *                     6:05 p.m.

Nov. 16    at Nevada *                                8:05 p.m.

Nov. 23    BOISE STATE *                         4:05 p.m.

Dec. 1       WASHINGTON                                TBD

* denotes WAC game; All times local to site


Fountain Of Youth

     The Northern Colorado roster, which consists of 89 players, has 62 players that are either true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores on it. There are 11 seniors on the roster, eight of which have been with the team throughout their entire careers.


True Freshmen:          24

Redshirt Freshmen:     19

Sophomores:             19

Juniors:                     16

Seniors:                    11


Hitting The Books

     Senior defensive back Aaron Henderson has already received his undergraduate degree from the University of Northern Colorado and is spending his fifth year with the Bears as a graduate student. Henderson received his degree in psychology and was awarded the Franklin D. Watkins Memorial Trophy Award, given for academic excellence among young African-American males.


All In The Family

     The Bears sport two pair of brothers currently on the roster in Matt (Fr-LB) and Mike (Jr-QB) Vlahogeorge, and Justin (So-RB) and Korey (So-DB) Askew but there are several other members of the team who had brothers on previous year's teams. Senior linebacker Asa Matthew's brother Adam played for the Bears from 1999-2003, while senior nose guard Vinny Pallone's brother Dominic played for the Bears from 1996-00.