Football looks to make mark early in new NAC race
August 28, 2008
Dave Beyer, Sports Information Director
Since the day he took over duties as Benedictine University’s head coach, veteran gridiron man Jon Cooper (4th season) has asked nothing more of his young charges but to give 100 percent and strive to become better. With an improved won-lost record each season, it appears that his formula is the right blend.
The Eagles – who were 1-9 the year prior to Cooper’s arrival – are coming off of a 5-5 mark in 2007 and third place finish in the final season of Illini-Badger Football Conference competition. Benedictine enters 2008 looking forward to joining the school’s other athletics teams in the Northern Athletics Conference (NAC), which will sponsor football as a league sport for the first time this fall.
Cooper sees this as a great opportunity for his Eagles team to continue its upward climb, as well as establish itself as a force to be reckoned with in its new affiliation.
“I think we have definitely shown improvement year to year,” said Cooper. “We are still a relatively young team, but with the advantage of having lots of experience in terms of game time. I think we really improved as the year went on last season.
“We have the chance to continue our program’s growth and establish Benedictine University football among the NAC’s upper echelon from the get-go. We proved that we could play with the very best last year and I’d like to see us set the pace in the NAC.
“That’s the challenge that faces our young men as we begin the rigors of the 2008 season.”
The good news for Cooper is that he returns intact the bulk of his skill players on offense responsible for the majority of the Eagles’ statistics in 2007. The bad news is that graduation has left some gaping holes in the trenches and, along with that, some question marks.
Heading the cast is junior all-conference tailback Ryan Schwartz (Clawson, Mich./Bishop Foley H.S.). Schwartz has 1,245 career rushing yards (including 898 in 2007). Schwartz led Benedictine in scoring with 48 points on eight touchdowns (seven rushing; one receiving). Also back to challenge for carries is sophomore Kyle Lee (Chino Hills, Calif./Ontario Christian H.S.), who had 222 yards on 72 carries and one touchdown as a freshman.
At fullback, sophomore Eric Ritter (Griffith, Ind./Griffith H.S.) is the incumbent, with fellow senior Tim Meyer (Staatsburg, N.Y./Our Lady of Lourdes H.S.) and sophomore Austin Eagan (Beech Grove, Ind./Beech Grove H.S.) also returning to the fold (although Eagan is also a candidate to play tighht end). Ritter rushed for 156 yards and Meyer 126.
Up front, the departure of all-conference players John Gromer (tightend), Dan Jones (tackle) and Pete Sgarbossa (center), along with Ron Tomalis (guard) and Patrick Sawe (tackle), has left some work to be done in preparation for 2008. Junior Quarandus Taylor (Chicago, Ill./Curie H.S.) – who was also an all-conference player as a sophomore – is charged with anchoring the line.
The group will have the chance to once again protect quarterback Andrew Ramus (Mokena, Ill./Lincoln-Way East H.S.), a sophomore who had the rare chance to step into the starting role as a freshman. Ramus completed 101-of-209 passes (48.3 percent) for 814 yards and three touchdowns. He was intercepted 13 times, however. Back-up Dan Cebulak (Chicago, Ill./Notre Dame H.S.) – a junior who gives the Eagles some option options – is also back for Cooper.
The receiving corps is headed by sophomore wide receiver Brandin Austin (Cary, Ill./Cary-Grove H.S.), who earned honorable mention all-conference recognition as a freshman. Austin caught 30 aerials for 216 yards. Sophomore Matt Jenkins (Racine, Wis./Case H.S.) – 10 catches, 92 yards – also returns.
Senior Joe Borsellino (Oak Brook, Ill./Montini Catholic H.S.) and junior Nate Driessens (Rock Falls, Ill./Newman Catholic H.S.) are both back for the aerial game. Borsellino missed the final three contests after suffering an ankle injury in week seven. Driessens had 10 grabs for 91 yards, but operates out of the runningback
While the defense lost five starters, it returns a host of players who all saw ample playing time. Among the statistical leaders are junior first team all-conference honorees Patrick Daniels (Kirksville, Mo./ Kirksville H.S.), a defensive back, and Devin Montgomery (Zion, Ill./Zion-Benton H.S.), a linebacker.
Daniels, who also earned second team All-North Region accolades from D3football.com, led Benedictine with six interceptions. Daniels was fourth on the squad in tackles with 55, 38 of which were solo. He was also credited with four break-ups and four tackles for loss.
Montgomery led the team in tackles for the second time in as many years with the Eagles, booking 93 stops (46 of which were solo tackles). He had eight tackles for loss, 1.0 sacks and two pass break-ups as well as an interception, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.
The traditionally-deep linebacking unit – of which all the leading tacklers are still just juniors like Montgomery – returns intact with Alex Dewey (Geneseo, Ill./Geneseo H.S.) and Ryan Kozicynski (Chesterton, Ind./Chesterton H.S.). Dewey, who was a second team all-conference pick in 2007, was second to Montgomery in tackles with 64 total, 40 solos, while also amassing an interception, fumble recovery and a pass break-up to his ledger. Kozicynski added 26 total tackles.
Joining Daniels in the secondary is senior cornerback Matt Kunz (Fox River Grove, Ill./Cary-Grove H.S.). Kunz was an honorable mention all-conference choice, rolling up 48 tackles (29 solo) and eight pass break-ups. He also had two interceptions, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.
2007 reserves Travis Newsome (Chicago, Ill./Leo Catholic H.S.) and Tim Shanahan (New Lenox, Ill./Lincoln-Way Central H.S.) add depth to the secondary.
In the defensive trenches, juniors Kyle Schulz (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore H.S.) and Dan Miller (Chicago, Ill./Notre Dame H.S.) were among the team’s leading tacklers in 2007. Schulz, a starter last season, had 31 tackles and Miller contributed 10. Each had 1.0 sacks, with Schulz recovering two fumbles. A third all-conference lineman, Michael Chapman, also graduated.
At defensive end, the graduation of the Eagles’ “pair of Bobs” – McLearen and Corey – leaves a wide-open contest up front. 2007 linebacker Eddie Hill, Jr. (Chicago Heights, Ill./Bloom Trail H.S.) is expected to move to a defensive end, while Schulz may also see action at an end.
The kicking game is bolstered by the return of a pair of sophomores who handled the bulk of the teams “footwork” in 2007. Brian Goff (Coal City, Ill./Coal City H.S.) was a first team all-conference placekicker and Tim Zultanski (Granger, Ind./Marian, Ind., H.S.) took care of the Eagles’ punting chores.
Goff was a perfect 13-of-13 in point-after-touchdown kicks. He was also five-of-nine in field goal attempts, going four-for-four inside the 30-yard line. Goff’s lone make outside the 30 was a
38-yarder in the second overtime against archrival Aurora University that snapped a 13-game winning streak by the Spartans versus the Eagles.
Goff also averaged 52.3 yards on kickoffs. In 25 attempts, he had just one kick go out of bounds.
Zultanski averaged 38.3 yards per punt, scoring a long punt of 50 yards. He had five touchbacks, killed five others inside the 20-yard line and forced four fair catches.
Benedictine’s 2008 slate of games is dotted with mostly familiar faces, but will offer three games versus first-time opponents courtesy of the NAC’s addition of football as a conference sport. The bulk of the NAC schools with football teams played in the Illini-Badger Football Conference (IBFC) along with Benedictine. However, Rockford College and Maranatha Baptist Bible College were members of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC), while Wisconsin Lutheran College belonged to the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA). All three are new faces versus the Eagles.
Benedictine will open with three non-conference games against College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin foes Elmhurst College, North Central College and North Park University. NAC competition will not only feature the three new schools on the Eagles’ schedule, but traditional IBFC rivals Concordia University Chicago and Aurora University, as well as the 2007 IBFC co-champions Concordia University (Wis.) and Lakeland College.
Also at stake with the inaugural NAC conference title is an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III championships. The NAC was granted an immediate bid for 2008, bypassing the traditional two-year waiting period.
“There’s no doubt that the winner of the NAC will have to earn it,” said Cooper. “I think our pre-league schedule will help prepare us for a very tough battle in the NAC.
“If we want to have success in 2008, we will have to be ready to step up each and every week. Our upperclassmen will have to provide the leadership necessary to give the optimum effort every time we step on the field.”
Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls nearly 10,000 students in 56 undergraduate and 19 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the sixth consecutive year in 2016. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org). For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ben.edu.