BY BEN DUNNING – STAFF WRITER
Last season, Centre Football boasted arguably the greatest team in program history consistently dominating their competition en route to an undefeated 10-0 regular season record and a coveted NCAA Tournament bid. Records were broken, accolades were collected and many a play was celebrated on a weekly basis. One question on everyone’s mind: How do you follow that up? With a roster full of talent, an unmatched level of team morale, and the feverous desire to, as always, pursue excellence with a vengeance in 2015.
The preseason 19-ranked Colonels have plenty of valuable experience to lead the team, returning numerous starters on either side of the football. Most notably, All-SAA second team quarterback Heath Haden returns as a fifth-year senior to lead Centre to what could be a third consecutive record-breaking year for the Colonel offense which boasted the best season in program history with 4,841 total yards last year. Haden could potentially be breaking some records of his own, as he is one of the all-time leading passers at Centre with 6,405 passing yards and 49 passing touchdowns—third and fourth in program history, respectively.
Haden won’t be short of options in the passing game. Senior wide receivers Jake Johnson, Blake Martin, Braden Urevick, and Richard Ford highlight a talented core of perimeter players, including juniors Rubyn Branch and Duncan Mercer. At tight end, senior and two-time all-SAA first team selection Brandon Kamp returns to lead an offense trying to top 440 yards and 37.4 points per game in 2014.
Centre’s offense also features a stable of talented tailbacks running behind an experienced offensive line. Up front, Centre will have three all-SAA offensive linemen paving the way: seniors Patrick Marsden and Matt Silverman, and junior Tre Killian.
“Angry offensive line play, playmaking receivers and running backs, and a quarterback with a passion for fashion are the focal points of our offense this year,” says offensive guard Marsden.
Junior Nolan Coulter, a 2014 all-SAA first team honoree, paces the running backs, having run for 1,164 yards and 14 touchdowns last fall. Also returning are juniors Casey Bradley and Amoh Kumengisa, who added a combined 776 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in 2014.
For Marsden, the experience of the offense is invaluable, particularly in their preparation.
“I think the returning experience on offense means that our team knows how to practice and work towards success,” he said. “Confidence is high because we understand how to prepare ourselves to execute and win.”
In 2014, Centre gained a reputation as a hard-hitting, “bend but don’t break” defense that consistently made game changing plays in crucial moments, allowing only 14.3 points per game in SAA play. The younger 2015 Centre defense is led by senior safeties Alex Mattingly and Sam Spees. Mattingly, a 2014 first team all-SAA selection, and Spees, a second team all-SAA selection, constitute what is expected to be the best safety tandem in the conference.
“Losing a core group of seniors from last year’s defense is a challenge for defense this year,” Mattingly said, “but I believe the attitude and experience of the returning seniors will help us become the type of defense that the coaching staff always inspires us to be.”
At cornerback, the Colonels add even more experience to the defensive backfield with all-SAA honorable mention selection senior Taylor Peoples.
The youth of the defense can be found primarily in the front seven, but that inexperience does not concern senior linebacker Conor Flaherty.
“It’s been great to see underclassmen, especially up front, to continue to gain confidence throughout camp and the first two games,” Flaherty said. “Guys like [Ben] Bostick, [Hunter] Treneman and Shane Smith have approached the season like starters beginning last winter so it’s not a surprise to see their success now. It’s also a testament to the culture we have on the defensive side of the ball that guys are prepared to step in when their number is called.”
Flaherty will lead a young linebacking corps this fall, featuring 2014 honorable mention junior linebacker Anthony Kersey and reigning SAA Newcomer of the Year sophomore Andrew Busby. The defensive line will have their work cut out for them in replacing an immensely talented 2014 group, which featured the SAA Defensive Player of the Year and three other all-SAA selections, one of whom will be returning this fall in senior tackle Kris Beauchamp.
The Colonels will once again be following the lead of reigning SAA Coach of the Year head coach Andy Frye, who will enter his 18th season as the leader of the football program this fall. On September 13th of last season, Frye surpassed 2002 Centre Hall of Fame inductee coach Joe McDaniel as the all-time winningest coach in Centre football history, one of the more storied programs in the NCAA. With a 110-61 career record and two NCAA Playoff appearances, Frye finds the most joy in watching his players experience success off and on the field, a trend that will more than likely continue in the coming season.
After a 63-7 scraping of Hanover College in Week 1, the Colonels were leading the nation in offense with 769 total yards. Centre added 233 passing yards and three touchdowns from quarterback Haden, including an 80-yard strike to Blake Martin, and a video game-like 536 yards rushing, which included three 100-yard rushers in Coulter, senior Sawyer Johnson and freshman Trevor Carnell.
In Week 2, under the home field lights, Centre grinded out a more competitive 25-8 win against visiting Defiance College. Haden led the Colonels to victory with a strong fourth quarter, while compiling 206 yards passing and 48 yards rushing with three total touchdowns on the night. Junior defensive end Trey Yeager totaled 12 tackles in another stout defensive performance.
The now number 19-ranked Centre will once again defend home turf next Saturday against SAA-newcomer Washington University at 1:30 pm.