It’s September, about 70 degrees, sunny and beginning to smell like fall. For most people, this just means school’s back, or it’s just another week of work. But for 48 Grinnell College students, it means something completely else—it’s time for some football.
The Grinnell Pioneers kick off their 2010 season tomorrow against non-conference foe Macalester College. After finishing last season 2-8, the Pioneers come into this season fresh, with over a dozen first-years and a new head coach.
After two years under Max Hawsey, Head Football Coach and Offensive Line Coach Jeff Pedersen ’98 takes the helm, becoming the third person to hold the title of Head Coach in only four years. A Grinnell graduate and assistant coach for the college for over six years, Pedersen is no stranger to the team.
“I always kind of felt like a head coach in my own mind, and always looked at what the head coach was doing and how I’d do it the same and how I’d do it different, so I’d be ready when this moment came around,” Pedersen said. “It is tougher on those senior guys, but the good thing about it is they’re a smaller class.” Pedersen added that he had coached the defensive players as Defensive Coordinator for two years and is currently the position coach of the only two seniors on offense, Jake McVeigh ’11 and Rob “Scott” Mata ’11.
The new season will bring several changes beyond simple personnel shifts and the arrival of first-year players—both the offensive and defensive sides of the team have undergone revamping in an effort to cater to current players’ strengths, as well as hand over more control from the coaches to players.
One of the biggest changes will come before the first snap. Over the past two years, the team has regularly lined up in a shotgun formation with a back directly to the side of the quarterback. This year, Pedersen said that the team would be primarily running out of the “Pistol” formation—where the offensive back lines up directly behind the quarterback—in order to tweak the rushing attack and passing game to better suit individuals on the team.
“An important difference from last year is our run game,” said Logan Granera ’13. “Last year the runs we had were pretty crappy. We’re running a little different schemes on offense as far as running goes and that’s going to open a lot of things up.”
In 2009, the Pioneers rushed 322 times, compared to a total of 409 passing attempts over the season. 94 of the team’s 158 first downs were passing first downs, and 19 of the teams 27 touchdowns were done through the air. This year, the team will be evening out the ratio between their air game and rushing attack. Starting quarterback Mike Bogard ’12 is joined by offensive co-captain Chris Jarmon ’12. Mike McCabe ’13 will also see playing time as quarterback—in 2009, McCabe saw playing time in seven games and passed for 1212 yards and 11 touchdowns. Bogard missed several games due to injury.
During an early practice, the team recorded about an even 1:1 ratio between rushing and passing attempts, revealing a real shift from last year’s pass-heavy game.
“The pistol [formation] is really going to help our rushing game,” Bogard said. “There’s a lot more time for the running back to made reads. He’ll have momentum from eight yards back, hit the hole sooner, make reads quicker and open up our play action.”
This year the backs, including T.J. Schaid ’13 and Nick Hinojosa ’13, are smaller but faster players than in years pastgone are the days of power backs, and here are the days of shifty, sly speed.
“Just by moving the back, where he lines up, that’s going to give us a much different look,” Pedersen said. “They’re shorter guys. Where we’ve got them lined up behind the quarterback. It makes them harder to see, harder for the D to get a good read on them.”
The offensive line is anchored by two seniors, McVeigh at tackle and Mata at guard. Joining them is Jarmon, an all-conference honorable mention in 2009, and Stephen Hudak ’12, who also started last year.
First-year center Quinn Rosenthal said that the morale and bond between the offensive line is high and strong—an essential aspect to a group of 225+ pound men that take on the duty of protecting the backs from the defense.
“There’s no divide between the vet players and the first-year players. They come in and welcome us, we’re already their friends in two weeks,” Rosenthal said. “It’s nothing like high school football—we’re all a big family.”
The passing attack will still be as important an aspect as the rushing attack, as the receiving corps brings in eight players. Returning will be Granera and 2009 All-Conference Honorable Mention Robert Seer ’12, who brought in 12 of the teams 19 passing touchdowns last year.
“A big part of our offense is going to be based on our quick passing scheme,” Seer said. Granera added, however, that the increased amount of runs will open up the passing game by keeping the defense on their toes.
“An important difference from last year is our run game, because last year the [we didn’t have many runs], and we’re running a little different schemes on offense as far as running goes” Granera said. “That’s going to open a lot of things up.”
Bogard added that last year’s offense was at times “predictable,” noting that the opposing defense often knew the upcoming play before the snap due to the style of play calling, which consisted of a quick offense with a coach calling out plays from the sideline. This year, that will change, as each offensive player—from backs to offensive linemen—will have wristbands with a list of plays and their call. Instead of one play-caller, there will be two coaches leading from the sideline—one calling out formations, the other the play.
“I’d call things out and the D would know exactly what we were doing,” Bogard said. “Now we’ll need to see both the coaches.”
Likewise, the defensive players are adopting a new system of fast-paced play calling that allows for greater player input from play to play.
“The defensive scheme gives a lot of control to the linebackers and safeties … it makes it fun,” said linebacker Jeremy Wiles ’14.
Watching the team, one is immediately taken aback by the intensity of the defense. Even against their own teammates—which linebackers Colton Feller ’14 and Wiles noted meant a lower level of physicality—the calls are overwhelmingly loud, the speed blazingly fast and the hits painfully hard.
Captain and linebacker Marquis Bradley ’11 is coming off of a stellar season, in which he recorded 107 tackles and was named to All-Conference Second Team.
Bradley’s presence on the field is, to the say the least, massive. Every player agreed that Bradley was leaps and bounds the loudest person on either side of the ball—an honor he wears with pride.
“I’m pretty much crazy on the field,” Bradley said.
Only four starters will return on defense—including safety Marc Heronemus ’11, a solid secondary player who marked 52 tackles and ten broken up passes last year. If Bradley has any competition for “Loudest Player,” it’s with Heronemus, whose raspy deep voice punctuates the air with “WHOOAAHHHS” and other non-verbal sounds of excitement.
“Marc is a guy whose knowledge of the game makes him a better than his stature would make you guess. He plays big out there,” Pedersen said. “We graduated a lot of guys off the D last year, but it’s lucky that the three that stayed behind are three vocal leaders.”
Ryan Fletcher ’11 said that a strong first-year class, as well as second- and third-years, will easily fill in. And, of course, there’s always Bradley, whose status has become somewhat legendary, particularly thanks to YouTube clips.
In one clip, Bradley lays a yard-saving block against a player from Lawrence. It is plastic-helmeted football at its most euphoric. In another, recorded during practice, Bradley executes a form-perfect tackle on a fellow teammate. It’s the sort of stuff that makes the highlight reel in an amateur metal-music-video.
“I’ve gotten hit a couple times. Most of the time I get hit up high on the shoulder pads. So it’s not that bad. I’ve gotten hit in my midriff,” said receiver and first year player Augustus Karisch ’11, who has played with Grinnell Basketball for three years. “Not by Marquis, though, I keep asking him to hit me. I want that experience. I maybe want to be on a YouTube video or something.”
What the team will crack open against Macalester is unknown—the two teams haven’t faced off in five years. Both teams share similar backgrounds—they come from small, Midwestern liberal arts schools known better for their academics and social concern than football—and often recruit the same high school seniors.
Macalester was 2-8 last year, and has vastly improved over the past years as a new coaching staff has revamped the football program. Macalester’s roster size has grown to 70 players—Grinnell, comparatively, has 48 players.
“They’re doing some of the things we want to be doing as far as roster size but I think it’s going to be a really good match up,” Pedersen said I think both teams are going to match up really well—they’re bigger we’re faster.”
According to Pedersen, the team’s new motto is “Back in Black,” mirroring the team’s new black jerseys. Technically, admission is free and you can show up to Rosenblum Field wearing whatever you want, but black t-shirts and an admission price of at least one canned good is highly recommended.
“We’re also selling our t-shirts with all the proceeds going to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. They’re ten bucks per shirt,” Pedersen said. “We’re also going to be collecting canned foods for the MICA food pantry as well. So wear your black and bring some food.”