COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After using the first official week of the football season to strengthen and mature a very youthful squad, the Capital University football team will open up the 2014 campaign on the road with a nonconference game at Earlham College (Ind.), this Saturday. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m.
Second-year head coach Craig Candeto will roll out a lineup that will feature a mix of new faces and returners, some at key positions that will direct the Crusaders' the level of success. Most notably, the man under center charged with the duty of running Candeto's triple option offense will headline the list of returning talent.
THE CRUSADER OFFENSE
|Head coach Craig Candeto previews the season
and the Earlham Quakers.
|Senior slot back Nolan Gill looking ahead
to the 2014 campaign.
Sophomore quarterback Chase Longwell (Hilliard, Ohio/Darby) set his sights on posting 1,000 yards both in the air and on the ground in 2014. Last year as a freshman he got his feet wet in the offense and eventually became the team's starter toward the end of the year. In nine games, Longwell posted 449 rushing yards and 500 passing yards. He had seven total touchdowns, four of which came through the rushing attack.
Pickerington, Ohio native Brent Walton has worked his way to the top of the depth chart at the "B-back" position in Candeto's offense, which serves as the top option on many plays. Built to bruise through the middle or bounce outside, the sophomore has added even more strength and quickness to build on a freshman season in which he posted 540 yards and five touchdowns on the ground en route to being named All-OAC honorable mention.
"Brent is a tough kid. He came back even bigger than he was last year," said Candeto. "At the B-back position, that guy is going to get into the mix very quickly. The fact that he put on weight and got stronger is a great thing for him and his durability throughout the season."
While the offense does not require the team to air it out often, the options the Crusaders possess make it a lucrative opportunity to spread the field a little wider and longer. Senior Nolan Gill (Hilliard, Ohio/Davidson) marks the most veteran of Crusaders slot backs. Despite battling injury, Gill reeled in six passes through nine games while rushing 29 times for 109 yards.
Freshman Cory Heeter (Circleville, Ohio/Logan Elm) will also get some significant playing time after displaying his skill and a solid work ethic through camp.
On the outside, juniors Zak Wirick (West Liberty, Ohio) and Jake Skelton (Madison, Ohio) will provide experienced hands to compliment some young players coming up quickly. Wirick found the endzone once in his four catches on the year. Freshman Jalen Richardson (Houston, Tex.) also garnered attention during camp with his size (6-2, 175) and speed which may provide a good deep and redzone threat.
Even with his confidence in the skill position players, Candeto makes no oversight that it all starts on the offensive line. Four sophomores and one senior comprise the line, though three of those sophomores saw the field last year. Brooke Switzer (Ashland, Ohio), Will Weir (Zanesville, Ohio), and Zach Bennington (New Vienna, Ohio) also played significant time and eventually became starters in their first seasons, while fellow sophomore Jack Harding joins them up front. Senior Bradley Beck (Fremont, Ohio) serves as the most experienced man in the trenches and will suit up for his second season as a full-time starter.
THE CRUSADER DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS
On the other side of the line, the defensive front will sport two freshmen and one junior. Trey Reese (Pittsburgh, Pa.) and Jared Johns (Hilliard, Ohio/Darby) will post up on the outsides of the line while junior Vince Austin (Highland Heights, Ohio) will muscle up the interior. Last year, Austin had 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles.
"I think overall as a football team and more specifically on defense we are looking to get more physical," said Candeto.
The Crusader linebackers may very well be the key to the Crusaders' physicality this season. Led by senior TJ Langermeier (West Jefferson, Ohio) on the outside, the second level of the defense will thrive on speed and strong fundamental play. Langermeier returns 60 total tackles and a team-high 5.5 tackles for loss. Sophomore RJ Heins (Sidney, Ohio) has established himself as a captain on the defense and will see his numbers escalate with a dramatically increased role in the middle of the linebacking corps.
The backfield may be the youngest group on the field but have proven themselves worthy of starting positions to serve as the last line of defense. Two sophomores will lock down the strong side in cornerback Guillebaldo Cepeda (Fairborn, Ohio) and safety Jimmy Curtis (Hilliard, Ohio/Davidson) while a pair of freshmen will play opposite of them. Joe Rodriguez (Miami Springs, Fla.) will hold down free safety duties while Jante Wright (Delaware, Ohio/Hayes) will add some size at the other cornerback position at 6-foot, 170 pounds.
As had become the case last year, senior Joseph Riley (Twinsburg, Ohio) will be the workhorse on special teams by serving as the team's full-time punter and place kicker. Last year, he began the season solely as the team's punter, averaging 35.9 yards per boot and pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line eight times. As the season wore on, he also took on kickoff and field goal duties where he went 3-for-3 on field goals and 11-for-12 on extra points.
THIS WEEK AGAINST EARLHAM COLLEGE
The Quakers (0-1) come off a rough week one loss at home to Denison University, 35-6. Trailing 14-3 at halftime, the game was much closer than the score indicated. The game could have been a one-score contest, but two missed field goals wasted an interception deep in enemy territory and an 11-play, 74-yard drive. Denison came out and scored touchdowns on each of its first three possessions in the second half and never looked back.
Levi Hansen and Tre Stephens split time in the backfield, combining for just 49 yards on 22 carries against Denison. Through the air, Matt Couch went 16-for-33 and 178 yards. His leading receiver was Jalen Kenner, who reeled in five catches for 71 yards.
Lajay Kelly highlighted the defense with two tackles for loss, one pass breakup, and one sack from the defensive end position.
Kenner and Kelly will be the highlight players on each side of the ball for the Quakers, each earning All-HCAC second team honors at the end of last season. Kenner is now a two-time all-conference selection after leading the team in receiving each of his first two seasons. Last year, he made 73 catches for 979 yards and six scores.
Last year, Earlham did most of their damage through the air by posting 238.1 yards per game and scoring 12 touchdowns, primarily with Couch under center. However, the junior was tagged for 21 interceptions.
The Quakers run a 3-4 base defense and predicate themselves on athleticism and speed to create opportunities. Sophomore Denis Caulley led EC linebackers with four sacks, second-most on the team, and led the Quakers with four forced fumbles. Kelly served as the team's third-leading tackler in 2013 with 65 and 4.5 sacks off the edge. He also chipped in an interception during the team's 2-8 season.
The Crusaders are looking for their first win in their opener since 2009 when they defeated Adrian College (Mich.) on the road, 31-21. That year they came out of the gate with wins in their first four games and finished the season 7-3 overall.
Capital ended the 2013 season with wins in their last two games of the season, both at home. They look to extend its ongoing win streak to three games.
Capital and Earlham have only played once before in recorded history. That game was played more than 25 years ago, in 1987. The Crusaders defended their home field with a 12-0 victory over the Quakers in a year they went on to become Ohio Athletic Conference champions and participated in the NCAA Division III Playoffs.
On goals for the upcoming season Candeto said, "We have to take it one game at a time. [We have to] play to the standard that we will be measured against. Our standard in this conference are the top teams. If we can start preparing and playing like every single week we are going to play one of those top teams in our conference, then we are going to be a pretty good football team."