Young Blood

Heather Mangan

Heather Mangan

Many new faces flood the field this year, shoring up a Jackrabbits football team decimated by graduation. But Coach Stig says his 12 returning veterans, most on offense, will lead the way to gridiron glory.

Maturity. It could be what makes or breaks this year’s Jackrabbit football team. The Jacks’ solid running game and stacked special teams give the squad some bite.

But last year’s graduation hit the defense hard, and a new crop of recruits will need to fill in the gaps.

Head coach John Stiegelmeier said he’s counting on his veterans to lead the way through a tough schedule featuring a big chunk of road games.

“I expect the 12 seniors to lead this football team,” he said. “A good football team looks to experience.”

That may not be such a bad thing. The Jacks aren’t exactly light in the talent department, said sophomore wide receiver JaRon Harris.

“We have a lot of weapons and we’ll use them to do the best we can, and hopefully, come out on top,” he said.

Andy Kardoes, starting quarterback and returning senior, is the lynchpin in the Jacks’ offense.

After a season full of injuries in 2005, Kardoes is back in fighting shape and ready to lead the Jacks on and off of the field, said Stiegelmeier.

“This year is definitely Andy’s time,” he said.

Sophomore Ryan Berry will back Kardoes up again. Berry stepped into the pocket as starting quarterback when Kardoes couldn’t play last year.

The dynamite running back duo of senior Anthony Watson and junior Cory Koenig are expected to run over the opposition for another year. The two split 70 percent of the team’s total rushing yards in 2005.

Labeled as the next Adam Vinatieri, junior kicker Parker Douglass was named to the NCAA Division I-AA Preseason All-American Third Team in August.

He and senior punter Neal Bainbridge will lead the special teams – a group Stiegelmeier considers to be one of the team’s greatest strengths on its hunt for the Great West Football Conference championship.

“I feel we have the best two kickers in the GWFC,” he said. “They will set the tone for our season.”

While the big-time players are back on offense, the defense is much shorter on college-level experience, with only four returning starters.

Junior Mitch Pontrelli and sophomore Eric Schroeder will be the key to the Jacks’ defensive line.

Senior free safety Jeff Hegge and junior linebacker Andrew Hoogeveen will also lead the defense.

Stiegelmeier expects other experienced players, like senior Marty Kranz, to stand up on the defensive side of the ball.

Stiegelmeier expects his young players to mature throughout the season under the seniors’ watchful eyes.

But he’s hoping his offense can make up for any weakness on the defense side of the ball.

“The best kind of defense is a strong offense,” he said.

Rookies, redshirts and the dozen veterans will get their first big test at the season opener against Wisconsin-Lacrosse on Sept. 2.

Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium.

#1.884412:930247890.jpg:springfootball016.jpg:Redshirt freshman running back Jordan Paula will get good advice from the talented veterans at his position.: