Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011
DES MOINES, Iowa--The Drake Bulldogs open their 118th season of football today when a roster of 110 players reports to campus for the beginning of fall drills. The first practice is scheduled for Sunday at 3:12 p.m. at Drake Stadium.
Today's "Reunion Day" itinerary includes physicals, meetings, a trip to the equipment room and having headshot photos taken, as a group of 40 freshmen join 70 upperclassmen to form this year's 110-man camp roster.
Sunday, before hitting the field for the first time, the student-athletes will undergo a conditioning test, weight room orientation, a team meeting and position meetings.
The 2011 edition of Drake Bulldogs football enters the season with a unique piece of momentum, having played a formal game just three months ago-the inaugural Global Kilimanjaro Bowl in Arusha, Tanzania. In the first game of American football played on African soil, Drake defeated an all-star team from Mexico's CONADEIP Conference 17-7. Redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Ens (Grand Rapids, Mich.) came on in relief after injuries sidelined starter Mike Piatkowski (Wheaton, Ill.) and backup Tyler Castro (Aurora, Ill.), and engineered two fourth-quarter touchdown drives to overcome a 7-3 deficit.
The Drake team that also scaled 19,340-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro in the days following the game, now seeks to scale the figurative mountain of the PFL regular season schedule after finishing third each of the past two seasons. Both years saw narrow Bulldogs' losses to the league's top teams, fueling hopes that this veteran group can accomplish the task.
"TUPANDE KILELENI": The theme for the 2011 season is "Tupande Kileleni," a Swahili term that translates to "Let's climb to the summit." The analogy is borrowed from the team's trip to Africa, but has obvious applications to the long journey that makes up a college football season.
"It's really the theme for the entire 2011 year," Creighton said. "There is so much to do before the season before you can climb. We are using the analogy of having done that climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro in May and relating that to the season. We have come up with six "climbing realities" that have to be embraced before we can climb to the summit. Climbing takes Preparation; Sacrifice; teamwork; going one step at a time; a competitive spirit not to be denied and overcoming adversity. That's our trail map to the season. We know if we're taking care of those six areas, we can get to the summit of the mountain."
PRACTICE SCHEDULE: The Bulldogs will hold 22 practices during fall camp, including scrimmages. Daily practices, subject to change, are scheduled as follows: Sun., 8/7, 3:12-5:44 p.m.; Mon., 8/8 3:12-5:40 p.m.; Tues., 8/9, 3:12-5:45 p.m.; Wed., 8/10, 3:12-5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 8/11, 3:12-5:45 p.m.; Fri., 8/12, 8:27-10:48 a.m. and 3:22-5:43 p.m.; Sat., 8/13, 3:12-5:45 p.m.; Mon., 8/15, 8:27-10:48 a.m. and 3:22-5:45 p.m., Tues., 8/16, 3:12-5:45 p.m., Wed., 8/17, 8:27-10:48 a.m. and 3:22-5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 8/18, 3:12-5:45 p.m., Friday, 8/19, 8:30-11 a.m. and 2:45-4 p.m.; Sat., 8/20, scrimmage at 2:08 p.m., Mon., 8/22, 4:45-5:50 p.m.; Tues., 8/23 3:40-4:45 p.m.; Wed., 8/24, 3:40-4:45 p.m., Fri., 8/26, scrimmage, 4-6 p.m.. The game-week practice schedule leading up to the season-opening game, at North Dakota, Sept. 1, will be issued the week of the game.
OFFENSE: The Drake offense continues to evolve as it welcomes 10 of 11 starters back from the 2010 team that went 7-4, including Piatkowski at quarterback and the majority of the offensive playmakers.
"Over the last three years we've seen improvement every year, said Creighton. "This year, being the fourth and having 10 returning starters, we're very optimistic that our offense is going to be very productive."
In addition to Piatkowski's experience, his wide receivers-senior Drew Blackmon (St. Louis, Mo.) and junior Denzel Ray (Waukegan, Ill.) headline a talented group that accounted for 77% of Drake's 2010 passing offense. Piatkowski earned recognition as a 2011 Player to Watch by the College Football Performance Awards (CFPA).
Similar experience is present in the backfield, where producers of 70% of last year's rushing offense return, led by fifth-year senior Patrick Cashmore (Kansas City, Mo.), who rushed for a team-best 357 yards as one of three Bulldogs backs with 300 or more yards.
DEFENSE: The defense will see a greater degree of change, though seven of 11 starting players return. Consensus preseason All-Pioneer Football League performer Tyler Moorehead (Mason City, Iowa), a senior strongside linebacker, anchors the unit after earning first-team All-PFL honors a year ago in leading the team with 62 tackles (52 solo).
The biggest losses will be along the defensive line following the graduation of PFL Defensive Player of the Year Dain Taylor, along with Andrew Asbell and Josh Walkup. Senior John Sawhill (Jefferson, Iowa), a 2010 honorable mention all-conference performer, returns and is joined by senior David Witkiewicz (Hales Corners, Wisc.), who made seven starts a year ago, and former key reserves in senior Anthony Gianaras (Mundelein, Ill.) and junior Brandon Coleman (Cary, Ill.).
"We're losing some impact players on the defense, but we feel as though as a whole we have a chance to improve defensively," Creighton said. "You never try to replace an impact player, but we always talk about things as a whole, and as a defense we're counting on that group to get even better than we were."
SPECIAL TEAMS: Fifth-year senior kicker/punter Billy Janssen (Round Lake Beach, Ill.), a 2011 CFPA Player to Watch, led the Bulldogs in scoring last season (44 points) and was a perfect 35-35 on PAT attempts. The coverage units again look to provide a distinct field-position advantage after ranking fifth in the nation in opponent punt return and kickoff return average, allowing just 3.4 and 16.1, respectively.
"We place heavy emphasis on special teams," Creighton said. "We want and need to win that battle week in and week out. With special teams, outside of that kicker/punter position, it's really a team mentality about how badly guys believe in the importance of special teams, and we do."
NUMBER CHANGES: Players who changed uniform numbers in the offseason include QB Tyler Castro (12 to 7), CB Dustin Davis (35 to 20), WR Jacob Dines (2 to 1), QB Nick Ens (19 to 6), LB Cam Good (12 to 18), DL Kolby Knuth (59 to 35), WR Mike Kremske (95 to 86), QB Mike Piatkowski (10 to 2), WR Alec Recker (42 to 23), RB Jacob Schmudlach (80 to 10), DB Cody Seeger (18 to 7), P Jeremy Stein (29 to 19), LB Nick Underwood (64 to 48) and WR Scott Whitaker (89 to 85).
NEW COACH: Defensive coordinator Brian Ward is new to Drake but is familiar with head coach Chris Creighton's system, having served as an assistant coach to the Bulldogs' head man at Wabash College (2001-04). Ward was defensive backs coach at North Dakota State in 2010, where the Bison ranked sixth and eighth, respectively, in scoring defense (18.2) and interceptions (18), en route to the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs. Ward, now in his 15th year of coaching, spent the previous three seasons as head coach at his alma mater, McPherson (Kan.) College.
KICKOFF 2011: The Bulldogs have their sights set on the season-opener, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011, at North Dakota. It will be the first meeting in football between Drake and North Dakota. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. (CDT) at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D.