BETHANY - When the Bethany College football team takes the field this season the Bison will have a new, all be it, familiar face patrolling the sidelines, as well as a new look and feel on the turf.
Former offensive coordinator, William (Bill) Garvey, took over the reins of the Bison football program in the offseason, and is looking forward to his new role as the head coach. Garvey takes over the lead role, after coaching the offense for seven seasons and feels that he is ready to take the program to new heights.
"We are coming into this season looking to add a new form of toughness to the team," Garvey said of his plans for the program. "We will be tough in every aspect of the game, from offense to defense and even special teams.
"We plan to be physically demanding on out opponents, and to do so in every game, quarter and every down, from start to finish."
On offense, the team returns three of its offensive playmakers from a year ago, including senior quarterback Matt Grimard, junior running back Phil Acrie, out of Linsly, and sophomore receiver Eric Blinn.
"Our goal has always been to be as balanced as possible, but with the weapons we had on the offensive side of the ball last year, we were able to throw a lot more," Garvey said. "With the loss of some four-year starters to graduation, especially in the passing game, we will have more of an opportunity to become more balanced in our attack."
One of the biggest pieces to the offensive puzzle is the return of Grimard for his senior campaign. Grimard made the most of his junior season, leading the Presidents' Athletic Conference in multiple categories, including total offense (3,127 yards), passing yards (2,605), completions (266), and passing touchdowns (23). He also eclipsed Bethany single-season marks in completions, passing yards and touchdown passes. Along with completing 62.1 percent of his throws (also a school record) Grimard was given the nod as the Conference's top QB, earning First-Team All-PAC.
"Matt has grown so much over the past three seasons," Garvey said. "We feel like he has really improved a lot since his freshman season. When you are the quarterback, you are naturally in a position to be a leader, and we are excited to have him back to fill that role for us again."
With the return of two running backs that played in all 10 games,Garvey hopes to have a more balanced attack in 2013.
"Every season, you want your offense to be as balanced as possible," Garvey said, "but with the weapons that we had on the outside, we turned more into a pass-heavy offense.
"This season we plan to show more balance and get our backs more touches in the backfield rather than as part of the passing game."
Returning in the backfield this season are Acrie and Brandon Hill. Acrie made the most of his touches last year, as even with just 121 attempts (12.1 per game) he still netted 538 yards (4.4 avg.) and five touchdowns.
"Phil is a player," Garvey said. "We want to try to give him more touches and get our running game going. He proved at times last year that he has what it takes to be one of the top backs in the conference, and we would like to give him the chance to show that this season."
Hill netted 141 yards and a touchdown.
"Committing to the run game is something we haven't done a great job of, but I feel that it's time," Garvey said. "By getting those guys more touches. It's going to take more pressure off of our passing game and allow us to control the clock and the tempo a bit more."
Arguably the biggest challenge for the Bison will be to find replacements for Jonathan Foster and Ed Holmes, both whom were lost to graduation. Foster and Holmes combined for 1,166 receiving yards, 83 catches and 12 touchdowns.
"It's never easy losing a four-year player, let alone two like we had in Foster and Holmes," Garvey said.
"However, I feel that with Eric (Blinn) back and a number of other talented guys, we can still spread the ball around like we did last season."
Blinn is the top returning receiver. He is coming off a breakout season in which he led the team, and was second in the PAC, in receiving yards (790) and averaged 15.8 yards per catch while scoring six touchdowns.
"Eric has proven that he is an explosive athlete, but he still needs to learn how to step up and be the No. 1 guy," Garvey said.
"He will be on everyone's radar this season, so it will be interesting to see how he will handle press coverage and double teams. We think that he has a special talent and if he continues to improve on the little things, he can be the top wideout in the conference."
Joining Blinn in the receiving corps are Chris Collins and Cam Cooper, as well as a host of incoming freshmen that will look to fill roles on the team.
Collins returns to the team after missing most of the 2011 and 2012 seasons with injuries. Prior to succumbing to a knee injury last season, the senior had appeared in four contests and made 13 catches for 147 yards and a touchdown. His best season was in 2010 when, as a freshman, he led the team with four touchdown receptions.
"It's good to have Chris back and healthy," Garvey said. "His versatility will be a welcome addition to the offense this season."
Cooper, another returning senior, will also look to play more of an extended role in the offense. In 2012, Cooper appeared in all 10 contests and led the club in yards per catch (19.4) and scored one touchdown.
"The goal of our passing game will to be a bit more creative in our game plans and put all our receivers in the best spot to make plays," Garvey said. "We have a lot of talent coming back and we feel that we have put in a system that will allow everyone involved to flourish."
The offensive line is an area for the Bison that saw a number of talented players leave the ranks due to graduation, but Garvey is confident they have brought in the pieces they need to possibly make the line stronger than ever.
"We have a great group of young talent on the offensive front that we feel very good about coming into camp. We feel with the past two recruiting classes we have found the talent to replace the four starters that were lost."
Two returning players that saw significant playing time on the line are seniors Evan Sargo and Adam Atwell. Sargo has appeared in 18 of the last 20 games during the past two seasons, and spent the majority of last season as Grimard's starting center.
"Sargo has a great head on his shoulders," Garvey said. ''We feel that he can really step up and be the leader that the offensive front needs this season."
Atwell has seen some good playing time as well, and appeared in five games last season. Other names fans can expect to see up front include junior Terrel Carter and sophomore Tim Walters.
"We are going to be young on the front line," Garvey said. ''But we feel that with both Sargo's and Grimard's leadership, this year's offensive front has a chance to be extremely talented."
Just as is the case with the offense, the defense will also look to some younger players to fill key roles that were left by four-year starters.
"Last year, we allowed too many big plays and didn't finish things all the way through on defense," Garvey said. "We need to prove to teams this year that we can finish, so expect physical play from the defense on every down."
D-Line and Linebackers
The Bison will look to move on from a defensive front seven last year that allowed 232.1 yards per game on the ground, and lost Bethany's all-time leading tackler in Kyle Arrington.
"Just like with the offense, it isn't easy to lose such a key piece the way that Arrington was, but we believe that we have put together a front seven that will be as physical as anyone in the conference," Garvey said.
"Last season, we just weren't physical enough on the front seven to stop the run. You can expect that to change this season. We feel really good about the class we brought in last season and believe that those guys will step up and make big plays for us this year to stop the run."
Junior Greg Roberson will look to make more of and impact on the defensive line and become a key piece at defensive end, as he's coming off a year in which he totaled 22 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He was also credited with a forced fumble.
Other names Garvey expects to make an impact include seniors Nick Greer and Brian McLee, sophomore Eric Campbell, and sophomore Ethan Barnes.
"We feel as though we have put together a talented group of defensive lineman with one intention, to be physical and play through every down," Garvey said. "Even though we lost some talented playmakers from last year, we feel great about the pieces that are in place."
In the linebacking corps, the Bison return seniors Chris Burg and Josh Moody, as well as junior Sherman Hodges. Burg appeared in nine games at linebacker while totaling 31 tackles, the most of any returning lineman or linebacker. Hodges appeared in eight contests, while Moody took the field three times.
"In order to stop the run more consistently, we need the linebackers to step up and make big plays in the hole or in open space to limit yards gained by running backs," Garvey said. "It is my feeling that with the guys we have coming back, as well as some new guys coming in, we will be able to do that."
Possibly one of the strongest areas for the Bison last fall was their pass defense, and that looks to continue this season as Bethany returns juniors Wyssmy Despagne and Dion Williams . Both players hold the distinction of being the team's top returning tackles (39 each) and the two combined for 29 passes defended or broken up last season.
Despagne is coming off a sophomore campaign where he was honored with a second team All-PAC selection. He totaled 22 solo tackles and 17 assisted. He also swatted away 17 passes, registered two takeaways and even blocked two kicks on special teams.
"We feel like we have the best corner in the league in Despagne,'' Garvey said. ''He can do it all and we feel like he is our lock down guy."
Joining Despagne and Williams in the defensive backfield will be senior Michael Howcott and sophomores Aaron Fry and Ricky Clark.
"This could possibly be the best defensive backfield we have ever had in my tenure here," Garvey said. "These guys are physical, fast and they just know how to make plays out there. We are very confident in each one of their abilities."
The special teams were the area that was possibly hit the hardest by outgoing seniors. Anyone who returned a kick or punt last season has since moved on, and just one special team starter remains - punter Steve Amic.
Amic was tabbed as a Honorable Mention All-PAC selection last season as he placed fourth in the conference in punting average (36.9) as a sophomore.
"Amic has great talent out there and could be a first team guy," Garvey said. "He has the potential to be a really solid punter, and will help us out immensely in those games where field position is the most crucial."
It will not be an easy road, but Garvey feels they are up for the challenge.
"The conference, and our schedule are about as competitive as they have ever been," Garvey said. "In the PAC, I feel that anyone can beat any team on any given night so we have to make sure to bring it each day.
"Also, with our out-of-conference schedule, I believe we have as good of a scheduled as anyone in the PAC."
The team will open the season with two consecutive road games, Sept. 7 at Centre College (Ky.) and Sept. 15 at Geneva, before coming home for three straight games. The Bison's home opener will be Sept. 21 vs. Randolph-Macon before hosting back-to-back games against PAC foes Grove City and Washington & Jefferson on Sept. 28 and Oct. 5. The rest of the schedule includes home games against Westminster and Thiel, with the club traveling to Waynesburg, Thomas More and Saint Vincent.
In order to turn around a 3-7 record from last season, including four losses by less than a touchdown, Garvey says it's all about toughness.
"We talked about it every day in the offseason," Garvey said. "We discussed doing everything better than we did the previous year. We will use last season as motivation to play through until the final whistle in every game, and by the end of the year we will know we left it all on the field."