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August 6, 2009

2009 Season - Vikings looking forward to 2009

After making a successful transition to new schemes on both offense and defense in 2008, excitement and optimism is once again running high in the Augustana camp heading into the 2009 season. Veteran head coach Jim Barnes, who has a record of 67-26 (.720) at his alma mater, heads into his 10th season. The Vikings were 7-3 overall last year and went 5-2 in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin, which was good for second place in the league standings.

Augustana has gone 30 years without a losing season and during that time frame the Vikings have been a fixture at the top of both the CCIW and NCAA Division III. Barnes is justifiably optimistic that the current season will once again see his team contending for top honors.

“We are very excited about what we have accomplished here at Augustana and what the future holds for this program,” said Barnes. “We can’t wait to build on what we did last year. We think we took a strong step forward as we changed some of our schemes around and our players all bought into what we were doing.”

The most obvious of the change came on offense where Barnes installed a spread offense. Augustana had become synonomous with the wing-T and with a “grind-it-out” approach to moving the football. Quarterback Tim Podulka, who is now a member of the Vikings coaching staff, threw for 1,570 yards last year, the second most in school history, and the Augustana attack was more varied and diverse than it had been since the mid-1970’s.

“We had to learn to walk before we could learn to run,” said Barnes, who masterminded the change and actually tinkered with it the year before (2007). “Our kids took the change well and that is the reason we were successful.”

Not that the Vikings abandoned the run completely as they led the CCIW in rushing with an average of 204.6 yards per game. However, they also averaged 165.7 yards passing and scored 29.1 points per game. Augustana averaged 38.5 points in its last four games of the 2008 campaign.

Podulka has graduated so the first order of business will be to settle on a quarterback and Barnes is looking at the luxury of having several outstanding candidates. Junior Steve McGough (Moline HS, Moline, Ill.) was the backup last year and he completed nine of 11 passes for 71 yards. He also ran for 125 yards on just 19 attempts. Sophomores David Venegoni (Carmel HS, Gurnee, Ill.) and David Lee (Springfield HS, Springfield, Ill.) will be in the mix as well. Junior Kyle Hundman (Bloomington Central Catholic HS, Bloomington, Ill.) caught three passes as a wide receiver and returned four kickoffs for 68 yards. He was named the team’s Most Valuable Offensive Newcomer and because of his athletic ability he could be given a look at the quarterback position.

The runningback position was the one spot that was affected the most by the switch to the spread offense because under the old system the Vikings used three and now they line up with a single back. Josh Galliart performed well in that role last year and his durability will certainly be missed. Galliart rushed for 450 yards on 121 carries and scored three touchdowns. Junior Robert Wood (Rockford Boylan HS, Loves Park, Ill.) emerged as an explosive player late in the season and he gained 281 yards on 28 attempts with one touchdown. He could enjoy a fine season if he stays healthy. Senior Andy Klink (McHenry East HS, McHenry, Ill.) suffered from injuries last year but he will be in the hunt for playing time. Senior Parker Cleveland (Providence Catholic HS, Mokena, Ill.) sat out last year but he is back for his final year of eligibility. There also could an opportunity for some younger players to contribute here as well.

Seniors Jake Parke (St. Joseph-Ogden HS, St. Joseph, Ill.) and Henry Deters (Tolono-Unity HS, Tolono, Ill.) were both starters in the slotback positions last year. Parke was a first team all-conference performer and was a second team academic all-district selection. He was the third leading rusher with 345 yards on 62 carries and scored a team high 10 touchdowns. He also caught a team-high 46 passes for 413 yards with two scores. His 46 catches put him in second place on Augustana’s single season list for receptions. Junior Corbet Ball (Buffalo Grove HS, Arlington Heights, Ill.) and sophomore Jordan Peart (Marian Central Catholic HS, Bull Valley, Ill.) are also contending at slotback.

Senior Matt Downing (Morton HS, Morton, Ill.) caught 28 passes for 330 yards in 2008 and he leads the receiving corps. Sophomores Zach McCullough (St. Charles North HS, St. Charles, Ill.), Jason Wagner (Burlington Central HS, Elgin, Ill.) and Eric Brunner (Glenbrook North HS, Northbrook, Ill.) will all be looking for playing time.

Strong offensive line play has long been a staple on Augustana teams for the past three decades and the outlook is bright for 2009. Senior Blaine Westemeyer (Blue Valley Northwest HS, Overland Park, Kansas) is the leader of this bunch from his tackle position. He was a first team academic all-American pick last year and was named to the American Football Coaches Association all-American team as well. Senior David Brickner (Rock Island Alleman HS, Rock Island, Ill.) and junior Mark Constantine (Waubonsie Valley HS, Naperville, Ill.) were starters at guard and junior Drew Hansen (Downers Grove South HS, Downers Grove, Ill.) bookended Westemeyer in the other tackle slot. The only open spot heading into the year is at center. Junior Tim Day (Wheaton Warrenville South HS, Wheaton, Ill.) could claim the center position. Senior Michael Cochran (Hinsdale Central HS, Oak Brook, Ill.) and juniors Kelly Clennon (Joliet Catholic HS, Naperville, Ill.), Brock Alekna (Rockford Guilford HS, Rockford, Ill.) and Kevin Allibone (Stevenson HS, Mundelein, Ill.) provide tremendous depth.

While most of the focus on the change last year centered on the offense, there were some major differences on defense as well. Rob Cushman took over as the defensive coordinator and his unit led the CCIW in scoring defense at 16.4 points per game in league play.

“We can’t say enough about the job that Coach Cushman did last year in taking over the offense,” said Barnes. “He prepared our team well and our kids bought into what he wanted them to do.”

The defense allowed just 92.9 yards per game rushing and once again that will be a focus. Losses in the interior line will have to be dealt with as all three 2008 starters are gone.

Junior Adam Bohland (Orion HS, Orion, Ill.) moves over to the defensive side after spending a year on the offensive line. He will be heavily counted on. Senior Jeff Daisy (Thornton Fractional South HS, Lansing, Ill.), junior Zach Spoor (Crystal Lake South HS, Crystal Lake, Ill.) and sophomore Alfonso Herrera (Waubonsie Valley HS, Naperville, Ill.) will be contending for time in the middle. Junior Curt Perschnick (Dwight HS, Dwight, Ill.) and sophomores Pete Schimek (Benet Academy, Naperville, Ill.) and Matt Franzen (Niles Notre Dame HS, Chicago, Ill.) will fight for end positions.

At linebacker senior Eric Meyer (Harlem HS, Machesney Park, Ill.) led the team in tackles last year with 79 (54 solo and 25 assists). He was a second team academic all-district performer. Senior Preston Jones (Bureau Valley HS, Sheffield, Ill.) was the team’s defensive MVP two years ago and he returns for a fifth year of eligibility. Junior John Mago (Cary-Grove HS, Cary, Ill.) was the fourth leading tackler last year with 45 total tackles (36 solo and nine assists). Those three will form the nucleus of the inside linebacking corps. Also set for inside duty will be senior Brandan McAtee (Homewood-Flossmoor HS, Channahon, Ill.) and juniors Brandon Holl (Batavia HS, Batavia, Ill.) and Cody Wickenhauser (Tri-Valley HS, Downs, Ill.). On the outside, senior Aaron Setchell (Amboy HS, Amboy, Ill.) returns after a fine junior year. He had 20 solo tackles and 14 assists in 2008. Senior Andrew Rosset (Maine West HS, Des Plaines, Ill.) was the special teams MVP a year ago and will be looking for playing time along with junior Jeremy Smith (Sherrard HS, Milan, Ill.).

The secondary has some losses to overcome as senior Andrew Schweitzer (Wheaton North HS, Wheaton, Ill.) is the lone returning starter. Schweitzer was fifth on the team in tackles last year with 37. He will be at one cornerback position. The other cornerback position is up for grabs with four sophomores: Danny Hess (Naperville North HS, Naperville, Ill.), Mack Gray (Simeon Career Academy, Chicago, Ill.), Matt Glawe (Wheaton Warrenville South HS, Winfield, Ill.) and Aaron Kwasigroch (Carmel HS, Wauconda, Ill.) currently in the hunt. Juniors Alex Schroeder (Batavia HS, Batavia, Ill.) and James Wood (St. Charles North HS, St. Charles, Ill.) and sophomore Ben Hall (University HS, Normal, Ill.) will be fighting for the safety spot.

Barnes would like to see more production from his special teams play. Senior kicker Ryan Gibbons (Peoria Richwoods HS, Peoria, Ill.) had a fine year in 2007 but struggled with injuries last year. If he can return to his form of 2007 that will ease a lot of the worries. Klink was a second team academic all-district pick at punter the last two seasons.

“There is no question we have some people to replace,” said Barnes. “But we had a great off-season and the young men in our program are ready to carry on the tradition that is Augustana football.