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Eagles ready to tackle a new year

Eagles ready to tackle a new year

Eagles ready to tackle a new year

Noah Cloonan

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Football is back, and the Ashland University Eagles are ready to embark upon what they hope to be a very historic season.

The reigning Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference  champions are coming off of a 10-1 season in which they went undefeated in the regular season before falling in the first round of the playoffs to Grand Valley State.

Expectations are high for the Eagles this season, not only within the team but also nationally. The Eagles open the season ranked No. 3 in the Lindy’s Sports College Football National 2016 Preview’s preseason poll and Sporting News has them ranked No. 8 in the country to open up the season.

“Pre-season rankings are nice, but really we have yet to make a first down, score a point or win a game”, said head coach Lee Owens. “After undefeated seasons in 2012 and 2015 we lost our first postseason game.  We need to fight to get back in the playoffs and find a way to win some games in the tournament.”

Last seasons’ disappointment has led to a very exciting offseason and has gotten people talking about the upcoming season.

“It’s exciting to have that kind of excitement surrounding Eagle football,” said Sports Information Director Dusty Sloan. “But the coaches and the players will be the first to tell anyone who asks that that doesn’t guarantee anything starting Sept. 1.”

The Eagles strength this season will be their high-powered offense led by quarterback Travis Tarnowski. The redshirt junior has an 18-3 career record as the starting quarterback for AU and his 3,121 passing yards a year ago is good for second all time at AU.

Tarnowski, along with Vance Settlemire, were chosen to serve as the offensive captains this season.

“Travis is our leader,” said coach Lee Owens. “This is his team and we have surrounded him with a bunch of great players.”

Senior running back Vance Settlemire will join Tarnowski and is looking to break his own school record that he set last year of 19 touchdowns in a season. Settlemire will be joined by 2015 Ohio’s Mr. Football, Keishaun Sims.

Sims, the Massillon Perry product, rushed for 3,225 yards and 43 touchdowns in his senior campaign and will look to be a key piece in the Eagles offense from day one.

Settlemire and Sims will run behind an offensive line that returns three out of five starters from the 2015 season. The wide receiver group for the Eagles will feature Jamie Hence and deep threat Matthew Wilcox who combined for five touchdowns in 2015. AU will look to some incoming freshmen and transfers to step in and make in impact through the air.

“We signed a class of quality student athletes” said Owens. “Even with all of our returning experience we expect six or seven freshmen and transfers to be in our two deep, including Keishaun.”

The real passing weapon for the Eagles comes in the form of junior tight end Adam Shaheen. Shaheen caught 70 passes for over 800 yards and ten touchdowns one year ago. The tight end was named to two first-team preseason teams as he looks to build off his record-breaking season. 

In all the conversation about the offense it cannot be lost that the Eagles return seven starters on the defensive side of the ball including one of the best inside linebacker pairs in the country.

The defense is led by defensive co-captain Brandon Gency and Zach Olszewski. The two seniors combined for 185 tackles last season and 20.5 tackles for a loss. Both Gency and Olszewski have proved to be successful in stopping the run and clogging up the middle of the field.

In the secondary, the Eagles return Daivon Barrow, Terrell Hudson, and Dale Irby. The Eagles will look for some newcomers to step up and make a name for themselves in the secondary.

The team will have some major production to replace from a year ago on the defensive line after losing Chase Hoobler and Tim Lehr. Brandon Ehlinger and defensive co-captain Adam Wallace will look to fill the big shoes up front in what is shaping up to be another very stout defensive front.

The Eagles will open up the season on Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. against Mercyhurst at Jack Miller Stadium. The front loaded home schedule will see the Eagles take on Wayne State and Findlay before heading up to Ferris State for perhaps the game of the year.

“The only game circled on our schedule is the next game,” said Owens.  “Right now we are counting down the days until we play Mercyhurst.”

The Eagles have a game-by-game approach but if you were to circle one game on the schedule it would be September 24th at Ferris State.

The Bulldogs were GLIAC co-champions with the Eagles a year ago and ended with a record of 11-1.

From there, the Eagles will go to Tiffin and then come home to face Northwood before heading on the road for three games against Lake Erie, Kentucky Wesleyan, and Michigan Tech.

The Eagles will wrap up the regular season in November with a home game against Walsh and then finishing off the year at Ohio Dominican.

“I expect our players and our team to play like they have only one shot and realize there may not be a next play, there may not be a next game, or a next season,” said Owens. “I expect our team to take advantage of the shot they have to attend a great school and play for a great football team!”

The season will kick off on Aug. 31 with the Sport Communications club annual pep rally at Jack Miller Stadium.

The rally will begin at 7:30 p.m. and will be followed by the opening kickoff for the 2016 season on September 1 at 6 p.m. as the Eagles begin their journey towards a national championship. 

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