After a hot 4-0 record to start the 2010 season, the Elmhurst College football team cooled off quickly, going 2-4 in their last six games. The Bluejays would finish tied for fifth in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, with a 6-4 overall record, 3-4 in conference play.
“We can’t let another season get away like last season,” said all-conference junior running back Scottie Williams. “We lost a couple games by seven points, and we just can’t have that this year. Every week has to be a big week for us.”
The 6-4 finish last season was a two-game swing from the team's 4-6 record in 2009. The three conference wins also was an improvement from their 1-6 record in 2009. The ‘Jays also managed snap a 32-year losing streak to conference rival Augustana College.
This year, with 10 returning offensive starters, a seasoned coach and a several all-conference defenders returning, a preseason vote by the league’s coaches picked the ‘Jays to finish fourth in conference.
“I think I am most excited about the maturity of our team,” said Tim Lester, who enters his fourth year as head coach. “With the amount of returning starters, I am excited about the experience we are going to have as we get into a lot of the close games that the CCIW always has.”
Junior quarterback Joe Furco will be under center after starting the last 16 consecutive games for the ‘Jays.
“Obviously having a trigger man who understands what he is doing [is great],” Lester said. “It is exciting to have guys that have been with us for three years, that we recruited, that understand how camp and the offense works.”
Furco finished the season with more than 2,300 yards and 18 touchdowns last year.
Another key returner to the offense is Williams, who recorded the most successful season for an Elmhurst running back in the school’s history. With a single-season record 1,220 yards, 14 touchdowns and averaging 5.6 yards per carry, Williams has changed the way teams approach the ‘Jays offense.
“We have to make sure that we are aware that people are going to try and stop him,” Lester said. “He is going to be the main focus of a lot of defenses we face, so we are going to need to have our passing game continue to step up. It is one of those things where we have to continue to give him his carries and let him do what he is doing.”
Williams said if it was not for his offensive line, he would not have been as successful as he was last season.
“Whatever they can do for me as far as the running game will help me tremendously,” Williams said. “I don’t take a lot of credit, I just give it all to my linemen, because without them I wouldn’t rush for anything.”
Junior Charlie Homoky, senior Brett Virgil, junior Chris Kirkpatrick and senior Peter Stamos return to solidify the offensive line. Lester noted that the only addition to the line would most likely be junior Adam Smith at the right guard.
Last season, the ‘Jays struggled to stay healthy at the tight end position. But this year the ‘Jays have a lot more depth; they currently have six on their roster.
Furco will also have targets in junior all-conference receiver Rodney Payton, junior Bobby Vavlas, senior Joe St. Peter and junior Corey Thonn, who all return at the receiver position.
Last season the ‘Jays averaged 389 yards and 28.3 points per game.
The ‘Jays defense suffered a major blow with the loss of all-conference linebackers Randy Wright and Brandon Jones to graduation. However, they do have solid returners in junior Wayne Tuckson, who racked up 52 tackles and two sacks, as well as all-conference senior defensive back Jon Janus and junior Jamall Lane.
“I am ready to lead, be a co-leader on the defense [as this is] my third year starting,” Lane said.
The loss of Wright and Jones, who combined for 150 tackles, will allow the next generation of linebackers to rise up.
“You never try and replace them. You just try and find the future of linebackers at Elmhurst College,” Lester said.
“You can never replace Randy or Brandon, but at the same time you have young and old guys at the linebacker position that have done a very good job of watching what [guys] have done before them, and that elevates their game to see how important it is to fill those shoes," he said. "They are eager to get on the field and get out of those shadows of great linebackers and develop themselves as the new linebackers now.”
Senior Pete Alfano, sophomore Chris Wild, and seniors Matt Streit and Jerry Beach return with experience at the defensive line position.
This offseason did bring about other changes, as Lester has restructured the team’s offensive and defensive game plan.
The ‘Jays will now feature a hurry-up offense as a way to throw a lot of plays at their opponent’s defense and keep momentum rolling.
“We have switched up our tempo,” Lester said. “We are trying to play much faster. We’re in a situation now where I believe we have the talent and maturity to try and be more aggressive on the offensive side of the ball. It will give our offense more of an opportunity to be on the field.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the ‘Jays will go from running a standard 4-3-4 to a 3-3-5.
“Defensively, we are just trying to play to our strengths,” Lester said. “We have altered our defense a little to get more of our athletes on the field.”
The 'Jays also have used the time off to bond as a team.
“We had a lot of guys from out of state stay in Elmhurst,” Williams said. “That helped us a lot with our team chemistry.”
Although Williams and Lane both suggest that the team goal is to win conference, Lester feels that consistency is much more important.
“Our team goal really is consistency,” said Lester. “I feel like we have the ability to compete with anyone in our league as long as we come out and give them our best shot. Last year when we showed up we played with everybody. So we just need to be consistent in our execution, and that usually comes with maturity.”
The ‘Jays will host Loras College on Saturday, Sept. 3, to start the 2011 season.