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Courtesy: USF Athletics

Football Season Preview: The Defense

Courtesy: USF Athletics
          Release: 08/02/2012
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This is part two of a two-story preview for the 2012 University of Sioux Falls football team. Part two features the 2012 schedule, defense and special teams.

Stats to Cheer: 89% Red Zone completion percentage (31-for-35), good enough for top-10 in the NCAA D-II in 2011; kick return average of 24.9 yards (6th in NCAA D-II).

Stats to Fear: held opponents to just 38% on third down conversions in 2011 (91st in NCAA D-II). The Cougars also averaged 67.4 yards in penalties per game; only three NSIC squads (University of Mary, Wayne State and Concordia University) averaged more than 60 penalty yards per game.

Times are a changin' for USF Football.

The 2012 season for the Cougars was about improvement and development as USF wrapped up its final year as a provisional member of NCAA Division II and is now a full-fledged member of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC).

USF finished 5-4 in 2012, marking the program's eighteenth-straight season with a .500 or better overall record. The Cougars carried positive momentum going into the offseason, winning five of their last six games after starting the year 0-3 for the first time since 1987 (3-7).

The Cougars begin their inaugural NSIC season on Thursday, August 30 with a road game against St. Cloud State University. USF's first NSIC home game is slated the following weekend (9/8) versus Minnesota State University-Moorhead.  The Cougars then travel to Minot to take on the Beavers (9/15), return to the Bob for a two-game homestand with Bemidji State (9/22) and Southwest Minnesota State (9/29), go on the road to face the Winona State Warriors (10/6) and host Concordia University (10/13).

October 22 is the date that fans have circled on their calendars, as USF will make the short trek to Augustana College to renew their long-lost rivalry. The squads first clashed on the gridiron in 1916 (Sioux Falls College won 46-0) and last met in 1986 (a 20-0 Augustana victory). Augustana holds an 18-2 edge all-time over Sioux Falls.

The Cougars will wrap up their inaugural NSIC campaign with a home contest versus Upper Iowa (10/27), road game at Minnesota State (11/3) and end the season at home against Wayne State (11/10).

Defense: There are some clear-cut assets on this Cougar team, but perhaps the brightest strength is the linebacker corps. The Cougars lost two-year starter Brandon Andersen to graduation but with the returning senior trio of ILB Eric Anderson (58 tackles, six TFL, one sack, one INT), OLB Nick Bonte (56 tackles, 12 TFL, two sacks, three forced fumbles) and ILB Matt White (80 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT), the Cougars are not going to be fun to run the ball on and should provide ample pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

When practice begins in August, there figures to be a fierce competition for the Cougars' vacant OLB position with junior Ryan Adams and Sierra College transfer John Talbot battling for the final spot. Redshirt freshmen Clint Wilson, Cameron Ostrum and Carter Ahlers will rotate in behind the starters and also see time on special teams.

In terms of the secondary, the group bears a strong resemblance to its 2011 counterpart. Anderson's unit is experienced with both starting safeties and one cornerback with starting experience returning.

The starting senior safety duo of Michael Frericks and Robert Virgil return and will be supported by Thad Campbell, Adam Heck and Bo Bearshield.

With a year of starting experience under his belt, Frericks should make even more plays while becoming a greater vocal leader on the field. He posted career-highs in tackles, interceptions, and passes defended last season to earn a spot on the All-Dakota Transitional second team. Frericks enters his final Cougar campaign six tackles shy of the century mark.

Lightning quick and All-Dakota Transition first team selection Robert Virgil is penciled in as the other safety. He led the Cougars in interceptions (5) and passes deflected (8). He also had two pick 6's, two fumble recoveries and finished fourth on the squad in total tackles (48).

Campbell saw backfield and special teams action in seven games in 2011 and could earn a starting role this season. He recorded five tackles (1 TFL) and his first career interception in the Cougars' win against South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (10/22). 

Heck logged minutes in every game last season and led the Cougars with three interceptions in 2010. 

The Cougars will be without the services of two-year starting corner Angelo Pree (75 tackles/ 2 INT/11 BU/13 PD/4 BK in two seasons) but have five capable cornerbacks who will compete at the field cornerback spot.

Incumbent senior Brett Jensen is a capable player who Coach Anderson expects to have a banner final campaign. The Viborg native recorded 23 tackles last year, including 2.5 TFL, forced one fumble and picked off a pass in the Cougars' home win against William Jewell (10/1). 

In the mix for the open slot are sophomore Ryan Graber, redshirt freshman John Tidwell and junior college transfer Aaron Hanna.

Hanna twice garnered first team all-conference honors at Sacramento City College and finished his junior college career with five interceptions, three forced fumbles, 88 tackles and 41 PBU's.

Graber served as a reserve defensive back and special teams member for the Cougars last season. He saw action in all nine games and tallied 10 tackles, one interception, one pass breakup and one blocked kick during his redshirt freshman campaign.Jon Anderson's defensive front was certainly a bright spot last season, as the unit led the charge with 20 sacks, while holding opponents to 113.9 yards per game on the ground, which would have been the 23rd-best mark in the NCAA D-II last season. Only two NSIC teams gave up fewer yards than USF did in 2011: Minnesota State-Mankato (101.57) and Bemidji State (110.5).

The Cougars return two starters on the line and with a bevy of highly touted newcomers expected on campus this fall, position battles will be hard-fought.

Returning for his final campaign is highly acclaimed defensive end Jameel Medlock. Number 99 is being counted on to have a big senior season after an excellent junior campaign that saw him earn First Team All-Dakota Transition Team honors. Medlock (6’2, 250) has all the tools to be one of the best in the NSIC at his position and gained extensive experience last fall as he transitioned from junior college to college ball.

Medlock led the Cougars with seven sacks (46 yards) and was credited with 20 tackles. He also logged 10.5 tackles for loss with a team-high 51 lost yards. Medlock had a career day against Minot State (10/29), recording six tackles, (4 TFL., 15 yds.). He also picked up three sacks during a relentless harassment of a pair of Beaver quarterbacks. 

Expectations are also high for sophomore Michael Tolkamp. Tolkamp took advantage of an increased role in the defensive line rotation last season, finishing his redshirt freshman campaign with 16 tackles (one TFL), one sack and a pass breakup. He recorded at least two tackles in each of the final seven contests with a season-high four tackles in the win against William Jewell (10/1).

Junior college transfer Devin Flescher is in the mix and the coaching staff believes that he has the potential to make an early impact. The former Butte College Roadrunner tallied 31 tackles (nine TFL) and 4.5 sacks in 2011.

Senior Corey Hartley and Sacramento City College transfer Brock Murdock also figure to wage a battle for one of the starting spots. Hartley is a fifth-year end that has seen action in 13 career games. A steady contributor throughout his Cougar career, Hartley posted three tackles and two assists in seven games last season. Brock Murdock arrives in Sioux Falls after two solid campaigns at Sacramento City College, where he charted 36 tackles (5 TFL), four sacks and a fumble recovery in two seasons with the Panthers.

The man in the middle is a two-player battle between sophomore Jarrett Grabbe and junior college transfer Jerry Brady (American River College). Grabbe worked his way into valuable minutes last season after taking a redshirt year as a freshman at UNO in 2010.

Brady recorded 31 tackles (11 TFL), five sacks and one forced fumble in two seasons with the Beavers and also anchored a line that allowed just 62.5 rushing yards per game in 2011.

Special teams: Placekicker and punter Braden Wieking returns for his senior season. The Sioux Falls native will begin the 2012 campaign seventh on USF's all-time scoring list with 309 points and is on pace to become the Cougars' career leader in field goals, PATs and career leader for points scored by a kicker.

Wieking converted 8 of 12 field goal attempts last season and was also 29 of 32 on extra points.

A three-year starter, Wieking is 39 for 54 on field goal attempts in his career (66.7 %) and holds USF's consecutive points after touchdown record (162).

He also averaged 40 yards per punt last year and had 12 punts downed inside the 20. Last season the Cougars ranked 41st in NCAA D-II in net punting (34.3 yards).

In the return game, gone is special teams ace Michael Hicks, who last year amassed more than 1500 all purpose yards and six TDs. Coach Stugart is confident Michael Lindsey has the potential to be just as explosive for the Cougars. Lindsey was the top return man at American River College and last season set a new school record with 85-yard return in 2011.

Impact Newcomers on Defense: There's multi-purpose backs, and then there's multi-purpose athletes, and Pomona (Arvada, Colo.) running back Dylan Carter definitely falls into the latter category. An "Under the Radar" pick by ESPN HS, Carter last season rushed for four touchdowns, booted two field goals and converted six extra-points, scoring 36 total points in Pomona's 48-14 win against Fairview.

Denver Post writer Neil Devlin quipped that "it was as if Carter was playing a video game . . . by himself," after the 6-foot, 197-pounder ran 26 times for 142 yards and three touchdowns in Pomona's 28-0 win versus Ralston Valley. He also kicked off and was good on four extra-point conversion kicks.

Carter was named the #2 prep athlete in the state by Colorado Football Magazine after he amassed 197 points (22 TDs, five FG, 50 PATs) to go along with All-State, All-Colorado, All-Conference and League Offensive Player of the Year as a senior. The USF coaching staff projects Carter as a defensive back.


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