Crusaders expect to make leap this season
VALPARAISO — Breaking even would be nice, but not mathematically possible since Valparaiso opens an 11-game schedule at North Dakota next week, but you get the general idea.
Five victories would be a quantum leap for a cellar-dwelling program, but the Crusaders were talking the talk Tuesday at media day.
“I see a major turnaround,” said sophomore lineman John Guilford. “Having the same defensive coordinator (Tyson Sylveus) back helps. Everybody knows their assignments and has an instinct for the defense.”
Valparaiso’s basic 4-3 scheme relies heavily on linebackers, but holdovers in the trenches such as Francis Baker, Nick Moffitt and John Giovenco should benefit from a year of experience.
“Nick and John started a lot,” said Guilford, who led the Crusaders in sacks and tackles for loss. “And Francis got in the mix.”
Guilford weighed just 205 when he started his freshman year. By the end of the forgettable 1-10 season he beefed up to 225.
“Now I’m up to 240,” said Guilford, mostly due to working out in Bobby Brooks’ weight room between seasons. “It’s a solid program and he’s (Brooks) really entertaining. It’s not a military camp, but he keeps us occupied and we push each other.”
Linebacker Pat Derbak has appeared in 31 consecutive games for the Crusaders with 14 starts in the last two seasons. What he sees is encouraging.
“I think this team’s going to be a lot more competitive,” he said. “Our freshman class is really pushing us and we’re a lot deeper at every position for the first time in my four years here.”
Derbak expects VU’s linebacking corps, which includes Ryan Mundy, Roberto Kelly, Colin Burke and Alex Green, to provide the defensive backbone.
“They’ve all played a ton,” said the 195-pound senior from Naperville, Ill. He shares Guilford’s enthusiasm for having the same defensive coordinator.
“It’s awesome not having to learn everything from scratch,” he said. “We can play faster.”
Quarterback Eric Hoffman sees a definite upgrade in speed and strength.
“We’ll have the same guys playing skilled positions for the first time,” said the 6-4 signal caller.
Receivers like Fred Gladney (42 catches/348 yards), Jake Hutson (35/266) and Tanner Kuramata (27/218) give him the warm fuzzies.
Hoffman was redshirted in 2010, then started 20 games in the last two seasons. His pass efficiency rating last year was a sterling 115.4, a number elevated by a 34-of-55 performance at San Diego, then embellished by a season-high 304-yard effort against Marist.
“We’re a totally different team,” said Hoffman. “We know we’re a lot better. Our goal is to finish over .500 and beat our rivals in the conference.”
That would be a treat, considering VU was picked to finish 10th in the Pioneer Football League, ahead of newcomers Mercer and Stetson. San Diego and Butler were virtually deadlocked for first in the preseason poll.