GREENVILLE, Ill. – Building a program over the last four seasons has taken time, energy, and a tremendous amount of faith in their system, but Greenville College head football coach Eric Hehman and the football program are beginning to see the fruits of their efforts.
Coming off a season in which the Panthers won six games for the second time in three years but just the third time since 1993, Hehman has much that should please him as he looks at their progress. The 2009 squad features 19 returning starters who will bring high levels of experience and consistency as they compete this fall.
Now entering his fifth season as head coach, Hehman has won 21 games, second highest in Greenville College football history, while stringing together three consecutive seasons of a record at or above .500. In addition, Hehman’s career winning percentage of .525 ranks second all-time in Panther football history.
“I am very excited about this team,” said Hehman. “We have more returning starters than we have had, and we really like our recruiting class.”
“I have high expectations, and I look forward to coaching this team. I really appreciate the attitude and effort this team demonstrates. I believe they have a high buy in the principles of the program, and it is evident when watching them practice, play, and spend time together. I really enjoy these guys.”
The 2008 season saw Greenville finish third in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with a record of 6-4 (5-2 SLIAC), while picking up a key non-conference win against Rose-Hulman which boosted them to five conference victories over their remaining seven games.
The reintroduction of football in the SLIAC lasted just one season, but with its conclusion, the football program accepted a new opportunity in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, which has invited Eureka, Greenville, MacMurray, and Westminster (Mo.) as affiliate members.
The four affiliate members join Crown, Martin Luther, Minnesota-Morris, Northwestern (Minn.), and St. Scholastica, all of Minnesota, in forming a nine-team conference. Presentation of Minnesota will introduce football in 2011, bringing the conference to 10 members. The conference will also receive an automatic qualifier in the NCAA Division III football championships starting with the 2011 season.
“The UMAC is a great fit for Greenville,” said Hehman. “We will be competing with institutions that are philosophically similar.”
“Since there will be 10 schools, we will only need to schedule one non-conference game, so it helps us with our scheduling. We are very excited to be a member of the UMAC.”
The Panthers enter the 2009 season strong on the offensive side of the ball with 10 returning starters. 2008 SLIAC all-conference second team quarterback Dominic Kegel was the lone senior on offense last year, and his replacement will have big shoes to fill. But with Austin Teer, a junior of Abbotsford, British Columbia, having a great spring, the Panthers look for solid production from the quarterback position in 2009.
The running back position is very deep and experienced where the Panthers return 2008 SLIAC honorable mention all-conference choice Adonis Brown, a sophomore of Denver, Colo., and junior Esteban Camarillo of La Mirada, Calif. Sophomore Nick Koonce of Greenville, Ill., will also be competing for the starting spot after recovering from a shoulder injury last season.
The wide receiver positions look strong with returners Jordan Fred, a junior of Corvallis, Ore., senior Daniel Cunningham of West Frankfort, Ill., and junior transfer Julius Ceasar of Lauderhill, Fla.
The offensive line holds the most experience. They return all five starters from last season and seven players with starting experience. This veteran group is led by senior left tackle Garrett Vasquez, of Azusa, Calif., and SLIAC second team all-conference center Tim Burroughs of Stanton, Calif.
The Panther tight ends and slots are very deep coming into 2009. The Greenville offense will be led by 2008 SLIAC first team all-conference senior Zach Friedrich of Selah, Wash. Earlier this summer, the Sporting News selected Friedrich to its NCAA Division III preseason all-American first team. Sophomore tight end Rendell Flood, of Flora, Ill., had a great spring and will see more playing time this fall. Returning at slot are sophomore Jordan McKinsey, of Gridley, Ill., senior Mark Mitchell of Kansas City, Mo., and junior Ketrone Blanks of St. Robert, Mo.
“I am very excited about the experience and depth we have coming back in 2009,” said first year offensive coordinator Jeff DiSandro. “With a great focus on becoming the best executing offense we can be, I think we can have tremendous success in 2009.”
The Greenville College defense comes into the 2009 season with nine returning starters and high expectations. In 2008, the unit led the nation in takeaways during the regular season. They were also second nationally in total interceptions.
The defense is led by a talented and deep defensive line. 2008 SLIAC all-conference players Alex Holmes, a senior of Huntsville, Ala., and Bobby Jones, Jr., a senior of Miami, Fla., along with three year starter Kenyon Klousia, a senior of St. Louis, Mo., are expected to be playmakers once again.
The linebacker corps lost two starters from a year ago. However, SLIAC second team all-conference linebacker Garrett Young, a senior of Hillsboro, Ill., along with juniors Joel Deayon, of Los Angeles, Calif., and Jumaane Bey, of Victorville, Calif., return to provide veteran leadership at the position.
The defensive backs are also an experienced and talented group. Senior Edgar Townsend, a 2008 SLIAC first team all-conference player from St. Anne, Ill., returns for his final campaign. Senior Scott Schneider of Centralia, Ill., and sophomore James Binder of Stockton, Calif., are returning starters that should log heavy minutes in the secondary.
“When healthy, this group of players makes a very special defense,” said defensive coordinator Ordell Walker. “There is talent and experience at every position. We simply have to follow the blueprint of the program and continue to close the gap between our potential and our performance every day.”
The Panthers open their 2009 nine-game campaign on Saturday, Sept. 5, at Washington – St. Louis. They travel to Augustana (Ill.) on Saturday, Sept. 12, before their home opener on Saturday, Sept. 19, against Rose-Hulman at 1 p.m.
Their game at Eureka on Saturday, Oct. 3, is their first of two straight conference games. Their second is on Saturday, Oct. 17, at home against MacMurray at 1 p.m. for homecoming. After traveling to Huntingdon on Saturday, Oct. 24, the Panthers will journey to Minneapolis, Minn., for a game in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on Friday, Oct. 30, against Northwestern (Minn.) at 7 p.m.
The Panthers conclude their season with home contests against Westminster (Mo.) and LaGrange at noon on Saturday, Nov. 7, and Saturday, Nov. 14, respectively.