A new quarterback, two new lines and a new field surface mark major story lines for Guilford College as it embarks on its 103rd recorded football season this fall. Head coach Kevin Kiesel returns 11 starters among 30 letter winners back from last season's 4-6 club that placed sixth in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) with a 1-5 mark. The Quakers will miss Kevin Vaughn '09, a 2009 D3football.com Third Team All-American receiver, as well as quarterback Josh Vogelbach '08, the four-year starter who graduated with 19 NCAA Division III passing marks.
Redshirt-junior Justin Parker is Guilford's top returning offensive weapon and leads the Quakers' strongest offensive position. The running back posted the seventh-best rushing yards total (795) in school history and ran for a Guilford-record 10 touchdowns. The honorable mention All-ODAC selection also ranked fourth on the team with 35 receptions and could see increased use as a receiver in 2009. Parker is also Guilford's top returning pass catcher after Vaughn (76 receptions, 1197 yards, 11 TD) wrapped up a stellar career ranked among Guilford's career receiving leaders.
With Vogelbach at the helm, Guilford routinely ranked among the national passing leaders and averaged nearly 51 attempts and 350 passing yards per game. The passing numbers dipped slightly in 2008 as Parker (5.5 yards per carry, 79.5 rushing yards per game) established himself as a reliable rushing threat. Seniors Thomas Kicinski and Mike Cooper add speed, power and versatility to the backfield. Kicinski, a top kick returner, moved over from defense a year ago and is also a threat to catch the ball. Cooper averages over four yards per carry in 28 games and has three career touchdowns.
Kiesel knows he can't replace Vogelbach's passing numbers, and looks forward to the challenge of reorienting the offense around Parker and a nimbler quarterback. Junior Billy Watkins, Vogelbach's two-year understudy, is the leading candidate to start at quarterback headed into preseason camp. He attempted just one pass in 2008 and has completed 11-of-25 passes for 119 yards and three TDs in two years. Watkins (6-2, 220) is a good runner, as is fleet-footed sophomore Luke Vandall (5-11, 175) who played with Guilford's junior varsity in 2009.
Both Watkins and Vandall are solid runners with good speed and mobility. They add new versatility to the position, which could allow for more designed rushing plays for the quarterback. Watkins appeared in seven games as a tight end in 2008 and could appear in that position this year as well. Vandall could find playing time as a running back or receiver when not under center.
Guilford lost four starting offensive linemen from a year ago and returns only junior tackle Brice Carlson from a unit that helped the Quakers average just under 428 offensive yards per game. Kiesel says the new line will be leaner and quicker than in recent years. Sophomores John Carraher and T.J. McCay, along with junior A.J. Harbour, saw limited varsity action last season, but did see meaningful time on the Quakers' junior varsity squad. Sophomores Evan Bowers and Aaron French will also challenge for time.
Kiesel also expects more speed and quickness on the defensive line where senior lineman Markas Brunson returns after a career year in 2008. The team captain garnered Second Team All-ODAC honors and ranked second in the league with 8.5 quarterback sacks. Brunson played mostly on the end as a junior and applied pressure from the outside while tackles Mike Six '09 (46 tackles, 11.5 for loss) and Tyler Ledford '09 (22 tackles, 2 for loss) led the interior charge. Kiesel says this line may not be as big as last year's, but should be mobile enough to penetrate opposing backfields.
With only Brunson returning with meaningful minutes, look for new faces on the Quakers' defensive front. Sophomore Brad Gayhardt parlayed a strong junior varsity experience into some late-season varsity minutes. Classmate Scott May, who appeared in nine varsity games last year, moves from linebacker to the defensive line. Sophomore Brennan Choate, last season's kickoff specialist, and junior Fernando Cruz will also push for time up front.
Sophomore Kenneth Hyman III and junior Andrew Johnson return after starting all 10 games at cornerback last season. Hyman, who made a team-high five interceptions en route to honorable mention all-conference recognition, could be one of the ODAC's top cover men this year. Junior Jordan Nelson, one of the Quakers' top kick returners, is also experienced at cornerback. Guilford needs to replace both safeties from 2008, including three-year starter Danny Langston (72 tackles, 5 INT, 11 breakups). Sophomore Trey Billian appeared in four varsity games as a receiver last year, but moved to the secondary last spring. The Quakers' coaches feel his athleticism will make him a contender for the starting free safety spot.
Senior Richie Paul, junior Ryan Hammond and sophomore Chris Jessup return at linebacker, Guilford's most veteran defensive position. Paul led the Quakers and ranked third in the ODAC with 8.4 tackles per game. Hammond made a successful Guilford debut with 64 stops and placed 11th among the league's tackles per game leaders. Jessup finished sixth on the team and first among freshmen with 41 tackles (24 solo) in 10 contests. Juniors Jake Kues and David LaPlaca and sophomore Mark Mancini contributed sparingly to the varsity team, but did gain college experience in 2008 with the junior varsity squad.
Senior Hunter Chappell, an excellent short-range kicker, ranks second in school history with 59 PATs and seventh with seven career field goals. Guilford boasts a pair of solid return men, led by Kicinski, who set school records for kickoff returns (6) and punt return yards (130) in a game last year. Nelson set the Quakers' season marks for kickoff returns (29) and kickoff return yardage (710). All three long-snappers from last year's team graduated, so Kiesel will need to find replacements during preseason camp.
Guilford's Armfield Athletic Center received another enhancement over the summer with the addition of a new Field Turf artificial playing surface. The latest project follows the addition of field lights, new seating and a new press box over the past three years, which has transformed the Quakers' home into a very versatile and attractive facility. Guilford plays six games in the Armfield Athletic Center, all in the final eight weeks of the season. The Quakers kick off the 2009 campaign Sept. 5 with the 13th annual Gate City Soup Bowl game at crosstown-rival Greensboro College.