2007 St. Olaf College Football Preview

Mike Ludwig
August 24, 2007

NORTHFIELD, Minn. - The St. Olaf football team enters the 2007 season confident the 8-2 records of the past two seasons have set the stage for a conference contending team this fall.

Head Coach Chris Meidt, in his sixth year, feels St. Olaf will again challenge in the ever-tough MIAC. "We have been close the past three seasons and feel we can once again challenge to win the league."

Last fall the only blemishes came in a 37-21 decision to third-ranked Saint John's and a 35-29 loss at MIAC co-champion Bethel. Bethel and SJU advanced to the NCAA Playoffs.

"Each season we strive to improve daily, and we have a team of high character men that, I believe, will truly do that. I think we can play with any team in Division III."

Meidt will have plenty to work with. The Oles had a league-best 12 first team All-MIAC selections last year - none of which were seniors.

Offensively, the black and gold will have a power-packed lineup with veteran playmakers at every position. The nations No. 2 scoring offense (38.8 pts/game) in 2006 returns eight starters, including one of the top receiving corps in Division III. The passing attack helped St. Olaf led the MIAC in scoring (40.1), total yards (439.2), passing yards (285.2) and sacks allowed (6).

Matt Penz (Sr., Rochester, Minn./Mayo) will pace the offense after a record-setting 2006 campaign. Penz, a first team all-league pick, led the MIAC in passing yards per game (280.1), touchdown passes (20) and set the St. Olaf single-season record for passing yards (2,636). He will be backed up and complimented by John Haberman (So., Brainerd, Minn.), who rushed 26 times for 274 yards and four scores in 2006. Meidt indicated Haberman could be one of the best running QB?s in the MIAC and will provide an exciting change-of-pace to the pass-first Penz.

The Oles will boast one of the best receiving corps in Division III. Andrew Schmiesing (Sr., Stillwater, Minn.) and Horace Gant (Sr., Pensacola, Fla.), first team All-MIAC honorees in 2006, have proven they are two of the best pass catchers in the county and will each leave the St. Olaf record books rewritten. Schmiesing, who played minor league baseball this summer in the Minnesota Twins organization, had 43 receptions for 747 yards and a school record-tying nine touchdowns last season. He ranks second in career touchdowns (19), fourth in career receiving yards (1,794), and fifth in career receptions (107). Schmiesing needs 54 receptions, 824 yards and six touchdowns to become the all-time leader in St. Olaf history for each category.

Gant had 43 receptions for 687 yards and five touchdowns in 2006. He ranks third in career receiving yards (1,940), 4th in career receptions (120), and 5th in career touchdowns (15). With 41 receptions, 678 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, Gant would become the all-time leader in Ole history for each category.

The third target in the Oles' wide-open offense is Preston St. John (Sr., Farmington, Minn.), who could finish in the top five in career receiving by the end of the season. Younger brother Ryan St. John (Jr., Farmington, Minn.) is a tremendous athlete who could emerge as a big-play threat this fall.

Evan Endsley (Jr., Eagan, Minn.), a first team All-MIAC selection as a running back and specialist in 2006, led the MIAC in all-purpose yards (157.6/game) and the Oles in receptions (46) last fall. Endsley averaged 5.2 yards per rush, 12.3 yards per reception, and 23.7 yards per kick return.

Jay Higgins (Jr., Lakeland, Minn./Stillwater) will return from a season-ending injury in week two of 2006. Higgins was an all-conference running back in 2005 when he had a combined 1,117 yards rushing and receiving. Ben Roff (Sr., Osseo, Minn.) returns at fullback. Roff had eight touchdowns in 2006 on just 41 carries and will be the Oles? top lead blocker.

Coty Watkins (Jr., Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) is the top newcomer after transferring from UW-Stout, where he rushed for 553 yards and six touchdowns on 106 attempts (5.2 yards/carry) in his two seasons.

Mike Shimshock (So., Coon Rapids, Minn.) will step in to fill the space left by Brandon Joyce. Joyce was second team all-conference in 2006 with an eight reception, two touchdown campaign. Kelsey Mattison (Jr., Redwood Falls, Minn.) could also see time.

St. Olaf will have a veteran offensive line in 2007, headlined by Eric Yuen (Sr., Apple Valley, Minn./Eastview), a two-time All MIAC selection. Last year the line allowed six sacks in over 350 passing attempts, the third lowest allowed in Division III. Yuen was named to the Don Hansen's Gazette All-West Region first team and the D3Football.com All-Region second team in 2006.

Blake Hamel (Sr., Lake Mary, Fla.), the Oles? center, will enter his second straight year as team captain. Hamel was a second team All-MIAC selection in 2006. Both Yuen and Hamel have started every game in their career. Paul Schwingler (Jr., Rochester, Minn./Century) is the other veteran on the front and was also a first team All-MIAC lineman.

Anthony Cirelli (Jr., Daytona Beach, Fla.), John Schantzen (So., Stillwater, Minn.) and Kyle Glanton (So., Orlando, Fla./Freedom) will compete to replace graduates Matt Churchill and Jeremy Thomas at right guard and left tackle.

A trio of seniors: defensive end James Bechdol (Orono, Minn.), linebacker Nick Rydberg (Inver Grove, Minn./Simley) and cornerback Deontae Hutchins (Pensacola, Fla./Pine Forest) will lead the Ole defense in 2007.

Last year, the defense was helped by a pass rush that had 33 sacks, good for second in the league. The Oles used that pass rush to hold opposing offenses to 40 fourth quarter points and a 59.5 red zone scoring efficiency - a rate that was also second among MIAC schools. The Oles will build on these successes, but also look to improve in other critical measurements. St. Olaf finished eighth in the MIAC in total yards allowed (344.1 yrds/game) and 6th in the MIAC in points allowed (19.8 pts/game).

Meidt expects the Ole defense to show great improvement in both areas. "We have the best combination of speed and experience defensively since I've been at St. Olaf," said Meidt. "With players that are as good as any in the league on the defensive line, linebacker, and secondary, I believe we are ready to play well every week."

Bechdol will anchor a young but talented defensive line. In 2006, he had team highs in sacks (6.5), tackles for a loss (14), forced fumbles (2) and blocked kicks (2). A two-time first team All-MIAC honoree, the explosive Bechdol was first team All-West Region last season.

Michael Williams Jr. (Jr., Marshfield, Wis.) will play opposite Bechdol and give the Oles tremendous bookends.

St. Olaf hopes to fill the void left by three-year starter Pete Nelson with sophomore Nick Tolen (Goshen, N.Y.), juniors Nate Grinager (St. Paul, Minn./SPA) and Brady Swanson (St. James, Minn.) and sophomore C.J. Tabasky (Ormond Berach, Fla./Mainland). Tolen had three sacks and seven tackles for a loss, including a safety, in limited action last season. Top newcomer Drew Penz (Fy, Rochester, Minn./Mayo), a first team All-State and Minnesota All-Star game participant, will also see time. LINEBACKER
First team All-MIAC Rydberg led the St. Olaf defense in 2006 with 60.5 tackles including 51 solo takedowns, four sacks and nine tackles for a loss. Flanking Rydberg will be fellow senior Charlie Mylrea (Champlin Park, Minn.) and Adam Concannon (So., Orlando, Fla./University/Sacred Heart). Mylrea was second in sacks last season with five and compiled 45 tackles, with seven going for a loss. Concannon came to St. Olaf from Division I Sacred Heart.

Jake Lodahl (Jr., Maplewood, Minn./Tartan) had 22 tackles last season and expects to see more snaps in this fall. DEFENSIVE BACK
St. Olaf has the most holes to fill in the secondary, but Meidt is confident in its talent.

"We will be young, but extremely talented - knowing we line up D.H. [Hutchins] at one corner is a pretty good start," said Meidt.

Hutchins, All-MIAC last year, is the lone returning starter in the secondary. He had three interceptions and a team-high 13 pass breakups, while compiling 39 tackles. He is expected, again, to be one of the best cornerbacks in the MIAC.

The Oles graduated Pete St. Lawrence, Jeremey Lund and Chris Feehan, who each played significant roles on the 2006 team, to graduation. St. Lawrence was a second team all-conference selection who led St. Olaf with four interceptions. Lund was second on the team in tackles with 58.5 while Feehan had 39 with eight pass breakups.

Competing to play corner opposite Hutchins will be sophomores Tyler Jones (So., Farmington, Minn.) and Justin Lanman (So., Orlando, Fla./Timber Creek) along with veterans Robert McDonald (Sr., Orlando, Fla./Cypress Creek) and Derek Bauer (Jr., Buffalo, Minn.) 

At the safety positions, Carson Jones (So., Farmington, Minn.) and Blake Hedstrom (So., Blaine, Minn.) will look to replace St. Lawrence while Chris DeLuca (So., Longwood, Fla./Lake Mary) and Ryan Skluzacek (So., Northfield, Minn.) will step in for Feehan.

Special teams may be the best weapon that the 2007 team has. Paul Fortman (Sr., Stillwater, Minn.) was named all-conference in 2006 as the MIAC's top punter and kicker. He led the nation in net punting (37.7 yards/punt), and had 12 of his 28 punts land inside the opponents 20-yardline while maintaining an MIAC-best 41.8 yard/punt average. He led the league, among kickers, in scoring with 63 points as he converted 91.3% of his extra points and was 7-for-9 on field goal attempts. He was named to the second team D3Football.com All-Region team.

The explosive return game will be in great shape. Carson Jones finished second in the MIAC in kick return average (25.2) and Endsley finished third (23.7). Returning punts for the fourth straight year will be versatile veteran Schmiesing.

Contact media relations specialist Mike Ludwig at (507) 786-3834 or ludwigm@stolaf.edu.

2007 St. Olaf Football Season Guide
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Matt Penz (above) threw for a school-record 2,636 yards last season. James Bechdol (below), a two-time All-MIAC selection, had a team-best 6.5 sacks and 14 TFL in 2006.