BRIDGEWATER, Va. – For the first time since the 2007 season, head coach Michael Clark and the Bridgewater Eagles football team will enter preseason football camp with certainty behind center as the Eagles look to get back to the pinnacle of the conference in 2013.
Senior quarterback Willie Logan will enter camp as the primary trigger man for the Eagles and will guide an offense with veteran returners at each of the skill positions. Seniors litter the depth chart at each skill position, with the lone exception coming in the form of a pair of juniors at the running back post.
Bridgewater's lingering question will come in the trenches as the Eagles will look to replace the center of its offensive line and will see three new starters on a defensive line that turned in a stellar 2012 season.
Aside from team related concerns, the Eagles will also be competing at home for the first time on a turf field after Jopson Field underwent a multitude of changes during the offseason. The College installed FieldTurf at Jopson Field and also fixed lights in each corner of the field to allow for future night contests.
The return of last season's primary starting quarterback is the focal point of the offense for the Eagles in 2013 as Willie Logan returns to the fray after a successful junior campaign. Logan threw for over 2,100 yards a season ago and owned a 15-to-5 touchdown to interception ratio. The Luray, Va. native also rushed for an additional 498 yards and eight touchdowns.
On the edges, the Eagles return nine of their top 10 receivers from a season ago, with the lone loss coming at tight end with the graduation of Cord Keating. Seniors Cassidy Burns and Cliff Woodard both return to the mix after missing the 2012 season. Aside from the return of Burns and Woodard, last season's leading wide receiver comes back to the fold in the form of Shawn Lee. Lee hauled in 28 passes for 325 yards and a pair of touchdowns a season ago. The wide receivers will be under new leadership for the 2013 season as Brian Crist joins the fold after spending a number of years in the Division I ranks.
In the first year of a new offensive scheme, the Eagles turned the tight end position into one of the most productive units on the field. Bridgewater brings back a pair of talented tight ends who combined for 34 catches and three scores last year as Michael Colee and Anthony Church return to the mix. Colee led the team in receptions a season ago with 28, while Church saw a limited role.
If there are any question marks on the offensive side of the ball, they are apparent along the offensive line. Third-year offensive line coach Scott Lemn will have to find replacements in the center of the offensive front and will have to replace all-conference center Shawn Otte and every game starter JaRon Moody. Fresh faces will appear at both guard positions, while the tackle spots will see the return of all-conference first teamer Kyle Keister and senior Joshua Giusto.
In the backfield, the Eagles return everyone from an offense that bolted for 19 touchdowns on the ground and rushed for over 1,600 yards. Junior Jacob Wright will return to take a bulk of the carries after rushing for 700 yards and four touchdowns a year ago, en route to earning third team all-conference honors. Senior Nick Wimer comes back to the fold at the fullback position after becoming a dual receiving and rushing threat a season ago.
Question marks linger along the defensive front for the Eagles while the strength of defensive coordinator Jack Johnson's scheme will come from the umbrella of the unit.
Replacing a pair of all-conference first team selections, including the league's reigning Defensive Player of the Year will be a tall task for second-year defensive line coach Roberto Pinilla. The Eagles welcome back defensive end John Brilliant after the Purcellville, Va. native ranked second on the team last year with two-and-a-half sacks. The remainder of the front-line unit will have new starters, but each brings plenty of game-day experience to the mix. On the opposite side of the line from Brilliant, junior Kenneth Szabo returns after seeing time in eight games and posting one sack. On the inside of the line, senior Dillon Meacham and junior Tyler Knight will be looked upon to replace May graduates Joel Francis and Danny Grogg.
At the linebacker position, 2012 first team selection Andrew Palmer will return to the squad after leading the team in tackles a season ago. Palmer posted 84 tackles on the year, including six for a loss. The senior also picked off a pair of passes. Junior Alex Collins will be looked upon to replace 2012 all-conference second teamer Salem Nganga at the position. A pair of sophomores will fill in the depth chart at the linebacker post at one of the youngest positions on the team.
Finally the defensive umbrella of Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme returns in full after showing strong improvement a season ago. Bridgewater's defensive backfield sees the return of a pair of all-conference players from last year, including first team choice Darrick Gore. Gore led the unit in tackles a year ago with 50, including eight for a loss. Sophomore cornerback Daniel Brent also returns after earning third team honors as a rookie. Juniors Sammy Coleman and Lucas Elliott also come back to the defensive umbrella, while sophomore James Winfield will return after seeing time in seven games a year ago and recording 33 total tackles.
A young group of returners comes back to the Eagles for the 2013 season after a productive season in a group that Clark feels is one of the hidden-value squads on the team.
Sophomores Chandler DeHaven and Tyler Dawson return to the fold as the place kicker and punter, respectively. Last season, DeHaven Split the uprights on three kicks, including a career-long 47 yarder which was the longest for the program since 2005. Dawson averaged 37.7 yards per kick last season and pinned nine punts inside the 20.
Bridgewater's return specialists, Jordan Hartman and Woodard, return to the mix. Hartman returns to the fold after being the primary returner for the Eagles last year, while Woodard rejoins the team after missing the 2012 season due to injury.
The Eagles open the 2013 season on September 7 with a showdown at home against St. Vincent. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.