Bearcat Football Faces Tough Road To Improve on 2003 2nd Place finish

SALEM - Three… Four… Six… Seven. Those numbers represent the win totals for the Willamette University football team from 2000 to 2003. For the upward trend to continue, the Bearcats need to win at least eight games this season while facing one of the strongest schedules in Division III.
A 7-3 record, a second-place finish last year and a strong group of returnees placed the Bearcats second in the preseason poll of Northwest Conference coaches. Coach Mark Speckman (pictured left) looks for a core group of seniors to lead a team that needs contributions from young players at key positions.

Defensive coordinator Chris Prange has eight starters back, including six seniors. Coach Speckman adds, “We have great team speed, and good experience on defense. That will be the strength of the team at the start of the year.”

The defense is anchored by senior defensive lineman Nate Matlock, the 2003 Northwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Speckman notes, “Nate is a class act as a student and as a person, and he is one of the best football players to ever come through here.”

Matlock, a second team preseason All-American, will garner attention from opposing linemen from his defensive end slot. Jeff Na returns at the other defensive end position. Fellow senior Blake Cam starts again at tackle. Returning starter Allen Coburn and sophomore Ricky Thomas are expected to spell Matlock and Na at defensive end.

Speckman believes that the linebacker core is another strength of the team. First team all-Conference selection Logan Lord (84 tackles, 48 solo) leads the group of returnees. Megdy Khoury (46 tackles, 3 sacks) also returns as a starter.

The secondary has an opportunity to be remembered as one of the most athletic units in recent Willamette history. Senior Roderick Edwards returns at the cornerback position. Matt Perez starts again at rover. The battle for the free safety position will be one of the most heavily contested in fall camp.

A veteran offensive line helped the Bearcats break school records for rushing and total offense in a 10 game season in 2003. The line will have to be retooled, as Chad Dybahl is the only returning starter. The Bearcats return Bryan Holloway at tight end, Brett Meyer at wide receiver, and Calvin-Keyser Allen and Quentin Brock in the backfield.

Cameron Walton, last year’s number two quarterback, replaces Tyler Gaspard. Sophomore Michael Plank and three freshmen back up Walton.

Fullback Keyser-Allen and tailback Brock return from a group of backs that racked up an average of 345 yards a game in Speckman’s “Fly” offense. Sophomore Kevin Dean and freshmen Skylar Swinford will have their chances to fill in for Keyser-Allen at fullback. Brock and sophomore Tristan Lockart will see extensive time at tailback.

Brett Meyer provides a key target for the young quarterback corps. Meyer has led the Bearcats in each of his three seasons. He is coming off a season in which he set personal bests for receptions (27) and touchdowns (6.) Senior flanker Jeff Liepman is the second leading receiver of the returnees.

Graduation hit the offensive line harder than any other group. Five starters are gone. Three of those starters made the first team all-Conference, one was named to the second team, and one was listed as honorable mention. Lone returning starter Chad Dybahl handles the duties at center. Fellow senior Bo Kim steps in to help at one guard position. Speckman expects big contributions from guard Brandon Bennett, who was redshirted last year due to the strength of the line. Offensive coordinator Glen Fowles will mold together the rest of the line from a group of sophomores, redshirt freshmen, and true freshmen.

The Kicking Game:

Positions are open at both kicker and punter. Speckman sees a talented but inexperienced group of kickers. Freshman Matt Bicocca and redshirt freshman Tyler Gill are being counted on for placekicking duties. Clinton Moran, Brad Woodward, and Eki Yandall all have a shot at the punting position.

Mark Speckman

Mark Speckman