Bearcat Cross Country Teams earn National Rankings; Women are 13th, Men are 15th

SALEM, OR -- The Willamette University football team held its first practice of the 2006 season this afternoon (Aug. 13) at McCulloch Stadium. The Bearcats, who open the season at home on Saturday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. against nearby rival Western Oregon University, practiced in helmets, jerseys and shorts.

Willamette Head Coach Mark Speckman and his assistants led 109 players through their first workouts. The team will practice in full pads for the first time on Thursday, Aug. 17 at 9:15 a.m.

The Bearcats, who achieved a 5-4 overall record and a 3-1 mark in the Northwest Conference (2nd place), return 16 starters. A total of seven starters are back on offense, with nine starters returning on defense. Willamette will be led by flanker Ryan Hernandez (Sr., Portland, OR/Portland Christian) and split end Michael Plank (Sr., Stockton, CA/Franklin HS) on offense and by linebackers Phillip Sweet (Jr., Albany, OR/West Albany HS) and Devin O'Roarke (Jr., Eatonville, WA/Eatonville HS).

Willamette has earned a 25-15 record over the past four seasons, while claiming a winning record each year. The Bearcats have finished above .500 eight times in the past 10 years, including a 13-1 record and a trip to the NCAA Division III National Championship game in 1997. In eight years under Speckman, WU has achieved a 46-34 (.575) overall record.

This year, Willamette will play five of nine regular season games at home. In addition to the season opener against Western Oregon, the Bearcats will host Gustavus Adolphus University (Sept. 9, 1:30 p.m.), the University of Puget Sound (Oct. 14, 6 p.m.) and Lewis & Clark College (Nov. 4, 1 p.m.). Road games include a non-conference contest at California Luthern University on Sept. 16, plus NWC games at Menlo College on Sept. 23, at Linfield College on Sept. 30, at Whitworth College on Oct. 28 and at Pacific Lutheran University on Nov. 11.