Bearcats are Listed Fifth in NWC Football Preseason Poll

By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110

SALEM, ORE. -- The Willamette University football team is picked fifth in the 2012 NWC Football Preseason Poll according to votes cast by the NWC head coaches. Linfield College, which won the NWC title last season with a 6-0 record, was chosen to repeat as the conference champion.

Linfield received six of seven first place votes and 42 points in the poll. The Wildcats have won three consecutive NWC titles since Willamette took first place in 2008 while achieving an undefeated regular season record (10-0, 6-0 NWC).

Pacific Lutheran University (6-3, 4-2 NWC) held second place in this year's poll with 29 points. Whitworth University (4-6, 3-3 NWC) received the final first place vote and was third with 26 points.

Lewis & Clark College (7-2, 4-2 NWC) was listed fourth with 19 points and Willamette was fifth with 17 points. The Bearcats played a very tough schedule in 2011 with games against three nationally ranked teams plus NCAA Division I FCS opponent Portland State University. Willamette went 4-6 overall and was 3-3 in the NWC, including a 57-28 win over Lewis & Clark.

Picked to finish sixth was Pacific University (1-8, 1-5 NWC) with 15 points in the poll. The University of Puget Sound (0-9, 0-6 NWC) rounded out the poll in seventh place with six points.

Willamette led the NWC in rushing offense in 2011 with 220.9 yards per game and also ranked first in net punting (33.8 avg.). The Bearcats were second in interceptions with 17, trailing only Linfield with 18.

Senior quarterback Brian Widing (Canby, OR/Canby HS) enters his fourth year as the signal caller. He split time as the starter in 2009, before securing the starting position in 2010 and 2011. Last year, Widing completed 57.6% of his passes for 1,227 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Two-sport athlete Terrell Malley (Jr., RB, Portland, OR/Roosevelt HS), who sat out last season to focus on the Bearcat basketball team, returns to action. Malley was WU's top rusher two seasons ago in 2010, when he carried the ball 77 times for 628 yards (8.2 avg.) and seven touchdowns. He was named Second Team All-NWC.

Wide receiver Jake Knecht (Sr., Issaquah, WA/Skyline HS/Illinois State Univ.) was chosen First Team All-NWC in 2011. He hauled in 35 passes for 679 yards (19.4 avg.) and scored eight touchdowns for the Bearcats.

Also returning with First Team All-NWC honors on offensive is senior tackle Taylor Reeder (Salinas, CA/Palma HS). Zane Wise (Sweet Home, OR/Sweet Home HS), a senior at offensive guard, was chosen Second Team All-NWC in 2011.

On defense, one First Team All-NWC player and three athletes named to the Second Team return for the Bearcats. Cody Pastorino (Sr., S, Glenn, CA/Willows HS) led WU with 37 unassisted tackles last year and was fourth on the team with 58 total tackles to earn First Team honors. He intercepted two passes, broke up two passes and blocked one kick.

The returning defender with Second Team recognition in 2011 are Wes Wenzel (Sr., ILB, Portland, OR/Sunset HS), Dominic David (Sr., S, Salem, OR/South Salem HS/Portland State Univ.) and Ben Lyons (Jr., DE, Anchorage, AK/South Anchorage HS).

Wenzel topped the Willamette defensive chart with 65 total tackles and 42 assists. He registered 4.0 tackles for losses and 3.5 quarterback sacks. David earned 56 total tackles to rank fifth on the squad and tied for the team lead with four interceptions. Lyons led the Bearcats with 4.0 sacks and was fourth with 6.0 tackles for losses.

Head Coach Glen Fowles is in his first season as the leader of Bearcat football, but he is not new to the team. Fowles is entering his 17th year on the coaching staff, including the past 14 years as offensive coordinator.

Brian Sheppard, the new offensive coordinator, is in his first year on the Willamette coaching staff. Nate Naggi, in his eighth season as defensive coordinator, is in his ninth year on the coaching staff.

The Bearcats will open the season on Saturday, Sept. 1 at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. (CDT)/4 p.m. (PDT).

Willamette does not play the following weekend, but will host the Bearcats' home opener against East Texas Baptist University on Friday, Sept. 14 at McCulloch Stadium. Kickoff against ETBU is set for 7 p.m. (PDT).

2012 NWC Football Preseason Poll (1st place votes in parentheses)
1. Linfield (6), 42 points, 10-1 overall, 6-0 NWC in 2011
2. Pacific Lutheran, 29 points, 6-3, 4-2 NWC
3. Whitworth (1), 36 points, 4-6, 3-3 NWC
4. Lewis & Clark, 19 points, 7-2, 4-2 NWC
5. Willamette, 17 points, 4-6, 3-3 NWC
6. Pacific, 15 points, 1-8, 1-5 NWC
7. Puget Sound, 6 points, 0-9, 0-6 NWC

Note: Points were awarded on an 7-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Each coach was not allowed to vote for his own team.

Jake Turner returns for his senior season after averaging 5.9 yards per carry in 2011.

Jake Turner returns for his senior season after averaging 5.9 yards per carry in 2011.