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CSN West: Pioneer Football League 2008 Review
By Kent Schmidt, CSN West Columnist
The Pioneer Football League crowned a new champion in 2008 in the Jacksonville Dolphins after Dayton and San Diego dominated the top of the standings the last few years. While the PFL champion lost the GridIron Classic for the first time in the three-year annual event, the Dolphins still had an impressive season.
As most know, the Pioneer Football League consists of nine schools that do not offer scholarships to its players. It’s the only FCS conference that is truly nonscholarship.
Conference Overall Team W L PCT W L PCT Jacksonville 7 1 .875 9 4 .692 San Diego 6 2 .750 8 2 .800 Dayton 6 2 .750 9 3 .750 Butler 4 4 .500 6 5 .545 Drake 4 4 .500 6 5 .545 Morehead St. 4 4 .500 6 6 .500 Davidson 3 5 .375 4 7 .364 Valparaiso 2 6 .250 3 8 .273 Campbell 0 8 .000 1 10 .091
The PFL won 14 of 28 nonconference games, including victories over two scholarship schools. San Diego defeated Northern Colorado and UC Davis this season.
Jacksonville proved to be the top team in this competitive league — losing only to Davidson early in the season to finish 7-1 in league play. Jacksonville defeated the two top teams of last year in Dayton and San Diego by scores of 19-14 and 30-29, respectively.
The Dolphins represented the PFL in the Grid Iron Classic but lost 28-0 on the road.
That loss, however, did not damper the best season in Dolphin history. Coach Kerwin Bell turned his team around in winning six more games than the prior season — the best amongst all FCS teams. He was named the PFL Coach of the Year in his second season in Jacksonville after turning a 3-8 team in 2007 to a 9-4 team in 2008.
The Dolphins recovered from a 2-3 start to win the league crown. Dolphin freshman quarterback Josh McGregor was a big reason for the turnaround after he set a school record for most passing yards. Runningback Rudell Small also turned in the second-best rushing season in the program’s history and Geavon Tribble has enshrined his name atop the school’s receiving lists.
The defense raised its play as well, holding six opponents to 10 points or less this season. JU ranked in the top 30 nationally in several defensive categories, led by Tremaine Mack — who had three defensive touchdowns.
Small and Mack were named to the All-PFL first team, along with offensive tackle Michael Aguilar and return specialist Elliott Finkley. Aguilar led the way for Small and blocked well for McGregor to wrap up a stellar career, having blocked for record-setting quarterbacks Chris Horton and Josh McGregor, too. Finkley was one of the top punt returners in the nation. He ran back three punts for touchdowns, setting a school record for the most in a season, while ranking in the top 10 nationally in punt return average.
Finishing second in the standings was San Diego, which narrowly lost to champion Jacksonville as mentioned. It also lost 30-22 to Dayton. USD was undefeated against non-PFL competition in defeating FCS members Marist, Northern Colorado and UC Davis. Senior wide receiver John Matthews, a Walter Payton Award candidate, was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year. Matthews led the nation in five receiving categories — receptions (102), receiving yards (1,478), receiving touchdowns (21), receptions per game (9.27) and receiving yards per game (134.36).
He was joined on the PFL first team by senior tight end Mitch Ryan, junior quarterback Sebastian Trujillo, senior offensive tackle Deene Kabiling, junior linebacker Derek Marten and junior defensive back Gabriel Derricks. In his first year as the Torero quarterback, Trujillo completed 239-of-358 passes (66%) for 2,822 yards and 35 touchdowns. The 35 scoring strikes is the third all-time best mark in school history.
Defensive back Al-Rilwan Adeyemi also was named the PFL Freshman Defensive Player of the Year. Adeyemi paced the Toreros with five interceptions and returned two of them for touchdowns.
Dayton appeared two weeks before the end of the season to have another PFL title in site. At that time, the Flyers were undefeated among PFL competition, but they lost their final two contests against Morehead State 14-13, and as mentioned to Jacksonville to lose their grasp on the PFL title. Still, the Flyers finished tied with San Diego as the league’s second-place team.
Senior defensive end Scott Vossler was named the Pioneer Football League’s Defensive Player of the Year to pace the Flyers to the PFL’s top-ranked defense. Vossler was the league leader in forced fumbles with three, was fourth in the league in sacks with 4.5 and was tied for seventh in the league with three.
Other first-teamers from the defense were senior defensive tackle Kalen Hemmelgarn, senior Flyer Steve McDonald and linebacker Joe Ries. These players helped the Flyer defense to rank atop the PFL in scoring defense (15.3 points/game), total defense (255.8 yards/game), rushing defense (60.7 yards/game) and sacks (32).
Wide receiver Steve Valentino was the lone Flyer offensive performer to the first team and also was an honorable mention kick returner. He was seventh in the PFL with 50 receptions and fifth in the league with 50.2 yards receiving per game.
The surprise of the year aside from Jacksonville winning the league has be Butler. The Bulldogs finished 4-4 in the league and 6-5 overall. The victory total was the best a Butler team has posted since 1997. Butler posted victories against the other two fourth-place teams of Drake and Morehead State. Butler did win five straight in the middle section of the schedule. However, the Bulldogs did lose their last four in what looked like an even more promising season.
The Bulldogs had just one first team All-PFL in freshman defensive end Grant Hunter but had three of his teammates selected to the second team in placekicker Jordan Quiroz, senior linebacker Mike Bennett and junior wide receiver Dan Bohrer.
Hunter led the PFL in quarterback sacks (14), while finishing second in the league in tackles for loss (18). His 14 sacks tied the second-highest total ever by a Butler player, trailing only the school-record 17 quarterback sacks by Scott Cook in 1983.
Quiroz was named on the all-league team for the third consecutive year. He set a Butler single-season record with 42 successful PAT kicks this season, and he finished his career in second place on Butler’s all-time list for kick-scoring with 175 points.
Bennett was Butler’s third-leading tackler this season with 61 stops, and he finished his Butler career with 230 stops. Bohrer set a Butler single-season record for touchdown receptions with 11, and he finished second in the PFL in receptions (71) and receiving yards (971).
Drake finished tied with Butler and Morehead State for fourth in the league. These Bulldogs won the games against the lower division PFL teams but failed to gain a victory against the top half of the league to finish 4-4 and were 6-5 overall.
Drake had three players earn first team All-PFL honors in senior linebacker Cole Douglas, senior kicker Logan Rees and junior fullback Steve Platek. Douglas’s selection capped a remarkable comeback for the fifth-year player who missed the entire 2007 campaign after suffering a knee injury. He led Drake’s defense with 65 tackles, including five tackles for losses. Rees led the league with 14 field goals, while closing out his career with 31 field goals. Platek moved to the offensive side in spring ball and was Drake’s second-leading receiver with 41 catches for 468 yards including four touchdowns, along with three rushing scores.
Senior Andy Green highlighted four members on the All-PFL second team — his third time being selected in his career in the defensive backfield. He had 60 tackles, while sharing the team lead in interceptions with honorable mention All-PFL defensive back junior Tim Harvey with six. Green closed out his career with 17 pass thefts.
The third fourth-place tie team this year was Morehead State. The Eagles highlight was defeating Dayton on the road 14-13 to spoil the Flyers bid late in the season to grab a share of the PFL title. MSU finished at 6-6 overall and 4-4 within the league.
Senior runningback Erick Fitzpatrick, senior defensive back David Hyland, junior linebacker Wes McDermott, senior center Nick Schoenfeld, junior defensive tackle Derik Steiner and senior kicker Mason Webb were the Eagles named to the All-PFL first team.
Fitzpatrick finished ninth in the league in rushing with 469 yards and added three touchdowns. Hyland was second in the league with 13 pass defends and added four interceptions. McDermott led the league in tackles with 102 and tackles for loss with 19.5. Steiner was tied for fourth in the conference with 16. Webb was a placekicker and a punter. He led the league in punting with a 41.2 yard average and was second in the league with 13 field goals made.
Davidson had a disappointing season in 2008 after finishing third in the standings in 2007. The Wildcats did, however, hand conference champion Jacksonville its lone loss and finished at 3-5 in the PFL and 4-7 overall. In 2007, Davidson finished 6-4 overall.
Senior offensive lineman Will Nolte was the lone first-team All-PFL member for the Wildcats. He also garnered all-league honorable mention honors in 2007. He helped lead the offensive line and pave the way for the squad’s 1,246 rushing yards, while allowing only 16 sacks on 384 pass attempts on the year.
Senior defensive lineman Will Funderburg and junior linebacker Tyler Lemons earned All-PFL second-team accolades. Funderburg made his third appearance on the All-PFL team after leading the Wildcats with 13 tackles for loss and also registered 46 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Lemons was the team leader with 91 total tackles, which was the second-most in the league.
Valparaiso also finished low in the standings in the seventh position. The Crusaders finished just 2-6 in league play with victories over Davidson and PFL newcomer Campbell. Valpo finished 3-8 overall.
Ryan Kozey, a senior offensive tackle, helped pave the way for the Crusader ground game this season as he was Valpo’s lone first team All-PFL representative. He was a repeat first teamer from 2007 and anchored a line that helped the Crusaders rushed for a PFL-leading 175.2 yards per game in 2008.
He was joined by four All-PFL second-team members in senior fullback Mozale McHenry, junior runningback Ross Wiemer, senior linebacker Ryan Koepke and junior kick returner John Popper. McHenry was mainly a blocker for Wiemer, who gained 824 yards and scored 10 times. Koepke finished second on the team in tackles with 69. Popper led Valpo with 1,356 all-purpose yards. He returned 16 punts for an average of 12.0 yards with one returned for a touchdown, and he also averaged 22.6 yards per kickoff return.
PFL newcomer Campbell finished its first season after revitalizing the program. The Camels went winless in the league but did pick up their first FCS victory this year — a victory at DIII Carthage to finish 1-10 overall.
The young Camels (all but four players were freshmen or redshirt freshmen) also had two player recognized. Redshirt freshman linebacker Milton Brown captured first-team honors, while true freshman defensive back Brandon Chandler was an honorable mention All-PFL selection.
Brown led the team with 85 tackles (sixth in PFL) and was second on the team with three interceptions (tied for eighth in league) including a pair of return touchdowns (tied for conference lead). Chandler led the team with 436 all-purpose yards, including a team-high 393 as a kickoff returner and his 54 tackles placed him fourth on the team.
* * *
The following are the Pioneer Football League All-Conference Performers
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: John Matthews, San Diego
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Scott Vossler, Dayton
FRESHMAN OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Josh McGregor, Jacksonville
FRESHMAN DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Al-Rilwan Adeyemi, San Diego
COACH OF THE YEAR: Kerwin Bell, Jacksonville
Pos. Player School Ht. Wt. Yr. Hometown (Previous School)
WR John Matthews (6-1) San Diego 6-0 203 Sr. Littleton, Colo. (Regis Jesuit)
WR Steve Valentino Dayton 5-10 172 So. Solon, Ohio (Solon)
TE Mitch Ryan San Diego 6-5 240 Sr. Jackson, Calif. (Argonaut)
QB Sebastian Trujillo San Diego 6-3 222 Jr. Durango, Colo. (Saddleback College)
FB Steve Platek Drake 6-0 218 Jr. Arlington Heights, Ill. (John Hersey)
RB Rudell Small (U) Jacksonville 5-10 205 So. Ocala, Fla. (Trinity Catholic)
RB E ric Fitzpatrick (2) Morehead State 5-7 180 Sr, Cincinnati, Ohio (Colerain)
OL Mike Aguliar Jacksonville 6-4 295 Sr. Miami, Fla. (Sunset)
OL Deene Kabiling (2) San Diego 6-3 308 Sr. San Diego, Calif. (University City)
OL Will Nolte Davidson 6-7 320 Sr. Cincinnati, Ohio (Indian Hill)
OL Nick Schoenfeld (2) Morehead State 6-4 270 Sr, Cincinnati, Ohio (Oak Hills)
OL Ryan Kozey (1) Valparaiso 6-8 295 Sr. Waterford, Wis. (Union)
DL Scott Vossler, Dayton 6-2 237 Sr. St. Marys, Ohio (St. Marys Memorial)
DL Derik Steiner (2) Morehead State 6-1 285 Jr, Mason, Ohio (Bishop Fenwick)
DL Grant Hunter Butler 6-3 230 Fr. Liberty Township, Ohio (Lakota West)
DL Kalen Hemmelgarn (1) Dayton 6-1 249 Sr. St. Henry, Ohio (St. Henry)
LB Wes McDermott (U, 2) Morehead State 5-9 230 Jr, Louisville, Ky. (Holy Cross)
LB Cole Douglas Drake 6-2 242 Sr. Lawrence, Kan. (Free State)
LB Joe Ries Dayton 6-1 210 So. Cincinnati, Ohio (St. Xavier)
LB Milton Brown Campbell 6-1 215 Fr. Havelock, N.C. (Havelock)
LB Derek Marten San Diego 6-0 220 Jr. Clovis, Calif. (Fresno City CC)
DB Gabe Derricks (1) San Diego 6-3 190 Jr. Oak Park, Calif. (Oak Park)
DB Steve McDonald Dayton 5-10 184 Sr. N ewark, Ohio (Newark Catholic)
DB David Hyland (1) Morehead State 6-1 185 Sr, Woodstock, Ga. (Etowah)
DB Tremaine Mack Jacksonville 5-11 195 Jr. Jacksonville, Fla. (Raines)
SPECIAL TEAMS (Two placekickers due to a tie in the voting)
PK Logan Rees Drake 5-8 158 Sr. West Des Moines, Iowa (Valley)
PK Mason Webb Morehead State 6-0 205 Sr, Hamilton, Ohio (Hamilton)
P Mason Webb (1) Morehead State 6-0 205 Sr, Hamilton, Ohio (Hamilton)
RS E lliott Finkley Jacksonville 5-6 155 So. Jacksonville, Fla. (Bethune-Cookman)
Pos. Player School Ht. Wt. Yr. Hometown (Previous School)
WR Geavon Tribble Jacksonville 5-11 170 Sr. Weston, Fla. (Cypress Bay)
WR Dan Bohrer Butler 6-2 190 Jr. Guilford, Ind. (East Central)
TE_Derrick Burks Morehead State 6-0 210 Sr, Dublin, Va. (Pulaski County)
QB Rob Florian Dayton 5-9 164 Sr. Cincinnati, Ohio (Elder)
FB Mozale McHenry Valparaiso 6-0 235 Sr. Chicago, Ill. (Morgan Park)
RB Phil Morelli San Diego 5-11 180 Fr. Denver, Colo. (Colorado State)
RB Ross Wiemer Valparaiso 6-0 205 Jr. Burlington, Wis. (Burlington)
OL Patrick McCormick Dayton 6-3 272 Sr. Louisville, Ky. (St. Xavier)
OL Chris Tessitore Jacksonville 6-1 295 Sr. Jupiter, Fla. (Dwyer)
OL Ryan Pollock Dayton 6-3 281 Sr. West Chester, OH (Lakota East)
OL Quinn McVey Drake 6-4 273 Sr. Bettendorf, Iowa (Bettendorf)
OL Conrad Smith San Diego 6-6 290 Jr. Long Beach, Calif. (Woodrow Wilson)
DL Chris Gianelli San Diego 6-2 275 Sr. Rancho Palos Verdes, CA (Palos Verdes Peninsula)
DL Dain Taylor Drake 6-2 239 Jr. Highlands Ranch, Colo. (Mountain Vista)
DL Will Funderburg Davidson 6-1 265 Sr. Buford, Ga. (Greater Atlanta Christian)
DL Sean Heenan Dayton 6-3 237 Sr. St. Joseph, Mich. (Lake Catholic)
DL Andrew Doane Morehead State 6-3 245 Jr, Dublin, Ohio (Dublin Coffman)
LB Joseph Fennell Jacksonville 6-0 230 Jr. Palm Coast, Fla. (Flagler Palm Coast)
LB Ryan Koepke Valparaiso 6-1 225 Sr. Fort Wayne, Ind. (Homestead)
LB Tyler Lemons Davidson 5-10 205 Jr. Belmont, N.C. (South Point)
LB Mike Bennett Butler 6-1 230 Sr. E lmhurst, Ill. (York)
DB Andy Green Drake 6-4 192 Sr. Atlantic, Iowa (Atlantic)
DB Al-Rilwan Adeyemi San Diego 5-10 175 Fr. Santa Monica, Calif. (Santa Monica)
DB Robson Noel Jacksonville 5-8 170 Sr. Pompano, Fla. (Cardinal Gibbons)
DB Corey Vossler Dayton 5-11 182 Sr. St. Marys, Ohio (St. Marys Memorial)
PK Jordan Quiroz Butler 5-7 180 Sr. Silver Lake, Ind. (Warsaw)
P Brandon Wubs Drake 5-11 185 Sr. Hawthorn Woods, Ill. (Lake Zurich)
RS John Popper Valparaiso 5-11 195 Jr. Dublin, Ohio (Coffman)