Eagles football ready to soar in 2007
August 29, 2007
Dave Beyer, Sports Information Director
Benedictine University head football coach Jon Cooper is hoping that the third time is the charm. In his third season at the Eagles’ helm, Cooper is banking that 2007 may be another big step in the recent rise of the Eagles’ program in this, the team’s final season, in the Illini-Badger Football Conference (IBFC).
There are good reasons Cooper believes this will be the case: 115 of them to be exact. That’s the number of players who showed up for pre-season drills, believed to be the largest turnout in Eagles’ history. But it isn’t simply the quantity that has Cooper excited about what the season has in store. It’s also the quality.
“We return some outstanding players,” explained Cooper. “We are still pretty young (just 15 seniors), but the players we have back have had plenty of game experience during their college careers. We return experienced players at virtually every position.
“Among the incoming players are some very gifted athletes, as well. I believe that the newcomers will play a big role on the team. The biggest issue will be getting the old and the new to mesh together.”
While Cooper welcomes back the vast majority of his starters from offense, the Eagles’ mentor will still have some question marks. No place is that more evident than at the quarterback slot.
The signal-calling duties are up for grabs in 2007. In the early going, the race appears to have come down to a two-man competition between sophomore Dan Cebulak (Chicago, Ill./Notre Dame H.S.) – a reserve in 2006 – and strong-armed freshman Andrew Ramus (Mokena, Ill./Lincoln-Way East H.S.).
“Both of these young men bring something different to the table,” explained Cooper of his quarterback competition. “Dan is a very good option quarterback and runs the ball very well. Andrew comes in from a quality high school program, has a good arm and is very athletic.”
At the receiver positions, the Eagles have great depth. Benedictine welcomes back 10 of the 11 players who caught a pass last season (49 of 51 receptions overall). At wide out, sophomore Jaaron Hudson (Maywood, Ill./Walther Lutheran H.S.) and senior Steve Buford (Westchester, Ill./St. Joseph H.S.) – who had 184 and 103 receiving yards, respectively – both return. Joining the corps will be junior Shawn Morris (Lemont, Ill./Lemont H.S.), a tight end in 2006, who moves to a wide receiver this year. “All three guys have good speed, good hands and good size,” reflected Cooper.
At tight end, All-IBFC second team offensive tackle John Gromer (South Elgin, Ill./St. Edward H.S.), a senior, looks to have the inside track after moving over a spot in the revamped scheme of receivers. Sophomore Ricky Paulson (Munster, Ind./Munster H.S.), also a converted offensive lineman from 2006, will also challenge for time at the tight end position.
Up front, Cooper will have a cache of as many as eight players seeing regular playing time for the five spots, depending on the situation, with several being interchangeable. The anchor of the offensive line is center Pete Sgarbossa (Darien, Ill./Hinsdale South H.S.), a fourth-year starter for the Eagles. “Pete gives us great stability and leadership in the trenches,” said Cooper.
At the guards, junior Patrick Sawe (Chicago, Ill./Thornwood H.S.) is back after not playing in 2006. Sawe was a starter as a sophomore in 2005. Sophomore Quarrandus Taylor (Chicago, Ill./Curie H.S.), a reserve last season, looks to move into a starting role in 2007.
The tackle spots will be led by fourth-year starter Danny Jones (Burbank, Ill./St. Laurence H.S.). Sophomore Tyler Burke (Bradley, Ill./Bradley-Bourbonnais H.S.), who was a part-time starter in 2006, is expected to step in as a starter in ’07. Ron Tomalis (Chicago, Ill./St. Rita H.S.), a starter in 2006, will not only vie for a position at guard, but also has the ability to play center, as well. Sizeable sophomore Pete Thompson (Creston, Ill./Rochelle Township H.S.) was a part-time player as a freshman, with the ability to play either guard or tackle, while Ray Jackson (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee H.S.) can also play center.
At wingback, returning senior Lloyd Washington (Bolingbrook, Ill./Romeoville H.S.) and sophomore Nate Driessens (Rock Falls, Ill./Newman Central Catholic H.S.) both return.
The graduation of senior Rico Grino leaves the fullback slot up for grabs. Returning letterwinners Austin Eagan (Beech Grove, Ind./Beech Grove H.S.) and Tim Meyer (Staatsburg, N.Y./Our Lady of Lourdes H.S.), a sophomore and junior respectively, will compete for Cooper’s nod at fullback.
At tailback, sophomore Ryan Schwartz (Clawson, Mich./Bishop Foley H.S.) was second to Grino in rushing yards with 347 on 71 carries (4.9 y.p.c.). “Ryan has good agility in traffic,” surmised Cooper. “He showed glimpses of the future as a freshman until he was injured. He has good acceleration and is running with even more power this year.”
Freshman Kyle Lee (Chino Hills, Calif./Ontario Christian H.S.), who has “good speed and power”, will also see time at tailback. Both Lee and Schwartz are a double-threat as receivers, as well, according to Cooper.
The “wild card” is returning runningback Joe Borsellino (Oak Brook, Ill./Montini Catholic H.S.). Borsellino - 347 rushing yards in 2006 - can not only handle ball-carrier chores, but also has the ability to play wide receiver and return punts and kickoffs.
“We return lots of kids who saw action last year,” said Cooper of the defensive front line. At defensive end, returning senior players Henry Barton (Chicago Heights, Ill./Rich East H.S.) and Bob Corey (Carol Stream, Ill./Glenbard North H.S.) are both back in the fold. Barton led the Eagles with 4.0 sacks in 2006, while Corey topped the team with 12.5 tackles for loss.
Incoming senior Bob McLearen (Wheaton, Ill./Wheaton North H.S.), a transfer from NCAA Division I Northern Illinois University, will also be counted on heavily.
On the “D-line,” senior Michael Chapman (Dixmoor, Ill./Thornton Township H.S.) returns after earning second team All-IBFC honors and was Benedictine’s MVP in 2006. Chapman had 50 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season.
Also looking for playing time up front are sophomores Kyle Schulz (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore H.S.) and Dan Miller (Chicago, Ill./Notre Dame H.S.). Schulz had booked 33 tackles and 3.5 sacks as a freshman.
The three linebacker positions have four quality players – all sophomores – to man the chores. 2006 returning starters Devin Montgomery (Zion, Ill./Zion-Benton H.S.) and Alex Dewey (Geneseo, Ill./Geneseo H.S.) are back, along with reserve Ryan Kozicynski (Chesterton, Ind./Chesterton H.S.). Montgomery was the team’s co-leader with 82 tackles (and a team-leading 41 solo tackles), while Dewey added 58 stops. The group’s fourth, Eddie Hill, Jr. (Chicago Heights, Ill./Bloom Trail H.S.), was a 2005 starter who did not play in 2006.
Three of the team’s four starters in the defensive backfield also return. Senior Kyle Bruett (Libertyville, Ill./Libertyville H.S.) and junior Matt Kunz (Fox River Grove, Ill./Cary-Grove H.S.) are the cornerbacks, while senior Anthony Borsellino (Oak Brook, Ill./Montini Catholic H.S.) is once again slated for the strong safety. The trio each had over 40 tackles, while Borsellino and Bruett had three interceptions apiece. Kunz also had a fumble return for a 43-yard touchdown to his credit.
Sophomore Pat Daniels (Kirksville, Mo./Kirksville H.S.) has the inside track at free safety. Daniels had eight tackles in a reserve capacity in 2006.
Sophomores Travis Newsome (Chicago, Ill./Leo Catholic H.S.) and Patrick Stewart (Wauconda, Ill./Wauconda H.S.) also return to add depth to the defensive backs.
THE SPECIAL TEAMS
Joe Borsellino and Hudson are expected to again be the primary punt and kick returners. When it comes to the kicking game itself, the one certainty is that it will likely fall in the hands of a freshman.
The punting chores are currently a battle between newcomers Tim Zultanksi (Granger, Ind./Marian H.S.) and Brian Goff (Coal City, Ill./Coal City H.S.). Sophomore Neal Revane (Villa Park, Ill./Montini Catholic H.S.) did not play last season, but was the team’s punter in 2005.
The placekicking responsibilities will fall to either Goff, Zultanski or Nick Muzzarelli (Braidwood, Ill./Reed-Custer H.S.).
Cooper knows that his young Eagles’ will be tested from the get-go in 2007. Benedictine opens with three consecutive games versus College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) team – home versus Elmhurst College (Sept. 1), followed by road games at North Park University (Sept. 8) and North Central College (Sept. 15) – before getting into its IBFC slate of competition. The Eagles will have four Illini-Badger games - Lakeland College (Sept. 29), Aurora University (Oct. 13), MacMurray College (Oct. 27) and Concordia University (Wis.) (Nov. 3) – on its home turf. Road matches are at Concordia University Chicago (Sept. 22), Greenville College (Oct. 6) and Eureka College (Oct. 20).
“We are improved in all phases of the game,” summarized Cooper. “We hope that translates into success in 2007.”
This will be Benedictine’s last season in the Illini-Badger Football Conference as football becomes a sponsored sport in the Northern Athletics Conference (to which all of the Eagles’ other conference-affiliated sports belong) in 2008.
Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls nearly 10,000 students in 56 undergraduate and 19 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the sixth consecutive year in 2016. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org). For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ben.edu.