GREENVILLE, Ill. - The 2009 UMAC South champion Greenville College Panthers look to defend their crown in 2010 with new teammates, a new field, and a new head coach. In his eighth season with the Panthers, Ordell Walker has taken over the reins of the program. He has high expectations for a team on the upswing.
The 2009 Panthers had their best season in over a decade, posting a record of 7-3. They also made history by winning the first and only Upper Midwest Athletic Conference South Division championship (The UMAC will merge and no longer have divisions in 2010). They also qualified for the program's second National Christian College Athletic Association Victory Bowl.
"We understand the pressure is on," said Walker. "Last year we were picked to win only three games. We surprised some people, competed at a high level, and won seven. This year we're expected to be successful on the field. Our response to this new pressure will determine our success on the scoreboard."
The Panther offense starts the 2010 season with the core of the 2009 team in place. The Panthers will return seven starters from an offense that averaged over 25 points and 175 yards rushing per game. Tight end Zach Friedrich will be sorely missed in the passing game, but Rendell Flood and a slew of junior college transfers will help make a smooth transition.
The running game will again be the strength of the Panthers offense this year. The line has four returning starters, including the 2009 UMAC South lineman of the year Tim Burroughs and senior tackle David Butler. They should be able to open huge holes for UMAC South co-offensive player of the year Anthony Ambers and seniors Ketrone Blanks and Mark Mitchell.
The passing game returns its second leading receiver, tight end Rendell Flood, along with senior wide receivers Jordan Fred and Ray Toliver. The Panthers were also able to add 6-5 wide receiver Ryan Boezeman, a transfer from Olivet Nazarene, to provide another big target for quarterback Joel Lira. Lira took over as the starter last season in week three and gave the offense the leadership it needed to run efficiently. Lira hopes to provide those same intangibles in 2010.
The Panthers offense will be directed by Robbie Schomaker in his first season as the offensive coordinator for Greenville College. "I am thrilled to be a part of Greenville College," said Schomaker. "These kids work extremely hard and have the leadership and play making ability to do great things in 2010. I see tremendous success ahead of us as we all learn to become EMAP men."
The Greenville College defense also comes into the 2010 season with high expectations despite only returning five starters and losing the 2009 UMAC South defensive player of the year and three first team UMAC South all-conference defensive linemen.
The linebackers will be lead by 2009 UMAC first team all-conference player Jumaane Bey and three year starter Joel Deayon. David Maurer, Bryce Stevens, and Randy Mixson will round off a talented linebacker unit.
The defensive backs will be the second most experienced position behind the linebackers. Juniors John Smith and Andy Lozano will be looked on to lead a secondary that has questions that need to be answered early in camp. Sophomore Doug Wilmot and senior J.J. Willis also look to contribute at safety. Senior Reuben Gay, who showed the most consistency in the spring, and Chris Gunn look to hold down the edges as the starting cornerbacks.
The defensive line went from the most experienced a year ago to the least experienced position on the field. K.C. Gilbert will be the only defensive lineman that returns with any experience and will be looked upon to lead a young but talented defensive line. Newcomer Jordan Cernek, a transfer from Trinity International University, will contribute. The coaching staff is excited to see who steps up and takes on the challenge of filling the shoes of the departed three all-conference seniors from last year.
"There will be a lot of new faces on defense from the last year, which to me, is very excited because we get to see new guys step up and become leaders," said defensive coordinator Jake Schenk. "If we can find those leaders to step up and take charge, we can see a lot of success. I think we have a lot of potential, but potential only takes you so far. We need to be a defense that plays smart and relentless. If we can get guys to buy into the system, we can close the gap between potential and performance on the field."
"I can't tell you what the scoreboard will say at the end of each game," said Walker. "What I can tell you is that we are going to focus on closing our potential performance gap and competing against our best selves. Anything beyond that is out of our control."