Journal Review: Coaches, Media Like Little Giantsby Matt Wilson • August 10, 2006
GRANVILLE, OHIO - The quarterback position still might be in the air, but Wabash College's football team knows where it stands among the North Coast Athletic Conference media and coaches.
Despite the loss of quarterback Russ Harbaugh - a 2006 Wabash graduate who set a single-season conference record with 3,504 passing yards last season - the Little Giants were picked to finish first in both the media and coaches poll during Tuesday's NCAC Football Media Day at Granville Country Club. In the coaches poll, Wabash received eight of the possible 10 first-place votes to record 98 points. The second through fourth spots were separated by two points with Ohio Wesleyan, Wooster and Wittenberg, respectively, occupying those slots. The Little Giants, who won last year's conference title with a perfect 7-0 record, got 24 of the 28 first-place votes in the media poll.
"Wabash deserved to be picked first and they certainly have had a great tradition for a long time," said Wittenberg coach Joe Fincham, whose team was selected to finish fourth in both polls. "They might not have Russ out there leading the team, but their defense has always been tremendous."
Chris Creighton, who enters his fifth season at the Little Giant helm, hopes to have the quarterbacking situation figured out as soon as possible, but won't make that determination until all the players report for practice. Senior Dustin Huff served as Harbaugh's backup last season. He started in two games in 2004 and last season completed all nine of his passes he attempted.
Huff, however, had surgery on his non-throwing shoulder and was unable to workout with the Little Giants during the spring. Brandon Neighbors and Rich Lehmann also are vying for the Little Giant signal-calling duties.
"Dustin Huff was our clear-cut No. 2 guy last season, but we have not been able to see him perform since his injury," Creighton said. "Some of our quarterbacking situation will be determined when we see if Huff is healthy or not. And those other two guys also have done a good job for us. We are just going to evaluate all three of them."
Coming from a guy who was a quarterback during his playing days at Kenyon, Creighton knows the importance of the snap taker for any team.
"A quarterback has got to be a great leader and has to be the person to get the team going," Creighton said. "Without a great leader at quarterback, it's going to be very tough to win a conference championship."
Whoever takes the snaps for Wabash this season will have plenty of options to throw to. The Little Giants return wide receivers Ray Green, Mike Russell and Geoff Walker and tight end Graham Nelson, who last season combined for 147 catches for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns. A healthy Bart Banach also gives the Little Giants another receiving weapon.
The Little Giant backfield last season was a three-man rotation between Don Juan Brown, Chris Ogden and Brandon Roop. Though Ogden and Roop both graduated after last season, Creighton liked the looks of last year's backfield and expects to use a similar rotation this season. Along with Brown, Billy King makes the transition from the defensive secondary to offensive backfield. Creighton said the third person in the backfield rotation is still to be determined.
"Billy King was recruited here as a quarterback because that is what he was in high school," Creighton said. "He just moved to defense because that was the spot where he thought he would most help the team."
Experience also will be a key ingredient in for the Little Giants' defense.
Wabash returns five starters from last year's defense that ranked third in the nation in scoring defense last season. Heading the list is junior Adi Pynenberg, a pre-season 2006 All-American selection. Pynenberg has led the Little Giants in tackles each of the last two seasons, including having 96 last season.
The Little Giants also have replacements for key defensive players missing. Creighton used Tim Parker as an example. Parker, a three-time all-conference selection - graduated after last season. The players vying for the linebacker position are seniors to be Chris Greisl - a captain this season - and Andy Deig.
"Don't get me wrong, we are going to miss Tim Parker," Creighton said. "But we have capable players to replace him."
The Little Giants put their experience to the test Sept. 9 when they travel to Franklin.
"I just feel great about this team," Creighton said. "We have had good senior leadership and our work ethic has been amazing. Everything we have done up to this point I would give an A. But on Aug. 13 everything changes because that is when the freshmen come in and we have to involve 55 new people in our team chemistry."
Wilson is Sports Editor for the Crawfordsville Journal Review.