2008 Leatherneck Football Preview
Courtesy: Western Illinois Athletics  
Release: Friday 07/07/2008
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With 10 returning all-conference honorees, including six first-teamers and four returning all-Americans, Western Illinois has the potential to contend the first-ever Missouri Valley Football Conference title. A group of 43 returning lettermen look to return the Leathernecks to the postseason after posting a 6-5 record as a large group of experienced underclassmen a year ago.

Last year’s squad opened with a 3-2 record, defeating a pair of non-conference FCS teams while falling only to third-ranked North Dakota State and future Rose Bowl participant Illinois. The conference schedule brought the nation’s number one and number six teams to Macomb and also included a road game against the number 21 team. In the tenth week of the season, a heartbreaking 10-9 loss to No. 6 Southern Illinois put the Leathernecks just beyond postseason reach.

The Schedule
This year’s schedule opens with Bobby Petrino’s debut at Arkansas, marking the 15th consecutive season the Leathernecks have faced a Bowl Subdivision team. With the addition of South Dakota State and North Dakota State to the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the non-league portion of the schedule has room for just two more opponents. Both games will be played at home with 6:05 p.m. kickoffs, as Quincy visits on week two for Hall of Fame Weekend, and Stephen F. Austin visits on week four for Family Weekend.

Western Illinois will make its first trip to South Dakota State since 1980 to open the conference schedule September 13. The two teams met in a four-overtime thriller to open the season in Macomb last year as non-conference opponents. After a bye-week September 27, one of two bye-weeks in this year’s schedule, the Leathernecks will travel back-to-back weeks to Missouri State and North Dakota State, then return for a Homecoming date with Indiana State October 18. Playing just three games in September and three in October, Western will be off again until a November 1 home game against UNI. Three of November’s four games will be played at home, with a trip to Southern Illinois November 8, followed by home games November 15, against Illinois State, and November 22, versus Youngstown State, wrapping up the regular season.

The Offense
All-America running back Herb Donaldson (St. Louis, Mo.) returns for his senior season on pace to become Western Illinois’ all-time leading rusher in his third season as a starter. The Walter Payton Award finalist will anchor an offense that returns 19 letterwinners and nine starters from the nation’s 11th-best rushing team.

The Leathernecks lose only a pair of guards (Drew Sweeney and Zack Howell) from the starting lineup due to graduation. The pair combined for 42 starts, but nine offensive players with a combined 109 starts return. The group of returners accounts for 82.1 percent of the team’s rushing, 99.5 percent of its passing, 95.4 percent of its receiving, and 80.2 percent of its scoring.

Sophomore quarterback Matt Barr (Belvidere, Ill.), who as a redshirt-freshman last year entered game one after the first drive and never relinquished his duties, enters the year as the preseason favorite to maintain his role as the starting signal caller. Barr not only matched the school record for wins as a freshman (5), but became the most successful rushing quarterback in school history, rushing for 385 yards and four touchdowns on 91 attempts. He combined with Donaldson, behind a proven offensive line and an all-conference fullback, to help produce the country’s 11th-best rushing offense. Barr returns as the conference’s third-leading active passer, having totaled 1,305 yards on 115-of-207 (.556) passing.

Barr will be challenged by senior Zack Wells, who started game one a year ago but suffered an ankle injury on the first drive. Additionally, true freshman Wil Lunt, Illinois’ all-time leading passer, will undoubtedly also be on the varsity end of the field.

After becoming just the second back in school history to record consecutive 1,400-yard seasons, Donaldson enters his senior campaign in third place on the career rushing list, needing 1,228 yards to surpass current leader and four-year letterwinner Travis Glasford (4,189 yards). Doing so would make Donaldson only the third player in school history to rush for three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and would give the Leathernecks six consecutive years with a 1,000-yard rusher. Donaldson finished 13th in the Walter Payton Award voting as a junior and is expected to finish higher this year, entering the season with more career rushing yards than all but five active players in the nation.

Entering the season as Donaldson’s primary backup will be junior Dre Gibbs (Lawrenceville, Ga.), who started twice at fullback last season and provided very solid relief at running back. Like Donaldson, he averaged 5.8 yards per carry in 2007.

First-team all-conference honoree Javid Milton (Houston, Texas) returns at fullback, with potential to earn significant national postseason honors. Redshirt-freshman Josh Gabelmann (Bettendorf, Iowa) and junior Sam Dancer (Quincy, Ill.) will battle for backup duties.

Wide Receivers
Both starting wide receivers return in Paul Anderson (Alton, Ill.) and all-conference honoree Carl Sims (Milwaukee, Wis.), who will continue to climb through the Western Illinois career record book. His 107 career receptions ranks fifth in school history while his 1,373 receiving yards rank ninth. The two seniors combined for 56 receptions, 670 yards and two touchdowns last year. Perhaps the deepest of the skill positions in terms of returners, the top five receivers are all back. Backing up Anderson and Sims will be junior Trent Yancy (Chicago, Ill.), sophomores Nick Coleman (Riverdale, Ill.) and Todd Speight (Bradenton, Fla.), and sophomore transfer Lito Senatus (Miami, Fla.).

Tight Ends
Both tight ends with starting experience - junior Matt Warner (Sherrard, Ill.) (9 games) and sophomore Drew Helt (Fort Madison, Iowa) (2 games) - return to the lineup, with Warner still having hold of the number one position. Warner was the team’s second-leading receiver in his first year as a starter, catching 15 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown, averaging 15.7 yards per catch.

Offensive Line
Every skill player who started a game in 2007 returns this year with the exception of Alex Douglas, who started the season finale at running back. However, the Leathernecks lost both starting offensive guards from a year ago, creating the biggest immediate need at offensive line. Junior center Dan Zeller (Schaumburg, Ill.) and senior tackles Reshad Jones (Sheboygan, Ill.) and Brett Valle (Peru, Ill.) combined for 30 starts a year ago. Junior Danny Adongo (Pomona, Calif.) and sophomore Mike Lamphear (Burr Ridge, Ill.) finished spring ball as starting linemen, but they will be seriously challenged by junior transfer Gary Sumlin (Bakersfield, Calif.), senior Zack Todd (Carmichael, Calif.), and sophomores Demetrius Davidson (Chicago, Ill.), William Bishop (Springfield, Ill.) and Shawn Bernaky (Downers Grove, Ill.)

The Defense
The defense returns 22 lettermen, nine starters and six all-conference honorees from a group that ranked among the nation’s top-25 in six categories last year, including scoring defense (18th, 19.5 points per game) and total defense (21st, 320.0 yards per game).

All-America linebacker Jason Williams (Chicago, Ill.) led the league in three categories as a junior and finished as runner-up for the conference’s defensive player of the year award. The two-year starter is joined by a trio of players - linebacker Travis Cherry (Carol Stream, Ill.) and defensive backs Trokon Tompo (Euless, Texas) and Robert Hodges (Bradenton, Fla.) - that have three years of starting experience under their belts, a strong reason why the defense has improved its national ranking more than 70 places in the last three years.

The only two defensive starters lost to graduation were free safety Kevin Almlie and linebacker Jerome Bennett. The list of returners makes up 77 percent of last year’s total tackles, 94.6 percent of sacks, 96.1 percent of tackles for loss and 66.7 percent of interceptions. Additionally, six of the returning defensive starters have combined for 137 starts.

Defensive Line
All three starting linemen return - senior Clinton Barley (Wichita, Kan.) and a pair of all-conference honorees in senior Josh Galloway (Reno, Nev.) and sophomore Victor Visoky (Northbrook, Ill.). The pair of ends, Galloway and Visoky, combined for one-fourth of Western Illinois’ sacks last year, while Visoky tallied more tackles than any other lineman in the league (5.2 per game, 57 total). They will be joined again by three letterwinners - Chad Groenhagen (Oregon, Ill.), Chris Riley (Waukegan, Ill.), Daniel Speight (Marshalltown, Iowa) - who gained starting experience last year. Redshirt-freshman Teague Dentino (Metamora, Ill.) had a very successful spring after switching from linebacker and could also be a very valuable addition to the line.

Returning veterans Williams and Cherry represent the league’s first and third-ranked career tacklers. They share 53 starts and a combined 67 games. Brandon Kreczmer (Chicago, Ill.) and Kyle Glazier (Geneseo, Ill.) finished spring ball as starters, but they will be in competition with Anthony D'Astice (Addison, Ill.) and Andrew Briones (Moline, Ill.) for playing time. Mike Garoppolo (Arlington Heights, Ill.) and Buddy Dudczak (Rolling Meadows, Ill.) will very capably back up Williams and Cherry.

Three true freshmen have the future of the Leatherneck linebackers looking bright in Jordan Tassio (Naperville, Ill.), Kevin Palermo (West Chicago, Ill.) and Chad Sprayberry (Oak Forest, Ill.).

Defensive Backs
Senior Mike McEachern (Calgary, Alberta), selected in the NFL Canada Draft during the off-season, will appear at safety after playing rover last fall. He will be joined at safety by 18-game veteran Tim Jackson (Bettendorf, Iowa). Also competing for starting time will be Tompo and sophomore Terry Barney (Glenwood, Ill.), who is making a switch from wide receiver.

Junior all-America cornerback Patrick Stoudamire (Portland, Ore.) is back for his third year after leading the team in interceptions and landing a spot on the all-conference list. Hodges, owner of 29 career starts, returns as a starting cornerback after earning all-conference honors as a junior. Backup cornerbacks are likely to include junior Stephen Moore (Tampa, Fla.) and sophomore Justin Hamilton (Sarasota, Fla.). Hamilton saw significant time last year, including one start, before suffering an injury in game nine, while Moore has appeared in 20 games over two years.
Special Teams
Another all-American, senior place-kicker Taylor Rowan (Melbourne, Fla.) has proven himself as one of the nation’s best long-range kickers and will be counted on to improve his short-range accuracy while maintaining the nation’s longest active PAT streak, which enters the season 10 extra points shy of breaking the FCS record of 126.

Rowan connected on a nation-leading six field goals of at least 50 yards last year, falling one shy of the FCS record. Converting 6-of-8 from 50 and beyond as a junior and 8-of-14 during his career, he enters the season four shy of setting a national record.

Also returning is sophomore punter Chris Fuchs (Pembroke Pines, Fla.), who averaged 35.4 yards per punt and landed 13 inside the 20-yard line as a true freshman.

Sims is expected to once again handle the kickoff return duties, doing so 25 times for an average of 22.6 yards per return last year. Jackson, one of the most reliable punt returners in recent Leatherneck history, will return after handling 13 punts for 104 yards last fall. The Leathernecks will again have a solid second option in Todd Speight, who returned 11 punts for 77 yards after a midseason injury to Jackson.

Coaching Staff

Head coach Don Patterson (61-42, .592) enters his 10th campaign needing just four victories to become Western Illinois’ all-time winningest coach. Expect that to happen early in the season as an improved, but not all that new, Leatherneck team takes the field in search of the first Missouri Valley Football Conference title.

For the third consecutive season, Western Illinois will experience no staff changes. Associate head coach and offensive coordinator Mark Hendrickson has been part of Patterson’s staff all nine years, and defensive coordinator Thomas Casey enters his fourth season.

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