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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

2012 Manchester University football preview - Young Spartans' squad to enter preseason camp Wednesday, July 18, 2012 NORTH MANCHESTER, IN. – The phrase “youth will be served” could easily characterize the 2012 Manchester University football team. “We’ve got some opportunities for new faces to step in and make an impact,” Shannon Griffith, ninth-year head coach of the Spartans, said. “While there are some position battles stacking up going into preseason camp, I’m excited about that because it will make us better (down the road). “I see the gap between the teams in the conference closing,” he added. “You’ve got to be ready to go day in and day out. It’s a pretty simple formula I use when someone asks me what the biggest keys to success are. Get turnovers but don’t turn the ball over while working on field position constantly. You need to set up your offense on a short field and create a long one for your opponents.” With another strong Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference race looming and non-league clashes against traditional opponents Trine and Kalamazoo leading off the schedule, the Spartans have plenty to focus on when preseason camp opens next month. While both sides of the ball took losses, MU does have four of its top five offensive linemen coming back this fall. The quartet of Eric Courter (Carmel, Ind.), Adam Cantwell (Elkhart, Ind.), Cody Larimore (Walton, Ind.) and Tom Webster (Fort Wayne, Ind.) looks to anchor the Spartans’ attack. “We’re going to need each of those juniors to pave the way for some inexperience in the skill positions,” Griffith said. Behind the line lie some question marks. Junior Nick Williams (Fort Wayne, Ind.) enters camp as the early leader at quarterback with some varsity experience in tow, while Griffith added that sophomore Randy Frederick, a transfer from Trine, will be in the mix along with a pair of freshmen. The new signal caller will have a strong group of returning receivers to get the ball to. Senior Kurt Monix (Crown Point, Ind.) was the top receiver a year ago with 52 receptions for 544 yards and four touchdowns en route to all-league honors. Sophomores Collin Huffine (Centerville, Ind.) and Alex Lissade-Gardner (Indianapolis, Ind.) also earned playing time during their freshman campaigns. Senior tight end Dante Dinkins (East Chicago, Ind.) has a strong upside for the Spartan offense, too, as he can handle traditional blocking and receiving chores as well as being set in the backfield. In the backfield, sophomore Austin Adams (Dowagiac, Mich.) is the top returner to go along with some newcomers. Dinkins and junior Ryne Lehrmen (Hoagland, Ind.) add some versatility, as they both spent time at fullback. “If the quarterback position can grow quickly, there are weapons to throw to,” Griffith said. “I’d like to see us get the running game balanced with it, but the inexperience there will take some time to develop. “I like what our offense has,” he added. “I think we’ll be able to do some things.” On defense, Griffith’s and his staff face a rebuilding process.  With losses that include Beyond Sports Network second team All-American safety Brecken Kennedy due to graduation, there will be many spots up for grabs when camp opens. “It’s tough to replace a guy like Brecken,” Griffith said. “He was a three-year starter and unit leader. We’ll need to look to some new faces to fill in at his spot and others on defense.” While the newcomers may populate some of the “D”, Griffith likes his front line anchored by senior Aron Miller (LaGrange, Ind.). “We’ve got some guys coming in that saw some time in those spots last fall,” Griffith said. “There will be a mix of juniors and sophomores and maybe even freshmen that could step in there.” Manchester University’s head coach also sees potential in the defensive secondary. The senior duo of Matt Frieden (Wabash, Ind.) and Jake Butler (South Bend, Ind.) each ended in the top 10 of the 2011 squad in tackles and will lead the way, according to Griffith. “We’ll look to both of them to guide a group of new faces,” he said. The linebacking corps’ slots are all open going into preseason camp. “It’s to be determined here,” Griffith said. “We lost all three starters due to graduation. Junior Dylin Kennedy (North Manchester, Ind.) did play very well in a back-up role last year, so there is a chance for good leadership.” Along special teams’ lines, the Spartans have senior Kyle Evans (Winamac, Ind.), the HCAC’s Special Teams Player of the Year, back to handle the place-kicking and punting duties. “It’s tremendously important to have a guy like Kyle coming back in this area,” Griffith said. “He’ll be a big plus with a fairly young offense where field goals may be the only solution from time to time. He will also be able to help our defense with his punting by changing the field position situation.” Griffith and his staff also have Monix for special teams after averaging better than 15 yards per punt return in 2011.

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