Spring is here for the Valparaiso University football team as the players prepare to take the field for the first official spring practice next week.
The Crusaders will look to capitalize on the momentum they gained by closing out the first winning season since 2003 in unforgettable fashion last fall as they hit the gridiron in hopes of elevating the program’s recent success to a new level in 2018.
Strong depth allowed Valpo to redshirt a large number of freshmen this past fall, and this spring will mark an important progression for that group.
“It’s key for our redshirt freshmen to get comfortable with our offensive and defensive schemes,” head coach Dave Cecchini said. “Most of the improvement that redshirt freshmen are going to make will come this spring; that’s when things really start clicking. They’re comfortable with the team and the college lifestyle. They know what’s expected of them, they’ve worked hard over the offseason and they’re starting to see the fruits of their labor.”
One position where redshirt freshmen will have a chance to slide into a key role is at tight end. Mason Sutter (Woodstock, Ill. / Woodstock) is back for his senior season and is the projected starter at that spot. A pair of redshirt freshmen, Brett Bittner (Chicago, Ill. / St. Laurence) and Alex Kluck (Cedarburg, Wis. / Cedarburg), will have the opportunity to show what they can do this spring.
Quarterback Jimmy Seewald (Livonia, Mich. / Divine Child) underwent offseason shoulder surgery and will miss the spring season. Seewald, who threw for 2,602 yards as a sophomore and already ranks sixth in program history in career passing yards (4,045), is expected to be ready to return in August.
Seewald’s absence during the spring will allow Chris Duncan (Woodland Hills, Calif. / Woodland Hills-Taft) to receive significant snaps. In addition, Valpo’s young quarterbacks, two of whom are freshmen who redshirted, will have an opportunity to step up and show they can run the offense.
With Jarrett Morgan set to graduate, the competition for Valpo’s starting running back spot will begin this spring. Kyle Cartales (Loxahatchee, Fla. / Cardinal Newman), Cody Boxrucker (West Chester, Ohio / Badin) and Elias Earley (Land O’Lakes, Fla. / Carrollwood Day) are all in the mix. Regardless of who wins the starting job, all three are expected to see playing time and hold key roles in Valpo’s offense.
Jean Rene (Delray Beach, Fla. / Wellington Community) is Valpo’s leading returning receiver in terms of total receptions. He will be limited during the spring after undergoing hip surgery. Bailey Gessinger (Napanee, Ind. / Northwood) will see significant time at slot receiver, while Griffin Norberg (Sunrise, Fla. / Western) will start the spring as Valpo’s top split end. Deuce Larose (Fort Lauderdale, Fla. / Cardinal Gibbons) is among the young wide receivers who have a chance to make a nice jump this spring. He made three catches, including one for a touchdown, as a true freshman this past fall.
An offensive line that was youthful during the 2017 campaign has remained intact, with center Jack Jarnigan (Los Gatos, Calif. / Los Gatos) leading the way. Tom Schofield (Chicago, Ill. / St. Rita) is back after earning second team all-conference honors last season.
After having an injury-riddled season on the defensive line, the Crusaders have several individuals back in the fold. Jesse Studyvin (Barnhart, Mo. / Saint Pius X) will return after receiving a medical redshirt, while James Reed (De Soto, Mo. / Saint Pius X) battled injuries for much of 2017 and is ready to go this spring.
There’s little drama when it comes to Valpo’s starting linebacker spots. Veterans Drew Snouffer (Columbus, Ohio / Upper Arlington) and Nick Turner (Gurnee, Ill. / Warren Township) are back at the inside linebacker positions after finishing second and fourth in the PFL, respectively, in tackles. Mike Wheeler (Fullerton, Calif. / La Habra) and Austin Petrie (Livonia, Mich. / Stevenson) return at inside linebacker.
After being away from the team during the 2017 season, Christian Campbell (South Bend, Ind. / Washington) is back with the Crusaders. He is currently recovering from an ankle injury and should see limited action this spring. Isaac Lane (Naperville, Ill. / Bolingbrook) is also back in the secondary after missing 2017 with a knee injury. In addition, young players will have significant opportunities in the secondary this spring.
Both starting specialists return as Dimitrios Latsonas (Westmont, Ill. / Westmont) and Alex Ng (Royal Palm Bach / Wellington Community) are back after strong seasons at kicker and punter, respectively.
Brent Brimmage (Indianapolis, Ind. / Park Tudor) is another player to watch this spring as he has an opportunity to do something no Crusader has done previously during Cecchini’s head coaching tenure. Brimmage bounced back and forth between wide receiver and defensive back as a freshman in the fall, and could be a true two-way player in 2018. He has the skill set to contribute as both a nickelback and wide receiver while also playing a key role on special teams.
The Crusaders, who enter the spring with a roster of 84 players, officially begin practice on Wednesday, March 28 and will hold their annual spring game on Saturday, April 21. Coaches who wish to attend spring practice are welcome to do so as long as they reach out to a member of the Valpo coaching staff in advance. The spring game is open to the public.
2018 Valparaiso Football Spring Schedule
3/28 - 4:10 p.m.
3/30 - 9:45 a.m.
4/2 - 4:10 p.m.
4/4 - 4:10 p.m.
4/6 - 4:10 p.m.
4/7 - 9:45 a.m.
4/9 - 4:10 p.m.
4/11 - 4:10 p.m.
4/13 - 4:10 p.m.
4/14 - 9:45 a.m.
4/16 - 4:10 p.m.
4/18 - 4:10 p.m.
4/20 - 4:10 p.m.
4/21 - Spring Game (11 a.m.)
4/23 - 4:10 p.m.