CANTON, Ohio -- On Tuesday afternoon at the Ohio Athletic Conference's 2019 Football Media Day, the Heidelberg University football team was selected to finish the upcoming season sixth by both the OAC coaches and the media.
"I'm really excited about this year's team," said Donaldson. "This senior class will be my first senior class that I recruited as a head coach at Heidelberg and I'm super optimistic to see what they can do this season with their returning experience."
After Donaldson concluded with a season outlook, Pecoraro took the podium to address the media regarding the team's well-known "Tubby Gang" slogan. A combined effort between fellow senior Matt Davenport and the nicknamed "Pork-belly Pec" led to the creation of the group.
"We take pride in the group," said Pecaroro. "It's a great way for our freshman to feel included right off the bat and truly feel apart of this group of guys."
Later, Belcher spoke with S&S Media addressing the expectations on the field as a senior: "As always, we're trying to compete for a championship … we have the type of talent to compete with any team in the OAC."
Below is how the coaches and media voted in the preseason polls for the conference standings:
A new opponent and a mid-season bye week highlight the schedule for the 2019 Heidelberg Football program, under the direction of fourth-year head coach Scott Donaldson. The Student Princes, who look to improve upon 2018's 5-5 record, have graduated a wealth of talent … but are excited about student-athletes stepping in to fill the void.
"As we are each and every year, my staff is optimistic about the group of returners and the corps of incoming first-year student athletes," said Donaldson. "The mark of a strong program is having guys chomping at the bit ready to step into the spotlight … and I think we have a lot of those guys in our locker room."
Offensively, Maceo Matthews and Keivon Belcher return as key weapons at receiver. Branden Short and Jace Grossman return as the main options in the backfield. Brad Wienhold and Malakye Nall return to help bolster the o-line for offensive coordinator Jason Lewis. Tight end Nick Cofer has shown play-making abilities with his blocking and receiving.
The biggest question mark for The Berg is at quarterback. Losing 2018 starter Trace Reynolds (now on staff as a graduate assistant) to graduation, HU will likely turn first to Jimmy Gephardt. In place of an injured Reynolds, Gephardt was 22-for-28 for 276 yards and threw four touchdowns in a Week 10 win over Ohio Northern.
"We'll look to get back to a traditional pro-style offense in 2019," said Donaldson. "I think we'll have a balanced attack … with speed out wide and punishing runners in the backfield, we will look to move the ball effectively."
Defensively, Heidelberg returns all five players up front – including Collin Pecoraro, Matt Davenport and Zachary Blackiston, a first team All-OAC honoree as a freshman and a D3football.com preseason All-American this year. Defensive coordinator Branden Jakubcin will turn to Tyler Matuszak and Elijah Brechbill as his on-field generals in the linebacking corps and secondary.
"Obviously, our strength on the defensive side lines with the guys up front," said Donaldson. "With the depth we have, we will be able to rotate guys in and out to create a more effective rush."
The graduation of All-American Austin Baker signals a casting call for the punting and place-kicking duties.
"Probably our biggest challenge heading into camp will be to find the right guy or guys to fill Austin's shoes," said Donaldson. "It's never easy to replace a starter – let alone a record-setting All-American."
Heidelberg opens the season with an evening game on the road Sept. 7, 6 p.m. at Adrian College. The Student Princes and Bulldogs have not met since the 2005 season. Heidelberg and Wilmington have moved their game – originally slated for October 5 – up to September 14. The swap results in a bye after the fourth game of the season.
Family and Fellows Weekend (September 21 vs. Capital) and Homecoming/Hall of Fame Day (October 19 vs. Otterbein) are both scheduled for 7 p.m. starts.
All 10 games can be heard live on WTTF AM-1600 / 93.3 FM and WTTF.com.