BETHANY - The Bethany football team will open the new season Saturday with its stiffest challenge in head coach Tim Weaver's seven-year tenure, as the Bison play host to 2011 playoff qualifier Centre (Ky.) College. Kickoff at Bison Stadium is scheduled for 1 p.m.
Bethany is also coming off a productive season as its 5-5 mark last year gave the program back-to-back .500 records for the first time since 2000-2001. With 21 seniors coming back from those teams, that experience helped drive the program to have a strong camp and the Bison are primed for the kickoff of the 2012 season.
''Our camp overall was very, very good,'' said Weaver, who is fifth all-time at Bethany in victories. ''We were able to install everything we wanted to. We are fortunate to have tremendous veteran leadership and they set the tempo and demeanor of everything. Our attrition with the newcomers was low, but I credit the veterans for helping with that as much as the young guys.
''We also found a couple new players that can step in and play right away, which we weren't expecting.
''They showed us they can play and help right away and that is a big boost for our depth.''
The Bison are a veteran group on both sides of the ball coming into 2012 with 17 starters back. On offense, junior quarterback Matt Grimard returns after setting a new BC single-season record with 2,685 total yards last fall. He'll be protected by four returners on the offensive line, which is bookended by senior tackles Bryan Benzinger and Nick Gore.
On the defensive side of the ball, where the Bison led the PAC in yards allowed last year (281.1), five seniors will spearheaded the efforts. On the front line, defensive tackle Blake DeBord is back for his third year as a starter in the middle, while the linebackers will feature seniors Kyle Arrington, a three-time All-PAC selection, and Gage Lotozo, who made 40 stops last year. In the secondary, cornerback Jeff Joyce is coming off back-to-back All-PAC honors and safety Simeon Young steps into the starting line-up.
Even with all the experience returning, the surprises of preseason camp were found in some of the freshmen. First-year linebacker Tyler Vincent has positioned himself for playing time on the defense, while receiver Eric Blinn will see extensive time on offense. Weaver is also thrilled with a stable of four freshmen quarterbacks that will provide solid depth behind Grimard.
''The two major surprises are that we'll have freshmen contribute this year at linebacker in Tyler and wide receiver in Eric,'' Weaver said. ''They were highly rated coming in, but they climbed over people on the depth chart and will see significant playing time.
''The other surprise is that our recruiting class at quarterback is very strong. We recruited four guys and they can all play. So we feel real good about the depth behind Matt, our ability to move the ball in JV games and the future of the position.''
Centre lost some of its experience that helped it to a 9-2 finish in 2011, which included a victory in the opening round of the NCAA playoffs before a 30-10 loss to eventual runner-up Mount Union in the second round. The Colonels lost 10 starters from that team, but 63 lettermen are back, so another big year is expected. Centre was ranked 12th in Lindy's preseason poll and they were first among ''others receiving votes'' in the D3Football.com poll.