Bethany Program Wants to Take the Next Step
By JERROD PLATE
BETHANY — Looking to continue its climb up the ladder in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference, the Bethany football program will turn to a solid nucleus of returning starters to improve on a .500 record from a season ago.
Entering his fourth season at the helm of the Bison, Coach Bill Garvey has placed the the club in a position to flourish during the past few seasons. The Bison have not had a conference record below the .500 mark since Garvey took over the reins of the program, and Bethany is coming off back-to-back Eastern College Athletic Conference Bowl-eligible seasons as it heads into 2016.
The Bison were selected sixth in the PAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll at the conference’s annual mendia day, held on the campus of Saint Vincent College. Bethany garnered 167 points in the poll, which was voted on by coaches, sports information directors, and members of the media. Representing the Bison were fourth-year head coach Bill Garvey, as well as fifth-year senior, defensive back Aaron Frye.
“We are really looking forward to continuing to improve and move forward in 2016,” said Garvey, who addressed members of the media. “A sense of balance and consistency are going to be key factors for us in competing at a high level in the conference.”
Thomas More, who the Bison will see on the schedule for the first time since 2013, was picked as the preseason favorite earning 351 total points and 24 first-place votes. It was followed in the poll by Washington & Jefferson (303 points, three first-place votes) and Case Western Reserve (292 points, four first-place votes). Westminster (280 points) and Carnegie Mellon (252 points) finished fourth and fifth, respectively, with each earning one first-place vote. The Bison then followed in sixth.
“Top to bottom, this might be the most balanced that our conference has been in years,” Garvey said. “Five different teams are earning preseason recognition in one poll or another and we are going to need to bring our best every week to stay in the hunt.”
Following the Bison at six, the rest of the poll shook out with Saint Vincent (156 points), Waynesburg (145 points), Geneva (96 points), Thiel (75 points) and Grove City (61 points) holding down spots 7-11.
Along with the poll, a list of “Players to Watch” was released, with seniors, Frye, running back Jalen Holmes, wideout Tyler Ambush, linebacker Donavan Hayden, and sophomore defensive tackle Daniel Gibson adorning the list.
“Our goal as players is to be able to win a PAC title,” Frye said on his thoughts for the upcoming season. “I returned for my final year of eligibility because I wanted to be able to help lead this team to heights that haven’t been seen by the program since the 80s.”
The defensive side of the ball is where the Bison see a bulk of their returning starters, including three-time All-PAC honoree Frye and two-time second team all-conference linebacker Donavan Hayden. Hayden comes into 2016 having posted back-to-back 100-plus-tackle seasons, becoming just the second defensive player in Bethany history to accomplish the feat. He tallied 109 stops during the 2015 campaign, ranking second in the conference. Along with those numbers, Hayden totaled 12 tackles for loss and forced a trio of fumbles.
Senior Matt May will join Hayden on the starting linebacking unit, getting his first chance to be an every-day starter for the Bison at middle linebacker. May will aim to recapture the form of his sophomore season when he totaled 46 tackles, including 10 for loss.
On the defensive front, the production of former American Football Coaches’ Association (AFCA) All-American defensive end Nadim Raddar, will need to be replaced. For that, the Bison will look to sophomore defensive tackle Gibson to pick up the slack.
Gibson had an all-conference season in 2015, registering 50 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. He also led the Bison in forced fumbles with four.
Along with his solid numbers from his freshman campaign, Gibson also cut his teeth on international play, when he competed as a member of Team USA in the U-19 World Championships in Chiba, Japan.
Rounding out the defense, a three-time all-conference honoree in Frye will anchor the secondary and look to help improve the Bison’s pass defense that ranked eighth in the PAC last season. Frye ranks second among all of the Bison’s returning players in total tackles, having amassed 57 in 2015.
Joining Frye in the secondary is sophomore Daulton Freeman, a St. Clairsville graduate who burst on the scene as a freshman with a pair of interceptions. With a nose for the football, Freeman finished the year with eight total passes defended, ranking second on the roster.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Bison will look to replace the PAC’s all-time leading receiver in Eric Blinn during the upcoming campaign. However, another Bison record holder appears to be up to the challenge.
Last season, Holmes had the best year by a back in Bison history as he set the single-season rushing record in both yards (1,353) and touchdowns (14). In 2015, Holmes spent the year as the feature back in the Bison offense, posting 226 carries and averaging 5.6 yards per rush. He scored at least one touchdown in nine games and eclipsed the 100-yard mark six times.
In order for Holmes to have the same success, the Bison will need to replace four starters from an offensive line that helped the unit rank third in the PAC in rushing yards per game last year.
The lone returner for the O-Line is senior James Norkus who is back for his final year of eligibility at the center position.
At the receiver position, senior Tyler Ambush is ready to make a name for himself as the Bison’s top aerial threat. The speedy Ambush finished the 2015 season with a career-high six touchdowns, while posting 18.1 yards per catch.
The Bison will open their season Saturday, Sept. 3 as they play host to Ursinus College in Bison Stadium. The remaining home games on the schedule include dates with Westminster College (Sept. 24), Case Western Reserve (Oct. 8), Grove City College (Nov. 5) and Saint Vincent (Nov. 12).
Among the quarterbacks listed on the roster is Chase Kinemond. A 2013 graduate of Shadyside High School, he played four years under head coach Mark Holenka and was named first team All- Eastern District, first team All-OVAC, All-Valley and All-Ohio at defensive back. Kinemond also participated in wrestling, baseball and track.
Sept. 3: Ursinus Noon
Sept. 10: at Geneva 7 p.m.
Sept. 17: at Thiel 1 p.m.
Sept. 24: Westminster 6 p.m.
Oct. 1: at Carnegie Mellon 6 p.m.
Oct. 8: Case Western 2 p.m.
Oct. 15: at Wash. & Jeff. 6 p.m.
Oct. 29: at Thomas More Noon
Nov. 5: Grove City 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 12: Saint Vincent 1 p.m.
Win 5, Lose 5