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Blend of youth and experience featured by BG

Coming off a Mid-American Conference West Division Championship and Motor City Bowl victory, the Falcon football team is attempting to build on the success of their 2003 season.

With 16 players returning from the Motor City Bowl starting lineup, the 2004 Falcons are loaded with talent and have seasoned leaders to guide this team.

The major question all off-season has been the quarterback position. With the departure of Josh Harris, who was drafted in the sixth round of the NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens, BG will turn to Omar Jacobs to lead its high-powered offensive attack. Jacobs has impressed the team early on in camp with his passing skills.

“Omar is more accurate than Josh was,” senior receiver Cole Magner said. “I think that will help him a lot with keeping the chains moving. Josh had those intangibles (to win games) and I think Omar will get those.”

Despite the difficulty Jacobs faces of having to replace Harris, he is confident in his abilities and is comfortable with the players around him.

“Just from sitting back and watching (as a backup), now it’s all on me,” Jacobs said. “I’ve got to take the reins and step up. I’ve got big shoes to fill, but with the supporting cast, I’ll be OK.”

That supporting cast, led by Magner, who set single-season BGSU records for receptions (99), receiving yardage (1,138), and all-purpose yards (1,592) last year, will be counted on to bring this offense to a top-notch level once again. Joining Magner in the highly touted receiving corps are Charles Sharon, James Hawkins, Steve Sanders, and Cornelius McGrady, all of whom caught at least 29 balls in ’03. Sharon and Magner each had 10 touchdown receptions last year, becoming the first tandem to have double digit touchdown receptions in the same year in school history.

The receivers have grown through their years at BG together and are fully prepared to continue their excellence on the field.

“We are very confident,” said Magner. “We have an old group of receivers that know what they’re doing. It’s the same offense we’ve run for four years and everyone’s getting smarter each year.”

At running back, the Falcons bring back both P.J. Pope, who led the team last year with 1,005 yards rushing, and B.J. Lane, who has the highest yards per carry average in BGSU history at 6.4. Pope was named First Team All-MAC a year ago and will be looked upon to establish the running game in order to open up the passing game. Lane brings an explosiveness to the field when he spells for Pope, which is a nice change of pace to throw opposing defenses off.

The offensive line is led by sensational center Scott Mruczkowski, who is entering his final year at BG and has already been receiving attention as a possible All-American and a candidate for the Lombardi and Rimington Awards. He has started all 37 games he has played in his career, beginning at left guard before being switched to center last season.

Andrew Hart returns at left tackle, along with Andy Grubb at right guard, and Rob Warren at right tackle. Redshirt freshman Kory Lichtensteiger has been impressive and is penciled in at the starting left guard position.

“Lichtensteiger has emerged and is doing a great job playing guard,” said Falcons head coach Gregg Brandon, now entering his second season leading the team. “He’s a real talented athlete. He was an excellent high school basketball player and is very light on his feet for a 300 pound kid. He’s like a dancing bear out there… Kory will be a special player here before he is done.”

On the defensive side of the ball, BG returns eight starters from a year ago, including the entire defensive line.

Defensive end Mitchell Crossley, who led the team with nine sacks last year, anchors the experienced line. Nose guard Mike Thaler brings stability to the line after recording 62 tackles and two sacks while stuffing the middle last season. Tackle Matt Leininger is a force teaming up with Thaler in the trenches, but will miss a yet to be determined amount of games to start the year for breaking a team rule. Brad Williams and Monty Cooley are expected to fill in for Leininger until he returns. End Devon Parks brings a quick rush from the outside, where he recorded 47 tackles and five sacks a year ago, to apply pressure to opposing pass attacks.

The linebacking core is seasoned and understands what it takes to be successful in defensive coordinator Tim Beckman’s system. Senior Jovon Burkes is a leader at middle linebacker and led the linebackers in tackles (78) and sacks (4) last year.

“With the team this year, we have a lot of guys who have started, so we have a mature defense,” said Burkes. “Coach Beckman does a great job with game planning, so if we ever slack at anything, he knows how to fit the schemes to stop the offense.”

Daniel Sayles and Ted Piepkow will play on the outside. Sayles quickness allowed him to have three sacks and nine tackles for loss last season. Piepkow emerged last year to record 76 tackles and four pass breakups.

BG’s secondary will be closely watched in the early going this year. With the loss of Janssen Patton, who’s seven interceptions a year ago was a team-high, Jason Morton, and Michael Malone, the Falcons will look to senior Keon Newson for leadership. Newson started five games at cornerback and nine at safety last year, while leading the MAC with six forced fumbles and the Falcons in tackles with 121. He is slated to start at strong safety for now, but depending on how the rest of the secondary plays, he could be moved back to corner.

“We need to get our four best players in the secondary on the field and whether it’s with Keon at safety or Keon at corner, that’s a work in progress,” said Brandon.

Much of that depends on the play of new starting corner Terrill Mayberry. If Mayberry is able to step in and play well at corner, the Falcons will have no problem leaving Newson at safety, Brandon said.

Senior T.J. Carswell brings consistency to the free safety spot, where he recorded 76 tackles a year ago. Jelani Jordan also played some safety a year ago, but is currently expected to start at corner. Last year, Jordan played solid in the secondary and record 83 tackles, with one interception and six pass breakups.

On special teams, senior Shaun Suisham is back at kicker and Nate Fry returns as the punter. Suisham was up and down last year, hitting 14 of 20 field goal attempts and struggled some on kickoffs.

“Suisham needs to have a better season and Shaun is very capable,” said Brandon. “He’s an outstanding kicker. He just needs to get back to the form he had two years ago.”

Fry averaged 40.2 yards per punt on 49 attempts last year. He had a long of 71 yards, while booting seven punts inside the 20.

“Nate Fry, I thought, had a decent year last year. We could do some things with him as far as trying to place the ball,” said Brandon.

Sharon will take care of punt return duties, where he can make things happen with his quick burst and agility with the ball in his hands. Lane and Magner will be on kickoff returns, where Lane steps in to take over for Patton.

The team is shaping up well for the tough season that faces them. Game one is on the minds of everyone as the Falcons have the daunting task of traveling to play Oklahoma on September 4. BG will play six games on the road this year, while hosting five at Doyt L. Perry Stadium.

Coach Brandon is well aware of the difficult schedule that lies ahead.

“I think the biggest challenge (this season) is we have some tough road games. We go to Northern Illinois on a Friday night, and a lot of these kids were here two years ago and we got ambushed… we’ve got to be ready to play that game. Everybody in the MAC is tough, but to get back to where we want to be, we need to win the (MAC) West and then we’ve got to take it from there.”

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