The theme for the Ferris State University football team in 2000 is "Can’t Stop Us Now." And it couldn’t be more appropriate as FSU begins the new millennium with aspirations of having an abundance of success which the Bulldogs grew accustomed to in the 1990’s. After all, Ferris not only captured five consecutive conference championships in the last decade (1992-96), but closed out the century by staking claim to its sixth league title as the Bulldogs were co-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) champions in 1999.
After registering a combined 8-13-0 record in its past two seasons prior to last year, Ferris was able to get back on the winning track as the Bulldogs compiled a 7-3 overall mark and a 7-2 first-place tying conference ledger due to an extent of having the NCAA Division II’s top-rated total and scoring offense.
"Our goal this year is to begin where we left off from last season," said head coach Jeff Pierce, who begins his sixth season at the helm of the FSU football program. "Last year’s success has reinforced our high expectations to once again achieve success. However, we all understand success won’t come from reflecting on last season’s accomplishments."
The Bulldogs will have a mixed bag when you analyze the makeup of this season’s squad. The good news is FSU welcomes back 32 letter-winners of which 11 started a season ago. But, the bad news is 19 lettermen will be absent, including nine who gained some type of post-season recognition. Moreover, the school’s career passing, rushing and receiving leaders are included in the departing group.
Pierce is guardedly optimistic about the 2000 season despite the losses of so many key players.
"Anytime you replace the type of individuals with the careers they’ve had, there’s going to be a concern," Pierce said. "But, we have some excellent players back on both sides of the ball. The key will be if our veterans can take their game to the next level and how quickly some of our people can step into new roles."
Quarterback – The task of replacing a three-year starter who finished as the most prolific passer in Ferris history and was the GLIAC’s Most Valuable Player in 1999 is something most teams would find very daunting. After all, Matt McCarthy’s 8,669 career passing yards and 62 career TD’s through the air is now the measuring stick for every Bulldog quarterback to attain. Junior Kyle Park (6-4, 200) is the heir-apparent to the record-setting McCarthy having served as his backup this past season. In seven career outings, Park has thrown for 305 yards while completing 65 percent of his aerial attempts. Waiting in the wings is red-shirt freshman Dan Richard (6-2, 184), an athletic signal-caller who has all the tools but is still in the process of becoming familiar with the offensive system.
Running Backs – Finding a replacement for tailback Mo Harris, the school’s all-time leading ground gainer (4,192 yards and 38 TD’s) and the GLIAC "Offensive Back of the Year" last season, obviously won’t be an easy task. Fortunately, the Bulldogs do return some experience in sophomore Mike Collins (5-10, 223), who’s already drawing comparisons to former FSU standout tailback Chris Pulliams. Collins is coming off a productive ‘99 campaign in which he finished second on the team in rushing with 438 yards while his 62 points were fifth highest among the squad’s scoring leaders. Red-shirt frosh Derek Fudge (5-9, 190) will provide quality depth at tailback. Sophomore fullback Brad Newell (6-2, 237) earned the starting job in the spring and will be backed up by another sophomore Aaron Burton (6-0, 246), a former linebacker. Neither has received extensive action at the position though.
Wide Receivers – Headlining the list of returnees is junior split end and All-America candidate Clarence Coleman (5-11, 184). The ‘99 first-team All-GLIAC receiver made his presence known in a big way this last fall with a single-season school record 1,124 receiving yards and 10 TD’s on 72 catches. Coleman, who already ranks fourth on Ferris’ all-time receiving list, garnered All-America recognition last season by USA Football, Don Hansen’s Football Gazette, and Daktronics after ranking in six national statistical categories and pacing the conference in both receptions and receiving yards. Sophomore Doug Searles (5-10, 188) will move into the starting flanker position, vacated with the graduation of the program’s career receptions leader Neal Mozdzierz. Searles performed well last season as Mozdzierz’s understudy with 22 receptions for 247 yards – the third highest output on the squad. Junior split end Lamar Patterson (6-0, 180), 15 catches for 130 yards in 1999, figures to see playing time as does sophomore flanker Robert Giles (5-10, 192).
Offensive Line – This area is facing a major rebuilding job with four of the five starters from a year ago gone via graduation. What the group lacks for in experience and size, however, is compensated for in athleticism and mobility. Senior Jason Losinski (6-2, 276), a second-team all-GLIAC pick last season, is back as the starting center for the third straight year and will bolster the middle of the line. He will line up next to junior guard Curtis Compton (6-5, 287) on the left side while senior Scott Pedigo (6-1, 312) will man the right guard spot. A pair of juniors will start at the tackle positions with Ryan Pohl (6-4, 286) occupying the left side and Dan Spitzley (6-4, 287) getting the call on the opposite end.
Tight Ends – Josh Heppner (6-2, 246) returns for his senior season and third year as the starter. He ranked fifth on the team in receiving a season ago with 17 catches for 209 yards (12.3 avg.) and three TD’s.
Defensive Line – One of the strengths where FSU returns three starters, including second-team All-GLIAC right end Dave Zuiderveen (6-5, 241) and All-GLIAC Honorable Mention left tackle Ryan Morris (6-3, 260). Zuiderveen was the Bulldogs’ Most Improved Defensive Player last season after leading the team in tackles for losses with 20 for 86 yards. Meanwhile, Morris accumulated a career-high 86 stops which tied him for fourth among the squad’s tackles leaders. The other returning starter is junior right tackle William Foster (6-2, 259). The projected starter at right end is junior Corey Rush (6-2, 232), but also pushing for playing time there is sophomore Bo Moore (6-2, 220).
Linebackers – Ferris’ top two tackles leaders are back in senior Rob Ridling (6-2, 209) and junior Charlie Pierson (6-0, 216). Ridling had a team-best 105 tackles while Pierson was right behind with 97 and led the Bulldogs in interceptions with three for 127 yards and a two TD’s. As a result of their ‘99 performances, both received honorable mention all-conference honors. With the outside positions solidified, the lone question mark is at middle linebacker where sophomore Rudy Lopez (5-11, 218) has the inside track going into the fall. A pair of red-shirt freshmen, Luke Piepkow (6-2, 215) and Caleb Cranford (6-1, 217) are also in contention for the starting job. Junior Adam Riley (5-11, 202), who started last season’s first two games before suffering a season-ending injury, and senior Jason Wells (5-10, 206), converted from strong safety, provide quality depth and flexibility.
Secondary – The Bulldogs return three of four starters in a unit which was tremendously improved in ‘99. Junior cornerback Ryan Hodges (5-9, 189) is back for his third season in a starting capacity while junior Devin Hutchings (6-0, 183) returns as the regular at the other corner. Sophomore DeRen Ellis (6-0, 159) is a capable reserve and could be the team’s most talented defender. Joining them at free safety is junior Alvin Grier (6-0, 202), who totaled 92 tackles last year en route to garnering All-GLIAC Second-Team accolades. Battling for the starting strong safety nod are junior J.J. Moreland (6-2, 208) and senior Mark Hufnagel (5-10, 193).
Specialty Teams – For the first time in the last four seasons, the kicking game won’t feature All-American punter-kicker Doc Proctor. With Proctor departing via graduation, fifth-year senior Brian McCullough (5-10, 190) will step up to the tee and seek to handle both duties although sophomore Nathan Twork (5-9, 188) could challenge in the punting area.