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Football Team Looks For a Fresh Start In 2005

(Posted September 1, 2005)

Senior captain Peter Thomas will help lead Juniata into the 2005 season.

Huntingdon, PA - The Juniata College football team enters the 2005 season looking for a fresh start. After a rocky 2004 season in which the Eagles dealt with a preseason coaching change and injuries to key players, Juniata is looking to start with a clean slate in 2005. With 12 starters back in the fold, and a talented incoming freshman class added to the mix, the Blue and Gold expect the 2005 season to be a solid first step in building a program that will compete for conference championships.

Juniata posted a 1-9 record in 2004, with its victory coming against MAC opponent Lycoming. The victory was the first Eagles triumph over their conference rival since the 1987 season. Despite the struggles in 2004, Juniata Head Coach Darrell Alt believes a new attitude and some new game plans will help the Eagles field a more competitive squad in 2005.

"We're really focusing on being a process-driven team and on establishing a solid work ethic," Alt explained. "The guys have been extremely positive and enthusiastic. They are really pushing each other and we've seen a very dedicated group effort thus far."

Along with the changes in attitude, Juniata will also undergo an offensive facelift under the direction of new offensive coordinator Gabe Luvara. Along with a more traditional pro-style offense, one of the biggest changes offensively in 2005 will be behind center. After the graduation of record-breaking QB Greg Troutman, the Eagles will likely turn to freshman transfer Jason Leonard (Big Spring/Newville) to run the offense. Leonard comes to Juniata from Division II Shippensburg, and took all of the snaps from center during the team's spring practices.

Leonard will have the benefit of handing off to an experienced back as junior Duane J. Ehredt Jr. (Bellwood-Antis/Tyrone) returns to the Eagle backfield. In his first season as a starter, Ehredt Jr. rushed for 690 yards in 2004, and topped 90 yards in four of the final six games.

Juniata's receiving corps also returns some familiar faces, most notably senior John Boyer (Indian Valley/Belleville) and junior Jason Koch (Kutztown/Kutztown). Koch led the team in all receiving categories in '04 as he hauled in 39 receptions for 480 yards and six touchdowns. Boyer has held a starting spot since his freshman season, and already ranks in the Juniata top-10 in career receptions and receiving yards. Senior tight end Gerry Miceli (Mechanicsburg/Mechanicsburg) may also seen a greatly increased role in his final season.

The Eagles offensive line will have some holes to fill as three starters graduated from the blocking corps. There is a great deal of depth, however, at the offensive line spot, as a large group of juniors could battle for starting time. Several of the team's most heralded recruits are also lineman, and seeing several of them earning starting nods would not be out of the question.

"We think we've got some real talented guys who can make things happen on offense," Alt stated. "Jason Leonard has shown some great leadership early on, and plays with a lot of confidence. Duane is a very intelligent and hard-working player and gives us a great rushing option. Jason and John are both accomplished receivers who play with great toughness. Our offensive line has the potential to take their play to levels we haven't had in the recent years at Juniata."

Defensively the Eagles bring back several of their top players from a season ago as the team has seven returning starters in the fold. Juniata's attempt at employing a more positive mindset and attitude will also be seen on defense as the unit that suffered some rough patches last season looks to become more consistent.

"We're preaching to the guys that they need to focus on playing each individual series to the best of their ability," Alt said. "We don't want them thinking about what happened earlier in the game, or even earlier in that same drive. The attention needs to be on fighting this particular fight and we want them to show dedication to each series."

The group with the most potential to lead the defense may be the linebackers, highlighted by three-year starter Peter Thomas (Mechanicsburg/Mechanicsburg). Thomas has ranked among the leaders in the MAC in tackles in each of his three seasons, and could be an All-Conference threat as a senior. He leads a talented, experienced group of 'backers that have the ability to rank among the strongest in the conference.

Juniata's defensive line has some holes to fill after the graduation of a pair of starters. Senior Adam Black (Huntingdon/Huntingdon) will move outside after seeing considerable time at defensive tackle in his first three seasons. Ryan Hileman (Central/Williamsburg) has the physical abilities to be a strong force at another defensive end. Josh Gulley (Dubois/Luthersburg) should get the starting nod inside, and after a strong spring, could be poised for a breakout year. While not long on experience, the Eagles boast as deep a defensive line crew as the team has had in several seasons.

An improvement in the secondary could play a major role in an overall improvement from the Eagles defense. Senior Troy Beaver (Bellwood-Antis/Bellwood) had a pair of picks as a junior, and has the mindset to be a top-level corner. Sophomore Matt Schmidt South Western/Spring Grove) nabbed three interceptions as a freshman and should only improve in his sophomore season.

"We think there are some players on this defense who can really help us improve," Alt stated. "Peter Thomas is just a natural leader, and really should be a contender for All-Conference honors. Troy has the athletic ability and the confidence to play corner at a high level. He knows that he's going to make plays. Overall there should be some guys who take their games to new levels this season."

Alt also places a big emphasis on special teams play and that should be an area where the Eagles could excel this season. The special teams will be anchored by punter Jesse Leonard (Shade/Johnstown), and kicker Dan Heinlein (Bishop Carroll/Ebensburg). Leonard was an All-Conference choice in 2003, and should contend for that spot again this season. Heinlein will be in his third season as the team's starting kicker.

Juniata kicks off the fall season with 47 players who have spent at least one year in the Juniata system. The onus lies on those returning players to help foster the new attitude and energy that Alt has strived to bring to the football program. With that new attitude, and a host of new faces, the team has a chance to make the most of its new start in 2005.

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Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.