By BILL HANEFELD
BLUFFTON — Three straight wins to end the year and a new leader, head coach Denny Dorrel, have the Bluffton University football team excited to hit the gridiron in a few short weeks.
A stunning 24-17 victory over a Franklin team that went 31-1 in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference the past four years followed by a fourth consecutive win over rival Defiance College capped off a 15-day stretch that saw the Beavers go from 1-6 to 4-6.
With Coach Dorrel set to make his first impression at Bluffton, the Beavers will be all systems go when they kick off 2014 against Ohio Wesleyan in Salzman Stadium Sept. 6.
With over 70 returners set to descend on Bluffton in mid-August, Coach Dorrel will have an experienced group when he makes his first appearance as head coach. A defensive line that showed flashes of brilliance a season ago and a group of offensive skill position players with the ability to stress their opponents give Bluffton a solid foundation as the Beavers embark on the Coach Dorrel era. A fast-paced approach on both sides of the ball will give the Bluffton fans in Salzman Stadium much to cheer about as the Beavers utilize their speed and athleticism in 2014.
Back for his final season under center after a shoulder injury ended his 2013 campaign prematurely is fifth-year senior Nick Sheehan (Monroeville, Ind./Heritage). A leader both on the field and in the weight room, Sheehan completed 99-of-178 passing attempts with 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions in five starts a year ago. He threw for 1,182 yards despite missing the second half of his junior season. Providing the senior captain with a formidable challenge under center is none other than his sophomore brother, Conner Sheehan (Monroeville, Ind./Heritage). As a freshman, the younger Sheehan guided the ship when Nick’s season ended. He completed 90-of-175 passes for 1,158 yards with 10 scores while leading Bluffton to three straight wins at the end of the 2013 season.
Headlining the talented receiving corps is fellow senior Donovan Brown (Cincinnati/Purcell Marian) who established a new school record with 10 touchdown receptions, including the game-winning grab with just 35 seconds left in Bluffton’s win over Franklin last season. Brown hauled in 44 catches for a team-best 676 yards, the seventh-highest single-season total in school history.