Coming off a second-straight trip to the NCAA Division II playoffs and another Great Lakes Valley Conference championship, the University of Indianapolis football team is preparing to return to the gridiron once again this season. Despite returning 15 of 22 starters from last year’s squad, the football team will present some new faces at a few key positions.
For the first time since 2011, someone besides former quarterback Chris Mills, who graduated this past year, will step in to the helm the position under center, entering the first game of the season.
Redshirt junior quarterback Connor Barthel is that individual, and due to an injury received by Mills midway through last season, Barthel will enter this season with experience already under his belt and a Pre-Season All-American First Team nod by a national panel from the USA Football Network, Inc.
“It [filling in at the position last season] gave me great game experience leading into the offseason,” Barthel said. “Knowing that I would be the starter going into the next season just made me confident throughout the whole summer that I knew what I was doing with the offensive line and the receivers with getting the timing down and running.”
The Greyhounds will return nine starters from last year, with Mills and former running back Klay Fiechter departing, which is something Barthel said will be beneficial to being comfortable and familiar with one another on that side of the ball.
“It [having nine starters back] is going to be huge, just as an offense,” he said. “Hopefully, we will be able to pick up right where we started last year in perfecting small things that we didn’t necessarily all have last year.”
Barthel said that he believes this year’s experienced offense has the capability to be equally dangerous in both the run and pass game.
“We are excited about everything that we can do,” he said. “Some people are asking if we are going to run or pass the ball more, and we really don’t know. We have a great offensive line and great running backs, where we could run the ball, and then we have great offensive linemen for protection and great receivers, where we could pass the ball. We have a lot of options that we are going to explore and become the best offense that we are capable of being.”
On the defensive side of the ball, however, only six players return for the Greyhounds this season.
Senior defensive back Koby Orris, who will be a returning starter this season as a member of the USA Football Network, Inc. Pre-Season All-American Second Team, said that despite losing three defensive linemen, one linebacker and one defensive back, he believes each position of the defense will be prepared by the start of the season.
“I think every position group has at least one veteran guy that has played a lot of football, and so hopefully at least at every position we [the experienced starters] will have the [new] guys going and playing well,” he said. “We know what it takes. So I think that is going to be our biggest job this year as senior leaders.”
On special teams, senior kicker Scott Miller will return to helm the position as a USA Football Network, Inc. Pre-Season First-Team All-American, while senior Pavel Polochanin will be the lone punter on this year’s roster.
Miller, already an owner of several records for a kicker at UIndy, is just 26 points away from surpassing Fiechter as the program’s all-time leading scorer.
Unlike last season, when UIndy began the year with back-to-back home games, the Greyhounds will begin this season with three consecutive road games, starting with the Saginaw Valley State University Cardinals. The opening match up this season between the Greyhounds and Cardinals will feature two in-region teams that both appeared in last year’s playoffs.
According to Head Football Coach Bob Bartolomeo, the Greyhounds, rather than looking ahead of how the schedule is arranged, will approach each game one at a time.
“It’s a tough schedule—three games in a row on the road to start with, and then four out of the first five—but that’s the way it was [for our schedule] in 2012,” he said. “So it [playing three-straight road games] is no excuse. With the conference realignment, we were expecting to have a home game that third week, and it just didn’t happen. We are going to play our schedule the way it is set, and we will not have any excuses for it.”
Looking at the upcoming season as a whole, however, Barthel said that he believes this year’s Greyhound team is capable of accomplishing something that has never happened in program history.
“I have no doubt—with the coaching staff, work ethic and dedication that we have—that we can make it to the national championship and make a huge impact on this university, going further than we have gone before,” he said.
The Greyhounds will get the 2014 season on the road against Saginaw Valley State University on Saturday, Sept. 6, with kickoff scheduled to take place at 7 p.m.