The Eureka College football team opened preseason practice in preparation for the program’s 109th season Friday afternoon on campus.
The Red Devils will begin their fourth season as an associate member of the nine-team Upper Midwest Athletic Conference in 2012.
Under the direction of fourth-year head coach Kurt Barth, the Red Devils will be looking to build upon a 4-6 overall record and a 4-5 UMAC mark for sixth-place league finish last fall.
Barth has guided Eureka to 10 victories over eight different opponents since his debut season in 2009, the best three-year debut by a Eureka head coach since Nick Fletcher from 1995 until 1997.
A total of 19 players that earned at least one start in 2011 are back in uniform this fall, 16 of which started at least five contests. Seven regulars return on Eureka’s offensive unit, including two-time All-UMAC selection senior quarterback Sam Durley (Roanoke/Roanoke-Benson H.S.). Durley enters his senior campaign needing 58 completions, 186 passing yards and two passing touchdowns to break each Eureka career record held by former teammate Nick Lindsey (2006-09). Durley’s career totals of 365 completions, 5,359 yards and 43 touchdowns are the most by any active UMAC player.
Senior wide receiver Matt Dawson (Goodfield/Eureka H.S.) also returns for his senior campaign after hauling in 44 receptions for 520 yards and four touchdowns last season. Junior running back Corey Dawson (Farmington/Farmington H.S.) is back for his third season after leading the Red Devils with 167 carries and 592 yards last season. Four starters are returning on the offensive line for the Red Devils, including four-year seniors Jon Deedrick (Villa Grove/Villa Grove H.S.) and Mike Gruninger (Bloomingdale/Glenbard North H.S.).
Defensively, nine starters are back from a year ago, including the Red Devils’ entire front seven. Junior linebacker Jacob Carls (El Paso/El Paso-Gridley H.S.) returns after compiling 87 tackles to earn All-UMAC Second Team accolades. Four-year seniors Craig Wilson (Flanagan/Flanagan H.S.) and Josh Girard (Pekin/Pekin H.S.) will carry the load on the defensive line, while senior strong safety Murad Abbed (Danville/Bismarck-Henning H.S.) will anchor the secondary after recording 65 tackles and a team-high three interceptions last season.
Senior kicker Travis Huber (Morton/Morton H.S.) and senior punter Jordan Jefferson (Normal/Normal West H.S.) will highlight an experienced special teams unit. Both players have started the previous three seasons, and Jefferson was named to the All-UMAC Second Team in 2011.
Overall, Eureka boasts 35 returning letterwinners on its 2012 roster. More than 30 newcomers have joined the program for the upcoming campaign to give the Red Devils a roster near 70 student-athletes.
The Red Devils will conduct daily practices, meetings and other team events throughout the remainder of August. The team’s annual photo day is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Thursday at McKinzie Field. Eureka College fall classes begin Aug. 22.
Page 2 of 2 - Eureka will open the campaign on the road at longtime non-conference rival Knox at 1 p.m. Sept. 1 in the first Lincoln Bowl in Galesburg.
The eight-game UMAC schedule begins Sept. 8 at defending league champion St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minn. The Red Devils will host their home opener on Sept. 22 against first-time opponent and Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference member Simpson at McKinzie Field. Homecoming is scheduled for Oct. 6 against Martin Luther.