By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The official statistics say Butler men's basketball players handed out 464 assists during their memorable run to the NCAA championship game this past season.
Butler football coach Jeff Voris would give the Bulldogs at least one more assist. March Madness occurred during his team's spring practices and the Final Four was played in Indianapolis, where Butler is located. The football team soaked in the tournament and some members, including Voris, attended some of the final games.
"To be able to go through that as Butler students, I think that was part of our [team's] spring," the fifth-year coach said. "That experience they had was one of those unique things that you can use as a team-building opportunity."
The basketball program and its historic Hinkle Fieldhouse cast a shadow over the rest of Butler athletics, but Voris and the football program are holding their own with regard to raising the bar of success. Last season at Butler Bowl, just east of the fieldhouse, the Bulldogs set the program's single-season record for wins while finishing 11-1, shared the Pioneer Football League title and then earned their first postseason win, a 28-23 triumph over Northeast Conference champion Central Connecticut State in the Gridiron Classic.
Just as Voris gave the football program a facelift, the Butler Bowl, originally built in 1928 as a 36,000-seat stadium and then downsized significantly through the years because of other structures on campus, is getting a similar overhaul this offseason. The seating capacity will increase to 5,500 and the press box is being renovated.
"The Bowl steadily has become fuller and fuller each Saturday afternoon as the program has kind of gotten back to where it once was," Voris said.
The Butler Bowl's renovation is timed perfectly because Bulldogs fans figure to be treated to another superb season. Offensively, Butler returns junior quarterback Andrew Huck, the Gridiron Classic MVP who threw for 21 touchdowns and rushed for another 10 on the season, senior running back Scott Gray (868 yards, five touchdowns) and junior wide receiver Zach Watkins (78 receptions, 10 touchdowns) as well as veteran linemen Donnie Gilmore, Mike Staniewicz and Pete Mattingly.
Junior defensive end Grant Hunter is among the FCS' best at getting to quarterbacks - he had 10 sacks last season. The Bulldogs defense also returns the likes of linebackers Nick Caldicott, their leader in tackles, and Andrew Cottrell, safety Mark Giacomantonio, and cornerbacks Tadd Dombart and Jack McKenna. Each is a junior.
Butler even returns place-kicker David Lang, whose 27-yard field goal with one second left in the regular-season finale against co-PFL champion Dayton put the Bulldogs in the Gridiron Classic, and punter Michael Wilson, who was adept at pinning opponents inside their 20-yard line.
"We went into the spring with the idea that every year you're going to start over, and rebuild the foundation and the things that got us to where we were last year," Voris said. "There are a lot of guys back, but you're moving in all those younger guys as they're coming off redshirt seasons. So we're trying to create an identity again.
"The message we were sending from day one is the way we're going to be perceived by other teams in the league is going to change, but our approach to the game is not going to change - it can't change. We're based on consistent preparation and taking care of the little things, leaving no stone unturned and making sure that we're ready to play each play because you don't know when the big one is coming."
The Gridiron Classic, however, is effectively over because the NEC champion will advance to the expanded FCS playoffs for the first time. The 10-school PFL applied for an automatic bid for its champion, but was not granted one.
AROUND THE FCS
- Eastern Kentucky hasn't done itself any favors by scheduling a three-game season-opening road stretch at Missouri State (Sept. 2), Louisville (Sept. 11) and Chattanooga (Sept. 18). The Colonels, from the Ohio Valley Conference, have lost 16 straight non-conference road games, dating to a 35-28 overtime over Liberty in 2002. Still, coach Dean Hood returns some key talent from a 5-6 squad, including cornerback/kick returner Jeremy Caldwell, defensive tackle Andrew Soucy and quarterback T.J. Pryor.
- Weber State of the Big Sky Conference is a traditionally strong program that faces a decline this season. Not only do the Wildcats open at Boston College and close the regular season versus Montana and then at Montana State, Northern Arizona and Texas Tech, but they lost a slew of outstanding players, including their all-time leading rusher Trevyn Smith and all-time leading receiver Tim Toone. In addition, fullback Bo Bolen, who made The Sports Network All-America Second Team as a redshirt freshman last season, is on a two-year LDS Mission.
- Give Maine credit, or call the Black Bears crazy. Their homecoming game on Oct. 16 in Orono is against defending FCS champion Villanova. The Black Bears were 5-6 overall and 4-4 in CAA Football last season, but get back two key players, fullback Jared Turcotte (sports hernia) and linebacker Mark Masterson (foot), from season-ending situations of a year ago.
- Texas-San Antonio won't begin play in the FCS until 2011, but it already has signed contracts for future games or series against seven FBS programs: Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, Colorado State, Houston, Kansas State and Louisiana Tech. The Roadrunners, who are led by former Miami-Florida head coach Larry Coker, plan to make the jump to the FBS by 2014.
- The FCS' top five quarterback possibilities for the 2011 NFL Draft, according to nfldraftscout.com, are Delaware's Pat Devlin (No. 3), Northern Arizona's Michael Herrick (25), Weber State's Cameron Higgins (26), Texas Southern's Arvell Nelson (27) and Prairie View A&M's K.J. Black (38).
- Not many former FCS players were selected in the recent United Football League draft (12 rounds of five players each). They were offensive lineman Andre Barbour from Eastern Kentucky (Hartford Colonials), linebacker Erik Pederson from Portland State (Florida Tuskers), offensive tackle Cliff Washburn from The Citadel (Las Vegas Locos), wide receiver Cortez Hankton from The Citadel (Florida), wide receiver Bobby Guillory from Missouri State (Sacramento Mountain Lions), defensive end Chris Perri from Stony Brook (Florida) and running back Alex Henderson from Northern Arizona (Las Vegas).
- The University at Albany, an FCS member in the Northeast Conference, will be the training site for the New York Giants for a 15th straight summer, beginning Aug. 1, and there is a two-year option to have the Giants train on campus through 2012.