By Tim Glon
ADA — The Ohio Northern football team is optimistic entering the 2019 season under 16th-year head coach Dean Paul.
The Polar Bears are coming off an injury-plagued 2018 campaign, going 5-5 overall.
Despite having 39 different players start games, including 24 different players on defense, ONU posted an upper division finish in the Ohio Athletic Conference for an impressive 22nd time in the past 24 seasons, tying for fifth in the 10-team OAC with a 4-5 league record.
"One positive aspect of the struggles with injuries we had last season is that we have a large number of players returning that have starting experience," Paul said. "We anticipate that experience will provide for intense competition for playing time, which we believe will benefit our team in 2019."
Northern took a group of players to Europe in May and played an exhibition game against the Allgau Comets in Kempten, Germany.
With a limited roster against quality competition, the Polar Bears gained invaluable experience, rallying for a hard-fought 9-7 victory against their top-level German Football League hosts.
"Our trip to the Swiss Alps and Germany was a fantastic experience for our players," Paul said. "Many of our players were put into more significant roles, competing against a high-caliber opponent, and performed very well. This game helped these players gain valuable experience."
Here is a preview of the 2019 ONU football team, by position.
The Polar Bears return one of the most talented group of skill players on offense in school history.
Junior All-American Christiaan Williams (Sydney/Anna) returns healthy in 2019 after missing the 2018 season due to injury.
Williams ranks 7th all-time in ONU history with 2,831 career rushing yards in two seasons and has run for more than 100 yards in 16 of his 19 career games.
McFadden has 2,624 career passing yards with 26 touchdowns and a 60.5 completion percentage and is 7-4 in his 11 career starts.
Martin ran for 756 yards, and 13 touchdowns as a freshman, while splitting time at running back.
Junior running back A.J. Marks (Guysville/Alexander) will likely move to the slot and join junior returners Ryan Rockwell (Broadview Heights/Saint Edward) and Chase Rose (Kenton/Upper Scioto Valley) to give ONU a talented receiving corps.
Marks ran for 631 yards and six touchdowns last season in the backfield with Martin.
He showed his versatility against the Comets in Germany, where he ran seven times for 22 yards and a touchdown, caught three passes for 47 yards and had five tackles and two pass break ups on defense. He also returned the opening kickoff 31 yards for an even 100 all-purpose yards.
Rockwell has eight starts at tight end and will likely move to receiver and Rose has eight starts at receiver, giving ONU good experience and talent catching the ball.
Senior Ethan Hale (Galena/Big Walnut) also returns as a lettermen and will join the battle with 16 other offensive linemen to compete for the three open spots.
"We are excited about the skill positions we have on offense," Paul said. "This offensive backfield has the chance to be one of the best we have ever had at Ohio Northern. We have a couple of holes to fill on the offensive line, but we think we have guys ready to step into those roles."
Haseleu led the team and tied for eighth in the OAC with 86 tackles in his first season as a starter on the outside last season.
Niles is a two-time All-OAC pick and has 173 tackles in 16 career starts. He also has seven starts at middle LB last year, where he earned First Team All-OAC honors.
Senior cornerback Jaymar Hines (Cincinnati/Marian) made great strides during the offseason and was terrific against a former NCAA Division I receiver from Allgau in Germany. He will join sophomore starter Nate Dean to give ONU a solid pair of cornerbacks.
Senior Tyler Soltis (Northfield/Nordonia), juniors Gianni McCrea (Miami, Fla./Southwest), Ty Pegram (Medina), Conor Powell (West Jefferson) and Drew Staczek (Walbridge/Cardinal Stritch) and sophomores Landon Plank (Ashland) and Jevon Taylor (Fort Wayne, Ind./North) all have improved and started games in the defensive backfield to give ONU a deep and talented secondary that is expected to be more productive.
Senior Ben McGinnis (Cincinnati/Oak Hills), juniors Jarrett Sitton (Paulding) and Kyle Yoho (Heath) and sophomores Gabriel Hirsch (Elyria/Catholic) and Kedarius Woodfork (Brownsville, Tenn./Haywood) all return with starting experience on the defensive line.
"We were not happy with the way we played defense last year," Paul said. "Hopefully the added experience of our young guys starting games will benefit us this season. We expect that our depth and experience will create better competition and push everyone to be more consistent. To be one of the to programs in the OAC you must play good defense and we are determined to do that this season.
Three sophomores, Dom DiFalco (Murrysville, Pa./Franklin Regional), Aaron Everhart (Ada) and Cameron Hollander (Mariemont), will battle with the incoming freshman kickers for the kicking and punting duties this season.
DiFalco lettered as the kickoff specialist for the Polar Bears last season, averaging 54.1 yards per kickoff with four touchbacks in 58 attempts.
Everhart is a good athlete that handled most of the punting duties on the JV squad.
Hollander had a great spring and nailed a 40-yard field goal with 2:48 left in the game to win the game in Germany.
"We have several capable kickers on the squad this season," Paul said. "DiFalco was solid on kickoffs for us and Everhart and Hollander kicked on our JV team, waiting their turn on the varsity. We feel very good about all three of these guys."
The Polar Bears open their 2019 schedule with a night game at NCAA Playoff participant Denison, who went 9-2 a year ago.
Northern follows with two more road games at Muskingum and Wilmington before opening the home schedule with a night game against Otterbein at Dial-Roberson Stadium.
October's schedule features Marietta at home on Oct. 5, a bye week on Oct. 12, a road tilt at another playoff squad in John Carroll on Oct. 19 and a Homecoming date with Capital on Oct. 26.
The Polar Bears will play at national runner-up Mount Union on Nov. 2 and will end the regular season with home games against Baldwin Wallace (Nov. 9) and Heidelberg (Nov. 16).