Football season preview and 2000 schedule
July 7, 2000
KALAMAZOO -- Life after Tim Lester.
The 2000 Broncos are not only searching for a new quarterback, but an identity as well. Gone to graduation is signal caller Tim Lester, who finished a brilliant career last fall as the owner of 17 school and six Mid-American Conference records. He also ranks fourth all-time in NCAADivision I-A passing (11,299) and sixth in touchdown passes (87).
While head coach Gary Darnell admits replacing Lester will be no easy task, understudy Jeff Welsh appears ready to step in as WMU's new leader. The 6-foot-3, 208-pound junior has shown great compo-sure, is a fine athlete and knows the WMU offensive system. Junior college transfer Ryan Harris turned in a solid spring and is the likely backup to Welsh.
The strength of Western Michigan's team is the receiving group led by All-America candidate Steve Neal (74 receptions, 1113 yards, 11 TDs). Neal ranks fourth all-time in MAC receiving yards and is a legitimate NFL prospect. Senior Corey Alston (32 rec., 720 yds.) has always been a big-play threat while junior Josh Bush (48-562) emerged as a reliable receiver last fall. It's not inconceivable that Welsh could have as many as 10-12 receivers to throw to this fall, including a pair of redshirt freshmen who stand over 6-4.
"We have about as unique a set of receivers as any team in the country," says Darnell. "You could take our receiving corps to any school in the nation and they would get the job done."
New offensive coordinator Brian Rock is fortunate to have a veteran offensive line and a 1,000-yard rusher in Robert Sanford to compliment the passing game. Sanford, who finished fourth among league rushers last season (91.0 yards per game), ranks third in WMU career yardage (2,648). His 163-yard performance against Marshall in the MAC Championship game proved just how good the 5-11, 223-pound back can be.
Offensive tackles Paul Lambert and Matt Stover, guard Jeff Hinson and center Colin Greczek are all returning starters on the front line.
Defense will go a long way towards determining what kind of
success the Broncos have in 2000.
The Bronco linebacker corps features veterans Mario Evans and Garrett Soldano inside with Terrence Moore covering the outside slot. Jason Malloy, redshirt sophomore Bryan Lape and Jermaine Foreste will backup.
WMU's defensive backfield is getting quicker and bigger with the addition of 6-5 safety Jermaine Lewis, who sat out last year after transferring from Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Lewis will be working along-side track teammate and corner Rashad McDade, giving WMU a speedy 1-2 punch in the deep secondary.
Ronald Rogers is an All-MAC candidate at the corner with SS Brandon Brown and CB Joe Ballard coming into their own as juniors. The kicking game is another strong area for Darnell's squad. Placekicker Brad Selent was the 1998 MAC Special Teams Player of the Year but lacked consistency last season. Selent could reclaim his spot as the league's best kicker with a strong showing this season.
Punter Matt Steffen finished fourth in the MAC with a 40.4 yard average as a true freshman, which included five kicks of 50-or-more yards.
WMU's return men are experienced and process good speed. On kickoffs, McDade posted the league's second best average (24.3) last season and is supported by Rogers, who returned a kick 88 yards for a touchdown last year at Toledo.
Punt returns feature Bush (11.3 avg.) and Neal (9.9 avg.), who platooned at the position last year.
"We have a chance to raise the bar this season," comments Darnell on his team personnel. "There are more guys ready to go than at any other time since I've been here."
The Broncos open with a pair of Big Ten road contests at Wisconsin (Aug. 31) and Iowa (Sept. 9) before hosting Indiana State on CommUniverCity Night, Sept. 16. WMU also renews its rivalry with Marshall, traveling to Huntington, W.Va., on Oct. 5 for a Thursday night contest. The game versus Marshall is scheduled for national television coverage on ESPN.
Home games are in bold. Asterisk (*) indicates MAC opponents.
Media contact: Daniel Jankowski, 616 387-4122; email@example.com