Building Depth among the Safeties

During the 2002 football season the Western Michigan University Broncos relied heavily on a young corps of safeties. Despite the youthfulness of this corps of safeties one thing remained constant, they would keep the Broncos in most of the games they lost by ten points or less. This year the Broncos return most of their safeties and during the recruiting period they went out and signed a hard hitting junior college transfer and three high school seniors.

Leading this year's corps of safeties is former walk-on and returning team most valuable player, senior Jason Feldpausch. "With Feldpausch coming back we got a proven player," said safeties coach Wally Ake. Last season Feldpausch was among the conference leaders, second on the team, in tackles with 104 tackles (49 solo, 55 assisted). He also intercepted 3 passes and in a game against Toledo he returned a fumble 59 yards for a touchdown.

Through out the toughest non-conference schedule the Broncos have ever played in, the safeties were able to keep the team in the games. But due to the lack of depth came away on the short end of the scoreboard in games they was just two or three plays away from being a Bronco victory. "You get down to the eight, ninth game of the season and if you have usually been playing the same guys, they're no longer as fast as they were at the start of the season, they're not quite as fresh," said Coach Ake. You do get worn out playing those games; it's a physical game."

The Broncos head into the 2003 season losing just Carlos Smith and Jermaine Foreste to graduation. Despite the departure of Smith and Foreste, sophomore Kevin Ford and junior Scott Robinson look to solidify the Broncos safety corps at free safety and strong safety. "Kevin Ford, he's played, he started about two games last year and was rolling in and out and has experience at the free safety," said Coach Ake. "I expect a lot of good things from him." Last season Ford recorded 36 tackles for the Broncos (21 solo, 15 assisted). When asked what his personal objective for the 2003 season was Ford responded, "I just want to probably bulk up a couple more pounds and basically get everything sound. Be complete out there at my game, totally sound to a tee. That's all I want."

Despite being a sophomore, Robinson has become a solid presence in the Broncos secondary recording 55 tackles (21 solo, 34 assisted) and two interceptions. Coach Ake had nothing but good things to say about Robinson, "Strong safety Scott Robinson comes back and with Anthony Turner pushing him I think we will have a good race and will be competitive so that will help Scott to continue and get better, go to a new level."

Backing up Feldpausch is Shawntey Lopez, a junior college transfer that is still learning the Broncos system but has made his presence felt already, "With Shawntey Lopez coming in as a junior college transfer he's got ability, he's just got to learn the schemes," Coach Ake said. "The key right now is not really reacting he's still thinking trying to do those. He can't be instinctive but he's a hitter and he'll run to the football."

Senior Christian Hodges and redshirt freshman Jon Hall look to get some playing time behind Ford and Robinson. However, it is this second group of safeties that Coach Ake spent quite a bit of time bringing along. "We've got to get a second unit that is actually guys we can put in the ball game at anytime, anywhere to keep the ones fresh and that they are going to be able to execute what we ask them to do, confidently," Coach Ake told Broncos Illustrated. "I think we will be adequate in depth, two deep, we ought to be able to roll people through which we weren't able to do last year at all the positions, I think we will be able to keep fresh safeties and good players on the field next year. So, that's what we're really trying to do. Get our first group up to a new level, championship level and build our second group up to where they're at really starter quality and we can confidently play them. So, when we are playing a twelve, thirteen, fourteen game schedule now, we will have depth throughout the season."

Also returning for the Broncos is sophomore Dan Lemke, redshirt freshman Brett Stewart, and redshirt junior Mark Hardy. Hardy recorded 6 tackles in 9 games last season. Joining the Broncos for the 2003 season are freshmen Darrell Copeland, Derek Szafranski, and James Ellison. Copeland comes to Western Michigan University out of Jonesboro High School in Jonesboro, Georgia. Last season Copeland recorded 96 tackles (54 solo, 42 assisted) and two interceptions on defense. On offense he gained 108 yards on 14 catches scoring three touchdowns. Szafranski is a local product out of Harper Creek High School in Battle Creek. Szafranski was perhaps the first commitment for the Broncos in the 2002-2003 recruiting season when he verbally committed to the Broncos in October of 2002. Ellison joins the Broncos out of Western International High School in Detroit, Michigan.

Ellison should become a fan favorite in the seasons to come for the Broncos. With the kind of senior season he had at Western International it is hard to imagine why not. He finished the season with 168 tackles (125 solo, 43 assisted), 8 interceptions and 5 forced fumbles. As a running back he gained 1,200 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. He also added 500 all-purpose yards and returned 4 kickoffs for touchdowns.

Talking to Robinson and Ford would give anyone the opinion that anything less than a MAC Championship would be disappointing. When asked if he had any personal objectives for the season, Robinson replied, "just win the championship. Helping, doing our part, just like we did last year and doing our part helping out the offense in practice as much as we can. So we can go on as a team and be number one."

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