2004 Broncos Offensive Preview

Heading into the 2001 college football season the Western Michigan University Broncos found themselves in a position that caused them to stray away from the traditional route of recruiting mainly high school seniors. That recruiting season saw the Broncos sign more Junior College transfers than high school seniors.

Many of the Broncos faithful and passionate fans felt that the reason for the unusually high amount of recruits was brought about by events leading up to the Broncos two consecutive appearances in the Mid-American Conference Championship. Both seasons the Broncos ended up losing to the Marshall Thundering Herd in close games. In the weeks leading up to the 1999 and 2000 MAC Championship games Head Coach Darnell was interviewing for the Head Coaching job at several other universities. Some of the most die-hard fans feel that these job searches gave other MAC schools a recruiting advantage and made it possible to take potential recruits away from WMU causing the Broncos search through the JUCO ranks.

Since the Broncos appearance in the 2000 MAC Championship game the Broncos have not had a winning record at the end of the season. Last season's 5-7 record marked the third straight losing season for the Broncos. The Broncos began the 2001 with the best chance to win the MAC West Division crown with the return of Jeff Welsh at quarterback. However, Jeff Welsh went down with a fractured rib in the game against the Eastern Michigan Eagles that eventually punctured his lung and he sat out the next several games before coming back into the lineup in a game against the Toledo Rockets. In the game against the Rockets Welsh was rolled over on the sidelines causing him to separate his shoulder. Since that season the Broncos have been trying to find the right quarterback.

Heading into the 2004 season the Broncos are hoping that they have finally found the answer to the question mark at quarterback. The Broncos run a high powered, one-back, multiple-formation offense and the two things they have lacked since the visit to the 2000 MAC Championship game is a strong, quick and accurate quarterback and a strong group of blockers in front of the quarterback.

In the graduation of Jon Drach and Chad Munson they lost two good quarterbacks that complimented each other well but both had their moments. Drach was a mobile quarterback who didn't like to stay in the pocket and worked hard at getting better. Drach had a strong sense for the game and could read defenses as good as anyone, but his arm strength was probably his one weakness. Munson was a stay in the pocket passer who could throw a 70-yard bomb without blinking an eye. Munson was not as mobile as Drach and therefore he took more sacks than Drach did. Both quarterbacks were prone to throw interceptions.

Three seasons ago the Broncos brought in Mike Cummings as the coach of the offensive line. Coach Cummings passion for the game and his group of young men that he is responsible for is virtually unrivaled. Coach Cummings has been working hard with the offensive line and his efforts started to show results late in the season when Drach was able to take the Broncos into the locker room with a 17-10 lead at Connecticut. Drach finished with 391 yards passing while completing 29 of 41 passes. In the following game at Waldo Stadium against the Ball State Cardinals Drach completed 20 out of 23 passes including 13 in a row. His 20 completions gained the Broncos 250 yards through the air and insured the Broncos a 28-20 win.

Offensive Line

The 2004 Broncos will see a strong offensive line that returns quite a bit of experience. There will be two new starters in front of the quarterback one who will see his first action ever at the collegiate level. Redshirt freshman Robbie Krutilla and redshirt sophomore Joel Pfaendtner are one-two respectively on the depth chart will be taking over at center. Krutilla, 6'3" and 310 pounds joined the Broncos out of Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, Illinois. Pfaendtner, 6'4" and 308 pounds, hails from Macomb Township, Michigan where he starred in football at Dakota High School.

Redshirt junior Mark Ottney, 6'5" and 290 pounds, returns this season to again start at right guard. Ottney has become a soft-spoken leader of this team. Ottney quietly became a leader over the last two seasons. Ottney came to WMU out of Troy High School in Troy Michigan. Backing up Ottney will be redshirt freshman James Blair. Blair, 6'3" and 330 pounds joined the Broncos after graduating from Pershing High School in Detroit, Michigan.

Starting at left guard is 6'8"; 291 pound redshirt junior Walter Stith. Stith takes over for senior Kyle Ras who has been moved to the starting left tackle position. Stith went to Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, Georgia before joining the Broncos. Ras, 6'6" and 298 pounds, joined the Broncos out of Jenison High School in Jenison, Michigan.

Rounding out the starting lineup for the Broncos on the offensive line is junior Brandon James. James, 6'5" and 288 pounds, takes over at right tackle after the graduation of Chad Wangerin. James came to the Broncos after attending the Fork Union Military Academy. Last season James saw action in 8 games.

Tight Ends

Prior to the 2003 season the Broncos welcomed back former Bronco quarterback Tony Kimbrough. Kimbrough is entering his second year as the tight ends coach. He was not let down by any of the tight ends on the Broncos roster. When redshirt junior Tony Scheffler, 6'6" and 240 pounds, went down with an injury in the game against Michigan State last fall the Broncos called on sophomore Tyson DeVree, 6'6" and 235 pounds. DeVree and now graduated Anthony Kiner split playing time in Scheffler's absence. DeVree led all tight ends with 30 catches for 331 yards and 3 touchdowns. With DeVree and Scheffler the Broncos will use dual tight end sets to be able to use the talents of both student-athletes. DeVree and Scheffler's size make them excellent blockers and both athletes have some of the best hands on the team, which makes them reliable targets downfield.

Receivers

Year after year the Broncos have been known for having some of the best receivers in the Mid-American Conference and this year is no different. While losing starters Antonio Thomas and Kendrick Mosley to graduation, the Broncos return a strong cast of receivers. Most notably is Kalamazoo's own Greg Jennings. Following his sophomore season in which he set a new school record of 14 touchdowns while gaining 1,050 yards on 56 catches Jennings was named to the All-MAC Second Team. He was named the Broncos Most Valuable Player on offense and he was eventually named an All-American by the Southern Sports Weekly.

Senior Tyrone Walker returns as a starter and redshirt freshman Brian Jackson is listed as the third starting receiver. Both Walker and Jackson came to the Broncos after finishing their high school careers out at Sexton High School in Lansing, Michigan. Last season Walker finished 6th on the team in receptions with 12 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns. Backing up Jennings, Walker and Jackson will be Joe Chapple a redshirt sophomore from Glades Central High School in South Bay, Florida, redshirt senior Eugene Childs who was moved from cornerback to receiver and redshirt sophomore Justin Lemay. Childs came to the Broncos as a Junior College transfer out of Compton College and is from Inglewood, California. Lemay is another product from Florida where he attended Cardinal Gibbons High School in Ft. Lauderdale.

Running Backs

Last year the Broncos saw their running game rank 116 out of 117 teams nationally. The drop in the ranks is a drastic one considering the Broncos have had strong running backs over the years with running backs like Darnell Fields and Robert Sanford. Phil Reed gained over 1,000 yards in 2002 but throughout his career at WMU he was hobbled with injuries and suffered through his senior season and managed to gain just 744 yards. All three of the Broncos backs last season had an injury of some type at one point last season. The returning for the Broncos is Trovon Riley and Daniel Marks. Marks a redshirt junior from North Miami Beach High School out of Miami Beach, Florida was second on the team with 200 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns. He averaged 4.7 yards a game. Riley a redshirt junior from Kankakee, Illinois was sidelined due to injury for most of the season last year. Despite playing in only four games Riley was third on the team with 91 yards on 21 attempts averaging 4.3 yards per game and two touchdowns.

Quarterbacks

The most noticeable position on the field is that of the quarterback and once again the Broncos are going into the 2004 season with one question; who is the starting quarterback going to be. This is not going to be an easy question for Coach Darnell and quarterbacks coach Charley Molnar to answer. The Broncos have three redshirt juniors to choose from and an incoming freshman who was good enough to be actively recruited by 25 Division I schools. In terms of game day experience the leading candidate would be Ryan Cubit. Cubit transferred from Rutgers to WMU before the start of last season. Most fans remember his dad Bill as the offensive coordinator of the Broncos from 1997-1999. While at Rutgers the Scarlet Knights were in a situation where they were forced to start Ryan as a true freshman. That may have had something to do with his being injured in his sophomore season of 2002. In that season Cubit 64 of 141 passes for 657 yards, 5 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Also in that 2002 season three Rutgers quarterbacks were sacked 51 times for 355 yards. Do to NCAA regulations Cubit had to sit out last season, but because Rutgers did not redshirt him Cubit was able to be redshirted by the Broncos last season and maintained his two years of eligibility. So during the 2003 season Cubit was a member of the scout team. He was able to use that time to learn the Broncos offensive system.

The other leading candidate is Blayne Baggett. Baggett came to the Broncos from Walled Lake, Michigan where he played for Central High School. Baggett is the only Bronco quarterback to have actually played in a game for the Broncos. Baggett saw his first action in 2002 when he threw his first collegiate pass for a touchdown. Last season Baggett completed 4 out of 8 attempts for 79 yards and 1 interception.

Hot on the tails of Cubit and Baggett is Robbie Haas. Haas came to the Broncos after an outstanding freshman season at Ricks Junior College in Logan, Utah. Haas left Ricks Junior college as a freshman because Brigham Young University took over the college and shutdown the football program. As a freshman at Ricks, Haas completed 144 out of 252 passes for 2,123 yards, 25 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. His performance in the 2001 season earned him Western States Football League first team honors. Haas has the ability and will not sit back without giving Cubit and Baggett a fight for the starting job. Haas also has the teams highest G.P.A. at 3.80.

During the 2003-2004 recruiting season things got a lot more interesting as well as deeper at the quarterback position. With all the changes in place along Stadium Drive: the completion of the Seelye Center, the NexTurf in place in Waldo Stadium, the weight room and other projects, the Broncos decided to venture out into unfamiliar territory in recruiting. Instead of showing recruits pictures of what things will be like if they would come to Western Michigan University the Broncos can now show these recruits these facilities in person. So, the Broncos went into states they have not fared too well in over the years, Indiana and Ohio. In a conference that is known for producing quarterbacks that go on to have above average professional careers the Broncos recruiting efforts paid off before January 1, 2004 rolled around. Not even on his radar, Warren G. Harding High School standout quarterback Alex Engram was being recruited by schools such as Texas A&M, Nebraska, Kansas State as well as several Big Ten schools. However, in December the Broncos entered the picture. Maybe the success of the MAC against the BCS conferences in September had something to do with it. Maybe seeing quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger being recruited and starting at quarterback for a MAC school instead of as a wide receiver for a Big Ten school had something to do with it. Or maybe it was the facilities or all three factors. But whatever it was this Texas and Ohio All-State quarterback committed to the Broncos and was attending classes in January. In his third seasons as a junior at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas Engram completed 101 of 189 passes for 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns. In Warren, Ohio last year he threw for 1,508 yards, 19 touchdowns and just 1 interception. Most likely Engram will be redshirted this season, but as most Broncos fans have learned over the last few seasons that could possibly change if the need arises.

National Pre-Season Honors

Phil Steele's 2004 Top 41 Tight Ends

Tyson DeVree

Phil Steele's 2004 MAC Team

Mark Ottney – 1st Team Tyson DeVree – 2nd Team Greg Jennings – 3rd Team

Street & Smith's 2004 All-Americans

Greg Jennings – Honorable Mention

Athlon Sports 2004 All-MAC Team

Greg Jennings – Honorable Mention

2004 Offensive Recruits

Mark Bonds, RB – Bonds comes to Western Michigan University from Indianapolis, Indiana where he became the all-time leading rusher in Warren Central High School history as well as conference history. Rivals.com listed Bonds as the 33rd best back in the country. Following his senior season he was named to the All-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference First Team and he was a Bloomington Herald All-State selection.

Brandon Brady, RB – Brady ran for 786 yards and scored 12 touchdowns for Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, Minnesota last year while playing injured most of the season.

London Fryar, WR – Fryar earned Philadelphia Inquirer All-South Jersey First Team selection in 2003 for his efforts at Holy Cross High School in Delran, New Jersey. This Jobstown, New Jersey native stars as a wide receiver and is known for gaining a ton of yards after making a catch. Fryar was named to the All-State Third Team, All-Parochial First Team and to the All-Burlington County First Team. One thing is for certain; his abilities on the football field must be hereditary because his fathered played 18 seasons in the NFL with four teams; New England, Miami, Philadelphia and Washington.

Fernand Kashama, WR – Kashama is another early commitment the Broncos signed and was attending classes in January. Kashama earned a selection to the Toronto Sun All-Star Team after making 30 catches for 700 yards and 8 touchdowns last season for Notre Dame Secondary School in Brampton, Ontario. Kashama was also a three-time All-Conference selection while at Notre Dame Secondary School. He has brothers that are already playing in the NCAA at Michigan and at Uconn.

Ryan Lecher, TE – After playing three seasons at Cardinal Monney High School in Sarasota, Florida Lecher transferred to Eisenhower High School in New Berlin, Wisconsin. Lecher was named Woodland Player of the Year as well as being a Wisconsin Coaches Association All-State Honorable Mention while earning All-Area, All-County and All-Suburban selections.

Brandon Ledbetter, WR – Ledbetter caught 23 passes for 570 yards and 9 touchdowns for Saint Thomas Aquinas High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida last year. His efforts earned him a Miami Herald All-Broward County pick, a spot on the Dade-Broward All-Star First Team, and a Miami Dolphins Player of the Week selection.

Mike Onaga, TE – Onaga joins the Broncos after catching 39 passes for 393 yards and 5 touchdowns for Saint John Vianney High School in Holmdel, New Jersey. This Matawan, New Jersey native earned an All-Monmouth County First Team as well as All-Shore First Team.

Marc Orosz, RB – Orosz was another strong recruit the Broncos were able to sign. The Broncos beat out Syracuse, Rice and Rutgers in signing Orosz out of Cherokee High School in Marlton, New Jersey. Orosz was chosen South Jersey Player of the Year and Burlington County Player of the Year after rushing for 1,808 yards and scoring 25 touchdowns last season. Orosz was selected to the New Jersey North-South Game.

Jamarko Simmons, WR – Simmons was recruited by Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Michigan, Michigan State and Toledo, but this Flint Central High School graduate decided to go to school on the other side of the state. Simmons comes to the Broncos after Prep Star Magazine named him one of the top 25 players in Michigan. After his 55 catches resulted in 657 yards and 11 touchdowns Simmons was named to the Detroit Free Press All-State Team, First Team All-Saginaw Valley and an All-City selection.

Jerome Vann, WR – Vann is the second recruit for the Broncos that comes from Indiana. Vann is the owner of several of LaPorte High School's records. Vann owns career and season records for receptions. He owns game, season and career standards for receiving yards. His 2003 performance earned him All-State 5A selection. He was named to the South Bend Tribune Dream Team, the LaPorte Herald Player of the Year and Michigan City News Dispatch and Gary Post Tribune All-Area teams. He was also chosen Duneland Conference Most Valuable Offensive Player of the Year.

Matt Williams, OL – Williams was the only lineman the Broncos recruited this year. He comes to WMU after an outstanding high school career at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Indiana. Williams earned Bloomington Herald All-State and IFCA All-State selections. He was selected to the North-South All-Star Game and was twice named to the Hoosier Crossroad Conference Team. Williams was named Hamilton Southeastern's Outstanding Lineman in 2003.

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