The pendulum is swinging in the right direction for sixth-year head coach Jim Glogowski and the Simpson football team in 2013.
After bursting on the scene with seven wins in his first year as head coach in 2008, Simpson went 5-15 the next two seasons. But the team gained momentum with a 5-5 mark in 2011 and went 6-4 a year ago, setting the stage for more optimism and higher standers in 2013.
"It takes senior leadership," Glogowski said of keeping the program moving in the right direction. "We need to lead by example and the program needs to grow. How we practice on a daily basis and how we prepare for each opponent will determine what happens on Saturday afternoon."
The team was close to breaking through last year, as three of the four losses came by a combined 16 points. Signature wins over Wartburg and Central provided optimism, but a big loss against Coe provided room for improvement.
"[To get to the next level] we need to stay healthy, we need to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves, we need to take it one week at a time and we need to have a few bounces go our way," he said.
The Storm return 33 letterwinners and 11 starters from last season's squad that finished tied for second in the Iowa Conference with a 4-3 mark in league play.
Offensive coordinator Joe Beschorner's unit returns a number of key pieces from a group that put up more than 400 yards per game in 2012. Headlining the returners is First Team All-West Region performer and preseason All-American, Brad Vogel. The speedy Vogel is one of the most explosive players in the nation, averaging more than 220 all-purpose yards per game as a receiver, returner and running back in 2012. He led the Iowa Conference with 81 catches for 1,116 yards to go along with 10 touchdowns as a slot receiver and gained 165 yards on 12 carries out of the backfield. Seniors Mike Kuhn – a 2011 honorable mention all-conference pick – and Ryan Olson will assist Vogel with pass-catching duties.
"I love our receiving corps," Glogowski said. "Vogel is one of the top receivers in the league and Kuhn had a great summer, so we will rely a lot on him. There are also opportunities for guys who have been in the program to step up, as we certainly like to throw the ball around."
The man in charge of getting Vogel & Company the ball is three-year starter and second team all-conference quarterback, Taylor Nelson. The senior already owns school records for passing completions, pass attempts and total offense and looks to improve upon his 25-touchdown, 13-interception campaign a year ago. He threw for 3,030 yards and also proved to be a threat on the ground with 214 yards and six touchdowns.
"Taylor will be a leader for us and needs to play like a four-year starter," Glogowski said of his quarterback.
The Storm have a deep stable of running backs with plenty of game experience, led by three-year starter, Michael Chia. A senior, Chia suffered a season-ending injury in week five last season, but is back in full swing this year. Junior Ethan Calvert led the team with 278 rushing yards a year ago, while junior Tyler Kenny provided 237 yards. When Simpson uses two backs, senior Jared Bevins is the incumbent at fullback. A solid blocking back, Bevins is also a capable pass catcher out of the backfield. Senior tight end Jake McCulley returns for his fifth year after missing all of 2012 due to injury. The 6-3, 240-pounder will provide solid blocking ability and another receiver for Nelson, as he enters the season with 25 career grabs.
"I really like our backs," Glogowski said. "Those kids have all played a lot of football for us, from Chia, to Calvert, to Kenny. McCulley and Bevins need to support the run game and be viable pass threats."
The offensive line will have to fill holes left by three starters from a year ago, but have a big, solid nucleus returning. Senior Patrick Thompson will lead the group after earning second team all-conference honors at right tackle a year ago. Junior Nathan Christian started all 10 games at left guard, helping the line allow a league-low 11 sacks in Iowa Conference play.
"Up front we will be young, but athletic," Glogowski said. "It is one of the biggest o-lines we have had and I expect them to improve over the course of the year."
Simpson returns four starters on defense, although that number isn't an accurate portrayal of the amount of experience coming back.
"The perception is that we graduated everybody, and we did lost some quality seniors off the 2012 team," Glogowski said of his defense. "But we also have 23 seniors this season and several on defense that played a lot last year."
The defensive line provided a big spark for the Storm in 2012, contributing 28.5 of the team's 31 sacks. A key part of that was the play of junior end Johnnie Sims, who earned honorable mention all-conference honors after tying for the team lead with seven sacks. Senior David Adams is the top returner on the interior after tallying 4.5 sacks a year ago. Senior end Clay Finley, senior tackle Aaron Gaynor and junior tackle Alex Severn were all a part of the regular rotation and should help cause problems for opposing teams at the point of attack.
"I really like our athleticism up front," Glogowski said. "Finley and Sims are guys that really have good athleticism and should be solid for us. Adams is a big, strong tackle along with Severn. I expect those two to provide toughness in the middle."
The linebacking corps will have a different look after the departure of starters Mark Cronin and DJ Bennett. But junior Brandon Abernathy and senior Dillan Hamilton should fill the holes on the outside, joining senior middle linebacker, Ted Haag. The 6-0, 230-pound Haag is a veteran of Glogowski's scheme and will provide leadership as one of the defensive team captains.
"Haag is a fifth-year guy and really understands what's expected of him," Glogowski said. "Abernathy is poised to break out this fall and Hamilton has been patiently waiting for his opportunity and should not disappoint."
The secondary is an area of opportunity for Simpson in 2012 with open competition at almost all positions. Senior cornerback Corey Sterling has the most game experience after making six starts and 24 tackles in 2012 and senior Sean DeGoey is the lead candidate to step into one of the safety positions. DeGoey appeared in eight games and made 13 tackles a year ago.
"In the back end we have several veterans that should step in for guys that graduated," Glogowski said. "Sterling, DeGoey, and Russ Fairfield (Sr.) have played a lot of football here, while Cole Wigert (Sr.) and Reid Ryan (So.) have shown the ability to make plays."
The special teams unit is loaded with returners in 2013. The aforementioned Vogel is the team's top returner, earning D3football.com First Team All-West Region honors a year ago. A two-time, first team all-conference performer, Vogel returned 32 kicks for 818 yards – highlighted by a 93-yarder for a touchdown against Eureka – and 11 punts for 104 yards.
A pair of kickers saw action for Simpson in 2012. Strong-footed junior Logan Klein led the Iowa Conference with 18 touchbacks and helped Simpson lead the league in kickoff coverage while averaging 41.1 yards per punt. He made 22 of 27 extra point attempts and went 3-for-7 in field goals. Senior Brian Schaaf got in on the placekicking action at the end of the season, making 8 of 9 extra points but going 0-for-3 in field goal attempts.
"I feel good about both kickers we have back and Vogel has the ability to be a game-breaker in the return game," Glogowski said.
Iowa Wesleyan, Sept. 7
Simpson kicks off the season by welcoming Iowa Wesleyan to Division III football. The Tigers – a provisional member of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference – make the move from NAIA, where they went 3-8 a year ago. The home opener should have extra meaning for Simpson president, Jay Simmons, as he came to Simpson from Iowa Wesleyan in July.
at Gustavus Adolphus, Sept. 14
The Storm travel to St. Peter in the hopes of avenging last year's disappointing, turnover-riddled 35-26 loss at home. The Gusties finished 3-7 overall, 2-6 in the MIAC and have endured four straight losing seasons.
UW-River Falls, Sept. 21
Simpson won last year's season-opener, 31-22. River Falls finished 2-8 last season and hasn't had a winning season since 2000.
at Wartburg, Oct. 5
Simpson will have an extra week to prepare for Wartburg with the bye coming on Sept. 28. The Storm are coming off of back-to-back wins over the Knights, including last year's 20-19 thriller in Indianola. The Knights return seven starters from last year's 6-4 team that went 4-3 in the IIAC.
Central, Oct. 12
It's homecoming weekend in Indianola as Simpson welcomes the Dutch to Buxton Stadium. Simpson won last year's matchup, 21-18 in Pella, but Central returns 15 starters from last year's 5-5 team.
at Loras, Oct. 19
Simpson handled Loras 28-7 at home in 2012, but must go to the Rock Bowl this season. The Duhawks boast 11 returning starters looking to improve upon last year's 2-8 finish.
at Coe, Oct. 26
Simpson was 5-1 and riding high before suffering a 47-7 homecoming loss to the eventual conference champion Kohawks last year. Coe returns seven starters led by preseason All-American, offensive lineman Nathan Yelton.
Dubuque, Nov. 2
Dubuque won a 45-40 shootout in Dubuque last season after building a 38-6 lead in the third quarter. The Spartans return a handful of starters from last year's 5-5 squad but must replace 2012 IIAC Offensive MVP, quarterback Wyatt Hanus.
Buena Vista, Nov. 9
Simpson just missed a field goal as time expired in a 29-27 loss in Storm Lake a year ago. The Beavers went 4-6 overall, 4-3 in the league and return 12 starters.
at Luther, Nov. 16
Simpson halted a three-game losing streak with a 21-10 win over the Norse in last year's season finale, capping an 0-10 season for Luther. First-year head coach Aaron Hafner inherits nine starters in 2013.