With a forgettable 2014 season in the rear view, eighth-year head coach Jim Glogowski and the Storm have their sights set on a fresh start in 2015. Simpson returns 14 starters and 40 letterwinners from last year's team that is looking to make a 3-7 campaign a distant memory.
Glogowski's coaching staff underwent a number of changes in the offseason, most notably at offensive coordinator. Joe Beschorner – who came to Simpson with Glogowski in 2008 – left to take the same position at NCAA Division II powerhouse Minnesota State-Mankato. His replacement, Jeff Judge, is a name familiar to Storm fans. The veteran coach helped the Storm to Iowa Conference Championships in 1996 and 1997 as the defensive coordinator, spending six seasons in Indianola the first time around (1994-99). Judge spent the last three seasons as the defensive coordinator at Defiance College. Before that, he enjoyed a nine-year tenure as the head coach at Anderson University.
Staying healthy will be a key to Simpson's success. A rash of injuries plagued the team down the stretch in 2014, a major reason the Storm lost their last seven games after a 3-0 start. Among the injured last season were all-conference defensive end Clay Finley and all-conference wide receiver Nate Connealy. Seniors a year ago, both were granted an extra year of eligibility and return for their fifth year.
"We are excited about the group we have coming back," Glogowski said. "With a veteran offensive line and plenty of other returning players across the board, we fell we have the pieces in place to compete for the IIAC championship."
Despite the regime change, don't expect many drastic changes in the offense under Judge. Simpson will still feature an up-tempo offense with the goal of getting the ball to playmakers in space. Although a strong emphasis will be placed on the running game, the passing game may become more prominent. Simpson ran the ball the 1.5 times per pass last year, but Judge has a history of putting it in the air. His Anderson squad led Division III in passing offense in 2003.
The strength of the offense – and the entire team – lies in a big, experienced offensive line. First Team all-Iowa Conference center Corey Meyer anchors the group, along with second team left tackle Blake Bergstrom. The group returns all five starters from last season and adds former defensive lineman Dustin Ihns to the mix. Arguably the best line in the Iowa Conference, Simpson's big men average 6-foot-4, 290 pounds across the board.
Jordan Beem gets the honor of running behind the stout offensive line. An honorable mention all-conference running back in 2014, the shifty junior led the team with 516 yards a year ago and averaged 4.2 yards per carry. Senior fullback Julius Foster also returns. Utilized more for his blocking, the 6-foot, 240-pound Foster is a capable pass-catcher out of the backfield after making nine catches in 2014. Senior tailback Jared Grove and a deep stable of newcomers will also vie for playing time.
For the first time in Glogowski's tenure, the game-one starter at quarterback is very much in question. Three likely candidates will compete to run Jeff Judge's offense: senior Braedon Tovey and sophomores Caleb Frye and Sammy Sasso. Tovey is the most experienced of the group, taking snaps in eight games last year and starting two. He threw for 317 yards and rushed for 58 and two TDs in his starting debut, a loss to Loras. Frye appeared in relief of the injured Tovey early in the season finale against Luther, going 5-for-8 for 61 yards and a TD on a snowy November day. Although he didn't appear in a game in 2014, a solid spring season put Sasso in contention.
The receiving corps gets a boost with the return of Connealy, who saw his season come to a close with a knee injury in the 2014 season opener. An honorable mention all-league performer in 2013, he joins fellow senior Corbin Clark as the top returning pass catchers. A vertical threat, Clark led the team with four TD receptions and 15.5 yards per catch. Junior tight end Nathan Russell (6-3, 240) caught a TD pass and will provide a big, reliable target for the new starter.
Nowhere were the injuries felt more than on defense in 2014.
Through three games, the Storm had one of the top defenses in the nation, allowing just 5.3 points per game and causing nine turnovers. Throughout the final seven games, opponents averaged nearly 35 points while the defense generated just nine more turnovers.
Despite losing a pair of all-conference performers in the interior, the line could make up the strongest unit of the defense. Play-making ends Finley and Chris McKinnon – who missed the final four games with a shoulder injury – will cause opposing quarterbacks fits. Finley had 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in 2013 and McKinnon was beginning to make an impact before his season was cut short in 2014. A former defensive end, junior Mark Milbrandt bulked up in the offseason and moves to tackle, hoping to mitigate the losses of Alex Severn and Ryan Wagers.
Graduation hit the linebacking crew hard. Leading tackler and First Team all-IIAC outside linebacker Brandon Abernathy and middle linebacker Joe Gilson graduated, leaving two spots to fill. Senior Shane Venteicher – who was second on the team with 66 tackles – is the lone returning starter and is poised to pick up where Abernathy left off. Cole Cook will likely see a magnified role after making 17 tackles as a sophomore.
Featuring six players who started at least three games in 2014, the defensive backfield is easily the most experienced group on the defensive side of the ball. Physical safeties Abe Wolfe and Justin Shepherd started 10 games apiece and accounted for seven pass breakups. Cornerback Patrick Steffen started nine games, leading the team in interceptions (2) and pass breakups (6). Senior Reid Ryan started the first four games of the season before going down with a season-ending injury, allowing senior Zach Rathman and junior Adrean Johnson to gain valuable experience on the outside.
Simpson boasts a budding talent in sophomore placekicker Drew Jensen. An Indianola product, Jensen tied a school record by going a perfect 19-for-19 on PAT attempts en-route to honorable mention all-league honors. He made 4 of 5 field goals, going perfect from inside 30 yards. In the return game, Beem earned second team all-conference honors after averaging 16.4 yards per kick return and 8.9 per punt return. Sophomore running back and track sprinter Davey Jergens also showed flashes, taking back a team-best 74-yard kick return in the season finale against Luther.
A front-loaded home schedule gives the Storm a chance to start strong, as the only road trip before mid-October comes in week three at Illinois Wesleyan. Wisconsin-River Falls visits Buxton Stadium for the third season in a row in the opener and Elmhurst comes to town Sept. 26 in the final non-conference clash of the campaign. The biggest tests of the season come in weeks nine and ten against the Iowa Conference's top finishers in 2014. The Storm close the home schedule on Halloween against runner-up Central and travel to Waverly to face preseason No. 6 Wartburg the following week.