Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2012, 7:54 pm

Augie football hopes for turnaround this season

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By Tom Johnston,

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Augustana College football coach Rob Cushman feels as if the Vikings defense for the 2012 season could be a strength of the team. With nine returning to that side of the ball, he could be right. Those back on defense for the Vikings are, from left to right: Luke Anderson (38), Carl Hartweg (99), Erik Westerberg (41), Shane Holl (49), Bo Goshorn (31), Joe Weber (45), Pete Schimeck (44), Matt Glawe (27), and Robbie Mago (3) at Ericson Field on media day, Monday, August 13, 2012.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Augustana College football quarterback Nick Welch (10) and wide receiver Nick Krantz (88) are hoping to be a formidable combination this season for the Vikings. They were pictured here at Ericson Field on media day, Monday, August 13, 2012.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Augustana College football defense players, back row left to right; Luke Anderson (38), Carl Hartweg (99), Erik Westerberg (41), Brendan Ryan (27), and Robert Mago (3). Front row, from left to right: Shane Holl (49), Gary Miller (45) Paris Edwards (31) and Pete Schimeck (44) at Ericson Field on media day, Monday, August 13, 2012.
In anticipation of a new stadium that will be in place for the 2013 season and be on the north side of the playing field, the Viking-head logo in the middle of the new playing surface will appear upside-down for those sitting on the current home side of the field this season.

Those in the Augustana College football program hope that's just the start of turning things upside-down.

Or at least turning things back around.

The Vikings struggled through a 2-8 season last year, suffering heartbreaking losses and seemingly finding ways to lose games. It led to the fewest wins in a season in the program's storied history since a 2-6 mark in 1958.

"Hopefully, that will help us," said junior captain Erik Westerberg of turning around last year's fortunes. "We know we need to practice differently, train differently and work differently. In practice, we need to finish every drill and work hard to the end of practice. We just didn't finish a lot of the games last year."

"It's a full-throttle, full-speed-ahead mentality," said senior captain Robbie Mago of this team's approach to everything. "I'm not saying we didn't have that last year, but it's the necessity this year after finishing 2-8 last year and losing so many close games. We learned a lot from that as a team and a program. It really comes down to finishing everything in camp this year, whether it's finishing the drill, finishing the play, finishing practice well. From start to finish, we are just doing everything we can to finish everything."

That new approach was just part of the change for the Vikings as they look to battle back as contenders in the CCIW, a league that is arguably the best Division III conference in the country.

Those back in camp this year were sporting not only new jerseys for Monday's media day festivities on their new artificial playing surface at Ericson Field, but also a new attitude in hopes of more success this season.

"You have to look good to play good," said senior offensive lineman Mike Kautz, an Alleman product.

Hoping for a fresh start across the board, second-year head coach Rob Cushman has five new assistants on staff. Those guys worked hard in the offseason and have 127 players in camp this fall, many of the youngsters ready and able to push the starters for playing time.

It appears as if Augie's defense — under the direction of first-year defensive coordinator Tom Casey — will be the stronger side of the ball to begin with.

"I think defensively, we have a chance to be really good," said Cushman, who spent three seasons as defensive coordinator before his promotion after the 2010 season. "I like the way we stack up defensively. We have to stay healthy and still have to make plays, but we've got some guys out there with experience."

A lot of the defensive attention will fall on Westerberg and Mago, the two captains. Westerberg, a CoSIDA Academic All-America second-team selection last year, was a first-team All-CCIW linebacker last fall. He and Mago will be joined on that side of the ball by seven other key returners.

"I think they'll have to carry us for a while," said Cushman of the defense.

That's because the offense "will be as green as our new turf out here," Cushman joked.

The Vikings graduated quarterback David Lee, who took down NFL MVP Kenny Anderson's records for most career pass completions (515) and pass attempts (839). Right now, it appears as if senior Nick Welch will be the starter, but Cushman says he has 10 or 11 quarterbacks in camp and "some of the young guys will need to step up."

Also gone are the team's two leading receivers in Zac McCullough and Keith Abbey. But Moline product Nick Krantz (24 catches, 299 yards, 3 TDs) returns to lead a strong receiving crew.

The Vikings also return running backs Brett McWilliams (427 yards, 5 TDs last year) and Eric Chandler (155 yards, 2 TDs) to operate behind an offensive line that includes Kautz, Westmer product Derek King and Geneseo's Anthony Roome and is being retooled by new assistant coach Anthony Scott.

"Offensively, we've got some work to do," said Cushman, adding that losing Lee is a major concern. "The offensive line is a year better, and we're trying to sort out that group. We've got some playmakers at receiver. If we can get the quarterback position straightened out and some of the young guys grow up and guys who got some time a year ago transition to that full-time role and be confident, then we certainly have to be better."

As Cushman says, "we have the pieces, we just have to see how it all comes together for us."

The Vikings are hoping that those things fall into place as they turn around their fortunes.

The 2012 Augie Vikings

- 2011 record: 2-8, 2-5 in the CCIW, fifth place.

- Coaching staff: Head coach Rob Cushman, second year as head coach; Zac Connors, offensive coordinator; Tom Casey, defensive coordinator; Jeff Lindmark, special teams coordinator/wide receivers; Dick Blair, tight ends; Aaron Call, defensive line; Rob Erwin, defensive backs; Anthony Scott, offensive line; Garrett Riley, running backs; Drew Hawken, linebackers; Dick Skillett, kickers.

- The schedule: Sept 1 at Dubuque, 6 p.m.; Sept. 8 at Central of Iowa, 1 p.m.; Sept. 15 host Loras, 6 p.m.; Sept. 29 host Wheaton, 1 p.m.; Oct. 6 at Elmhurst, 1 p.m.; Oct. 13 host Millikin (homecoming), 1 p.m.; Oct. 20 at North Park, 1 p.m.; Oct. 27 host Carthage, 1 p.m.; Nov. 3 at Illinois Wesleyan, 1 p.m.; Nov. 10 host North Central, 1 p.m.

- Returning starters (15): OFFENSE (5): WR Nick Krantz, 6-1, 195, Jr., Moline HS; OT Mike Kautz, 6-4, 265, Sr., Alleman HS; OG Derek King, 6-1, 290, Sr., Westmer HS; OT Anthony Roome, 6-2, 280, So., Geneseo HS; RB Brett McWilliams, 6-2, 220, Sr., Roscoe, Ill. DEFENSE (8): DE Shane Holl, 6-2, 255, Sr., Batavia HS; NT Carl Hartweg, 6-3, 270, Jr., Illini West HS; DE Luke Anderson, 6-5, 250, Sr., Lemont HS; DE Pete Schimeck, 6-1, 240, Sr., Benet Academy; LB Erik Westerberg, 6-3, 210, Jr., Elmhurst York HS; LB Joe Weber, 6-2, 240, Sr., Marmion Academy; SS Rob Mago, 5-9, 180, Sr., Cary Grove HS; FS Bo Goshorn, 6-2, 180, So., Romeoville HS. SPECIALISTS (2): P Arnie Fitzwater, 6-3, 205, Sr., Waterford, Wis.; PK Brady Rogers, 5-11, 165, So., Parker, Colo.

- 2011 letterwinners lost: 22.

- 2011 letterwinners returning: 45.