Hope football: 2017 MIAA title contenders


GEARING UP FOR THE SEASON AHEAD— Head Coach Peter Stuursma gets the Flying
Dutchmen ready for practice with quick pump-up speech. (Alan Babbitt)

Football season is finally here, and it is an exciting one for this year’s Hope College football team. The Dutchmen are one of the favorites to win the MIAA football conference this season. This is the breakdown of the different parts of the 2017 Hope College football squad.

PAST SUCCESS: The 2016 Hope campaign saw the Dutchmen go 5-1 within the MIAA conference and 7-3 overall, coming in second place in the MIAA behind Olivet and just missing the NCAA Division III playoffs. They had one of the best runs in program history with a five- game conference winning streak to finish the 2016 season. This will be the second season for head coach Peter Stuursma, who had success coaching at East Grand Rapids High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There, Stuursma won seven state championships and many of his former students now play college football. Stuursma’s first year saw him take a Hope team who, in 2015 went 2-8, and made them into a top-caliber football program. He is hoping to lead his team to a conference title this season and a berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs.

DEFENSE: Hope looks strong on the defensive front, returning nine of 11 starters from last season. The defense will be led by senior linebacker Jacob Pardonnet (’18), Giffin Weigl (’18) and star defensive end Zach Telfor (’18). Pardonnet is a two-year starter who has had stellar production over past years, averaging 5.7 tackles a game. Weigl is also a returning starter who is looking to have a productive year for the linebacking core. Telfor had eigh and a half sacks and 15 tackles for loss in Hope’s 2016 campaign, quickly becoming one of the best defensive ends in Division III football. They will be leading a fast-paced, high octane defense coming into this season. Be looking for all of these guys to put up big numbers this season. The secondary will have newcomer Nick Holt (’19) added to the lineup. Holt, a two-sport athlete at Hope, had a very successful high school career at Muskegon Catholic High School. Look for him to make an impact on the field and become a budding star at the safety position. This defense looks like it could be elite this season, with good pass rushing along with technically sound pass defense will spell the end for any would- be gun-slinging QB this year.

OFFENSE: The offense of this squad is just as fast as the defense, running a unique style of offense designed to keep defenders off- guard and disrupt the defensive line. This offense had huge success on the ground, rushing for 2,738 yards last season. The current rushing game will be led by senior running back Brandan Campbell (’18). Campbell had a career season in 2016, running the ball for 1,361 yards and 14 touchdowns. He will be looking to continue on that success with another 1,000+ yard season. The offensive line was top notch last season, and will be led by Justin Fairfield (’18) and James Vanderveen (’18). Fairfield has seen consistent playing for two years and received Preseason All-American honors. This offensive line is experienced and could be one of the best in the MIAA, they will not disappoint this season. The success of the running game will be key to Hope’s continuing success.

KEY INJURIES: There are some notable players who will be on the sidelines for this season. Senior running back Mike Miklusicak (’18) is out with an ACL knee injury. He was a key part of the Hope College 2016 season, rushing for over 1,000 yards and averaging 6.7 yards per carry. This means that fellow star running back Brandan Campbell (’18) will have to step up for his running partner. Quarterback Mike Custer (’18) is out with a shoulder injury; he had 65 completions on 120 attempts last season. It is looking like Mason Opple (’20) will be taking the calls behind center this season in place of the injured Custer.

KEY MATCHUPS: This season is packed with great matchups for Hope both at home and away. Starting the season off with some big non-conference games that will get them prepared for their conference opponents. The biggest game for the Flying Dutchmen will be on Sept. 30 when they take on the defending MIAA Champions Olivet Comets. Last year, Hope suffered a close 15-13 defeat to the eventual conference champions, and will be hoping to avenge it come Sept. 30. This game will be crucial for Hope as both of these teams are looking to be strong favorites to win the MIAA. The winner of this game will likely control their destiny on the way to a conference championship and a postseason berth.

Another challenging matchup will be their home game against Adrian on homecoming weekend, Oct. 13. Adrian is a strong team, currently ranked third in the MIAA preseason polls and will be a tough opponent for the Dutchmen.

A couple of games to watch for are Hope’s non-conference matchups against Defiance and Lakeland. Defiance will be Hope’s home opener and the team would like to get off on the right foot. Defiance beat Hope college last season 18-6 on a disappointing away trip. However, Defiance does not look like a strong opponent for Hope this season. Look for Hope to return the favor and have a strong victory at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium.

CONSENSUS: With so much improvement last season and so many of the starters returning, this team looks poised to win the MIAA championship for the first time in a decade. The MIAA preseason coaches’ poll predicts that Hope will win the conference, and it is hard to disagree. They will be bringing back the strong running game, much of the elite line and nearly their entire defense from last season. They have to overcome some injuries and a tough road game against Olivet, but this team controls their own destiny. Postseason college football is looking more and more like a certainty for the Flying Dutchmen of Hope College.

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