The Crusaders open up the 2013 season Thursday night at the University of North Dakota. The team’s charter flight departs Gary International Airport on Wednesday at 12:45. Game time is 7 PM Thursday night at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks. North Dakota is streaming the game and you can catch Todd Ickow’s radio call on the Valpo Athletics web page.

The Crusaders have had a productive training camp. Our returning players came back in good physical shape and have worked hard over the past three weeks.

This year’s recruiting class is deep and talented. A few of the new players will be in the two deep. However, we will not be dominated with freshmen and redshirt freshmen as we have been in the past.

Key players on defense are senior safety Alex Grask, senior linebacker Pat Derbak, sophomore linebacker Alex Green, senior defensive end Francis Baker, and sophomore defensive end John Guilford. Grask and Derbak cracked the lineup halfway through their freshman year in 2010 and have started ever since.

Eric Hoffman returns for his third year at quarterback. He is being pushed by junior Ben Lehman who started two games last year. Sophomore Jake Hutson will run behind five returning starters in the offensive line. The offensive line also has two other players who saw significant playing time last year as well. Juniors Fred Gladney, Tanner Kuramata, and Andrew Cassara return at wide receiver. Sophomore tight end Matt Mallon started two games last year and is ready to play the position full-time. I expect junior Kent Warren to make an impact as well in the passing game.

We’ve had great competition at the kicking and punting spots. Look for that to continue as we go into the fall. We may alternate players during the non-conference season to solidify the position for the PFL season.

This is the first season that the PFL Champion will have an automatic berth to the NCAA Division-I FCS Play-offs. The PFL is finally an AQ conference.

North Dakota will be a great challenge for us. They play in the ultra competitive Big Sky Conference. They have good size and speed on offense and defense. They will start a new quarterback who is a redshirt freshman. North Dakota is loaded at the skill positions. Wide receiver Greg Hardin is a potential All-America while WR Jameer Jackson was a Jerry Rice Award finalist in 2012. Senior running back Jake Miller has great speed to the edge.

North Dakota returns five starters on defense. Their four linebackers in their 3-4 alignment are physical and can run. They have good size up front as well.

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The 2013 journey has begun. Our theme for the year is What’s Important Now – W.I.N. Our team needs to focus on what is right in front of them. Be your best in what you are doing now and the future will take care of itself.

#ShieldsUp It’s A Great Day To Be A Crusader.

Go Valpo