Young but experienced Dragons ready for season opener

There are unknowns before every season starts, but Tiffin University’s opener at McKendree takes things to a different level.

Coach Gary Goff is in his third season with the Dragons, and does have some key veterans returning, such as running back James Hall, receiver Marcus Beaurem and defensive lineman Joseph Collard.

Goff went as far as saying he has an experienced – if young – squad.

“We’ve got eight returning starters on each side of the ball,” he said. “A lot of those guys are sophomores, juniors, but at least they’re not sophomores playing for the first time. They’re not juniors where this is their first year starting. So yeah, in a lot of ways I feel like we do have a veteran team coming back.”

But the key position – the first spot almost every fan asks about – will be filled by a new man. Quarterback Joey Frendo beat out Buckeye Central graduate Tyler Erwin as well as Nick Merrick and Antonio Pipkin for the starting job.

Frendo is a 6-foot-3, 215-pound sophomore from Hisperia, Mich. Previously, he was at Alfred State in New York.

“He had a great spring, and (the competition) was very competitive in camp,” Goff said. “We’re gonna go with Joey. He’s done a great job, he’s grasped the offense. To be honest with you, we’re pretty confident in two or three of those guys.”

But’s it’s Frendo who will get the call, and Goff said he has plenty of good qualities.

“His fundamentals are good,” Goff said. “He’s had a little more experience than some of the other guys, obviously, from transferring in. He’s started more games, and he’s made the right reads and made all the throws. He’s confident in his play and he pulls the trigger.”

Frendo will be going against a squad that – as Goff admitted – it’s difficult to know much about. Tiffin opened last year with a 23-13 win over McKendree, which was the first of Goff’s head coaching career. But McKendree will have a new man, and a new staff, on the sideline today.

Mike Babcock, who is coming off a very successful stint as offensive coordinator at Colorado State University-Pueblo – the Thundercats come into 2013 as the No. 1 team in Division II – has taken over the Bearcats. Babcock inherits a program with 44 lettermen returning off a 3-7 team.

“I know they’re gonna be fundamentally sound; I know they’re going to be well-coached,” Goff said of the Bearcats. “As far as their players, on defense they return a lot of guys.”

Goff mentioned middle linebacker Bryce Colvin, who was an honorable mention preseason All-American, and safety Jamison Wilson, a second team selection on that list, as players TU is focused on.

Offensively, it’s mostly new. Sophomore Isaac Fisher is listed as the team’s No. 1 quarterback, and he did play in eight games last season and threw for more than 1,000 yards, but Goff said the look of the Bearcats’ offense will be different.

“They’re going to be more of a pro set offense, we believe,” Goff said. “There’s no film for us to go off of, brand new staff. That’s made it a little challenging.

“We’re expecting everything, and we’re expecting the unexpected,” Goff said.

As for the message he is sending to his players, Goff said it’s much like the one he’s been using the last few years.

“Let’s pay attention to detail; let’s be fundamentally sound,” Goff said. “Don’t get out there in the first game of the season and forget about your responsibility. That happens with a young team, and we’ve had that before, but hopefully we’re past that.”

Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m.