In 2011, the Bloomsburg football team overcame a flooded home stadium, back-to-back losses with 40-plus points allowed and four consecutive road games to reach the district championship game.
Now they’ll try to replace a four-year starter at quarterback.
Blake Rankin, who had started every game since the opener in 2008, went down with a broken leg in the opening series of that district title game at Mount Carmel. In came Ricky Klingerman, and while the Panthers fell 28-0, Bloomsburg coach Larry Sones took note of his 2012 quarterback’s postgame mentality.
“I was impressed with his attitude,” Sones said. “Immediately after that game was over, he says, ‘I’ll be ready next year, Coach.’”
The junior’s transition will be eased by the presence of a skill position group which was on the receiving end of 17 of Rankin’s 20 passing touchdowns last year. The group is highlighted by senior John Klingerman, who accounted for 1,150 receiving yards and 12 touchdown catches in 2011. John’s younger brother Colby, a junior, had 22 catches a season ago and Sones believes Colby is prepared to take his game to a new level.
“They’re No. 2 (John) and they’re No. 3 (Colby) and you better get a good look in the face. When you see them out on the field, there’s not that much difference between the two, physically, athletically,” Sones said. “Colby’s going to open some eyes this year.”
Seniors Jason Broadt and Mitchell Fornwald along with junior Zach Ashford and sophomore Brandon Breisch are also expected to contribute at wide receiver. Senior Tyler Vincent is penciled in as the eventual starting tight end, but is currently out due to an undisclosed issue. Junior tight end Cole Frye will begin the season as the starter.
In the backfield, junior Evan Ball and sophomore Sam Miller return. They’ll be running behind a line with three starters back. Seniors Kevin Gross, at left tackle, Avery Keefer, at left guard and Mark Drumm, at right tackle, are expected to provide stability. Junior Derek Sneidman is the favorite to start at center and right guard will be manned by either sophomore T. J. Harkins or sophomore Jacob Williams.
Williams is also in the mix on the defensive line in Bloomsburg’s 3-5 formation. All three starters, Drumm, Gross and Keefer, are back, but Keefer is being considered for a role at inside linebacker. Sneidman will get a look on the defensive line as well.
Both Ball and Broadt are returning starters at the outside linebacker spots. Along with Keefer, Harkins and freshman Tyler Hendricks are being tried out at inside linebacker. Upon his return, Vincent will start on the inside. Sones said with the absence of Vincent and the graduation of 2011 leading tackler Ryan Longenberger and Chris Thomas, the inside linebacker position is the team’s greatest concern.
Conversely, Sones cited the team’s secondary as an area with quality depth. John and Colby Klingerman, who combined for 22 pass break-ups in 2011, will be the starting cornerbacks. Fornwald will also rotate in. Ashford is expected to start at safety with Breisch seeing time as well.
In addition to accounting for 48 touchdowns in 2011, Rankin, now a Rutgers freshman, was a first-team all-conference punter. Broadt will fill that role this season. According to Sones, the rest of the kicking game remains a question mark.
Where there is no question mark is in the return game. John and Colby Klingerman will return kickoffs and John Klingerman, who had three touchdown returns in 2011, will return punts.
John Klingerman is part of a senior class which includes six 2011 starters, five of whom were two-way starters. Sones has high expectations for that experienced core in 2012.
“There’s a good senior group that’s been together for quite some time,” Sones said. “They know what it takes to get to a level that we want to get to.”
For Sones, achieving that level means focusing on collective growth as the season progresses towards the postseason.
“Get to the playoffs and be playing your best ball at that time,” Sones said. “Improve as a group and improve individually.”
Bloomsburg opens the 2012 season at 7 p.m., Friday, August 31, at South Williamsport.