Sunday, August 4, 2013

USD Toreros prepare for 2013 season with high expectations and playoff hopes

March 9, 2013 - USD players and staff gather around first-year head coach Dale Lindsey after a spring practice session.

A new era in the University of San Diego football program will begin when the team reports to camp on Tuesday.

Under the direction of first-year head coach Dale Lindsey, the Toreros will be looking to earn their third straight Pioneer Football League title, along with their first playoff bid since 1973. With Lindsey inheriting 11 players who started seven or more games last season, the Toreros will be expected to do just that.

Veteran Rookie Head Coach

While Lindsey’s resume includes over 30 years of coaching experience, this will be his first run as a head coach at the college level. Lindsey, who was first hired to USD as a defensive coordinator, replaced Ron Caragher who is currently the head coach at San Jose State.

If it’s not broke, don’t fix it

Quarterback Mason Mills will return for his senior season to lead the Toreros' offense once again. He will be joined by his top three receivers (Reggie Bell, Brandon White, & Sam Hoekstra), top three rushers (Dallas Kessman, Joe Ferguson, & Kenny James), first team all-PFL fullback (Lawrence Larivee), and three returning offensive lineman (Tobin Gramyk, Pono Keni, & Cody Tescher).

“We have a nucleus of offensive players and staff that have been here for a considerable amount of time,” Lindsey said during a PFL coaches teleconference Thursday. “We had a great deal of success and we are not going to change it".

"We are going to let the players play and do what they do," Lindsey added.

Chasing Josh Johnson

With 7,636 career passing yards, Mason Mills is currently 2063 yards away from a USD record set by former quarterback Josh Johnson (9,699). He is also 93 completions away from Johnson's career record of 724.

Trouble in the secondary?

Led by senior linebacker Zach Devaney and defensive end Blake Oliaro, the Toreros will return a bulk of their front seven that led the PFL in run defense last season.

The biggest concern on defense will be the departure of five senior cornerbacks and a senior starter at safety.

“We got to get our secondary skilled and all on the same page by the opening game,” Lindsey said. “That is the one place where we got to rebuild our defense.”

The only starter returning in the secondary this season will be senior safety Robbie Beathard. He recorded 44 total tackles and an interception last season earning an All-PFL honorable mention.

On the bright side, there will be a good number of young talented players competing to fill those voids during camp. The battles in the secondary should be very intense and fun to watch.

Toreros picked to win PFL crown

In a preseason coach’s poll released Tuesday, the Toreros were picked to win the 2013 PFL title. While Lindsey was flattered by the respect shown to his team, he wants to make it clear that the games won’t be decided on polls.

“We really got to preach to our kids that they can’t throw on a helmet against anybody in the PFL and win,” Lindsey said. “There are a lot of tough teams here, and nobody is giving any ground to us for any reason.”

After starting the 2012 season at 2-3, the Toreros won their last six games to finish with an 8-3 overall record and their second straight share of the Pioneer Football League title. The race ended in a three-way tie with Butler and Drake also winning a share of the title with 7-1 league records.

Can’t win the FCS until you win the PFL

For the first time in its 21-year history, the PFL champion will receive an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. While having a chance to play for a national title should add more excitement to the program, Lindsey wants his team focused on the task at hand.

“We talked to them about the FCS playoffs, but in a secondary thought,” Lindsey said. “Our first thoughts are Pioneer Football League opponents. If we can’t get through the tough guys in the PFL, then we don’t deserve to be there.”

“Let’s play the PFL and worry about the FCS when we get there.”

Welcoming Stetson and Mercer

The PFL expanded to 12 teams this season after Stetson (DeLand, FL) and Mercer (Macon, GA) revived their football programs and joined the league. While both teams were picked to finish their first season at the bottom of the standings, Lindsey does not plan on taking them lightly.

“Personally I would worry about playing Stetson and Mercer because they’re coming from football-laden states,” Lindsey said. “I know there are a lot of players who get overlooked, just like they do here at the University of San Diego.”

“We will treat Stetson and Mercer like we do Dayton, Butler, and all the other big wigs in this conference.”

The Toreros open PFL play at Stetson on Sept. 28, and host Mercer at Torero Stadium on Oct. 5th.

2013 Season Opener

The Toreros kick off the 2013 season with a non-conference road game at Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo, CA) on Saturday, August 31st. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. pacific time.

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