Kickoff to the 2017 Denison football season is almost here and once again we will be previewing each game on the schedule, right here on denisonbigred.com every Wednesday or Thursday.
Sometimes we like to have a little bit of fun with this preview (see last year's homage to Bruce Springsteen). This week, Denison's athletics communication office is a little broken up about the conclusion of season 7 of Game of Thrones and the harsh realization that it will be 18 months before we see a new episode (weeping as I write this). Each of the prompts in this week's game notes corresponds with the title of an episode of Game of Thrones. If you are a watcher of GOT and love Big Red football, this is the column for you. If you don't know a Targaryen from a Lannister, just skip past that weird title and we'll get to the football.
Home: The Big Red opens the 2017 season in the friendly confines of Piper Stadium against a brand new foe. For the first time in program history, the Big Red will host Southwestern University from Georgetown, Texas. The Pirates are coming off a 7-3 season in 2016 and are coached by former Hanover (Ind.) College coach Joe Austin. Next year, Denison will return the favor and open their season at the Georgetown ISD Athletic Complex and Stadium in Georgetown, Texas. Southwestern is in their fifth season since reinstating the football program in 2013. Football had been a varsity sport at Southwestern from 1908 until 1950.
The Rains of Castamere: This is the song that is used to announce the presence of the Lannister's in Westeros and your announcers on the live webcast will be Will Hibbard '17 (play-by-play) and Benson Anderson '17 (color). This is the second-straight year that Hibbard and Anderson will bring you all of the action on the Denison Sports Network broadcast. The live stream will begin at 6:45 p.m. Gates to Piper Stadium will open 90 minutes prior to the 7 p.m. kickoff. Tickets may be purchased at the front gate. They are $4 for adults and $2 for children and senior citizens.
Breaker of Chains: Daenerys is great and all, but Denison's Protector of the Realm is head coach Jack Hatem. Back for his eighth season as head coach and his 13th season overall at DU, Hatem has led Denison into a new renaissance over the last four seasons. Since 2013, the Big Red is 28-12. Last season, Denison went 8-2 and was ranked in the national top-25 for the first time since the mid-80s. Hatem was named the NCAC Coach of the Year for the first time in his career. With a career record of 41-29 (.586), he ranks third in career wins at Denison trailing only Keith Piper (200) and Walter Livingston (76).
Hardhome: We mentioned the Big Red has gone 28-12 since 2013. Well, they've been even more impressive at home, going 16-4 over the same span.
The Climb: Denison has been on a steady upward trajectory since 2010 but now is where it gets particularly challenging. 2016 saw the Big Red defeat Wittenberg for the first time since 1989 and legitimately challenge for a conference title and a playoff spot for the duration of the season. This was new ground for a program that is clearly on the rise. Now, the role of plucky underdog is starting to fade. Denison was picked to finish third in the NCAC this season and they even received one first-place vote. With 18 starters returning they will be on everyone's radar.
You Win or You Die: Let's not get out of hand. This isn't life and death…this is college football. We know the stakes aren't that high, but with a 10-game season, one loss can put a damper on dreams in a hurry. The process begins on Saturday with a key non-league game against a Southwestern squad that was a conference champion in 2016.
The Prince of Winterfell: Among Denison's 18 returning starters is junior quarterback Canaan Gebele. Now in his third year as the starting QB, he is being tabbed as one of the top players in the region. Look no further than his numbers during last season's 8-2 campaign. Despite missing two games due to injury, Gebele still passed for 2,102 yards and 14 touchdowns while completing at a 64 percent clip. He also finished second on the team in rushing with 587 yards. The dual-threat QB seems right at home as the commander of the Big Red vessel. He was recently named one of four co-captains on this year's team, marking the first time a junior has been voted as a captain in the eight years under Hatem.
Stormborn: While this team does return 18 starters that doesn't necessarily make them an "old" team. Sixteen of the 22 projected starters for Saturday's game are either juniors or sophomores. Returning senior starters are Charlie Mueller (WR), Brice Winans (SS), Alex Raynor (CB), Hayden Hatten (LB) and David Heyer (DL). Junior wide receiver David Weimar had 69 receptions for 959 yards and 10 TDs and junior tailback Cody Farley rushed for 588 yards and caught 39 passes for 362 yards.
And Now His Watch Is Ended: Despite all of the returnees, Denison will be missing the likes of Andrew Baird, Joel Lohoua, Anthony Sernus and Zach Neufeld on defense. Baird finished with 111 tackles from his safety position and Lohoua was a three-year starter at corner. Both were first-team All-NCAC performers last year. Sernus was third on the team in tackles with 67 and Neufeld posted 47 stops and 5.5 sacks as a senior.
The Children: Denison's roster has ballooned to 114 in 2017-18, marking the largest in school history. For the third-straight year, the Big Red is also boasting their largest recruiting class in program history. This year, the coaching staff welcomed a rookie class of 37 into the Big Red football family. Of those 37 newcomers, 12 different states are represented.
The Wars to Come: After a bye in week two, Denison returns to action on Saturday, September 16 at Allegheny College. They return home on Sept. 23 to face Oberlin at 1 p.m. The following week (Sept. 30) will kick off a string of four pivotal contests that could prove to tell the eventual story of the season. After back-to-back road games at Wittenberg (Sept. 30) and Wabash (Oct. 7), Denison returns home to face DePauw on Oct. 14. On Oct. 21 they will head to Delaware, Ohio for their annual clash with Ohio Wesleyan before closing the season against Hiram (Oct. 28), at Wooster (Nov. 4) and Kenyon (Nov. 11).
The North Remembers: During Saturday's game, representatives from Denison will be accepting donations toward Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. One-hundred percent of the money is donated will be sent to the American Red Cross. Volunteers will be positioned at the front gate of Piper Stadium with donation bins.