COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With a bevy of returning starters on both sides of the ball, Ohio Dominican's football team will look to pick up where it left off last year as the Panthers begin the 2014 season with a noon kickoff Saturday against Malone in Panther Stadium.
The reigning GLIAC champions, Ohio Dominican will bring a 15-game regular season win streak into the contest. ODU's last regular season setback came on Oct. 6, 2012 against Ashland.
The Panthers are a consensus top-13 team in the preseason polls, and are ranked as high as No. 8 in the USA Today poll. ODU was projected to repeat as the GLIAC South Division champs by the conference's head coaches in August.
On offense, the Panthers had a true measure of balance during their 2013 season, rushing for 2,576 yards and throwing for 2,673 yards. ODU averaged 234.2 yards per game on the ground and 243.0 yards per game in the air.
Senior signal caller Mark Miller (Cincinnati, Ohio) is back for his third year behind center. He has thrown for 4,867 yards in his career, with 48 touchdowns against just 18 interceptions, while also completing 64.7 percent of his passes.
All-GLIAC wideouts Dez Stewart (Cincinnati, Ohio), Abe Johnson (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Ronald McCloud (Cleveland, Ohio) return after combining for 156 catches and 1,982 yards last year. Overall, the Panthers return 88.5 percent of their passing offense from last season.
Also back for ODU is All-GLIAC running back Brandon Schoen (Olentangy, Ohio), who has rushed for 2,112 yards in his first two seasons in an ODU uniform. He'll be running behind a line that features returning starters in Perrin Cunningham (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Michael Koehlke (West Chester, Ohio).
ODU's swarming defense has a chance to shine again in 2014 as the Panthers bring back the bulk of their unit, particularly a defensive line and linebacking corps that wreaked havoc in backfields last year. The defense set school records with 41 sacks and 84 tackles for loss last year.
Junior defensive ends Di'Andre Harrison (Columbus, Ohio) and Sydney Omameh (Columbus, Ohio) bookend the line, combining for 15 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss last year. GLIAC Freshman of the Year Mason Sawicki (Dublin, Ohio) also returns to the interior of the line, which has been bolstered by transfers Hunter Maynard (Ashville, Ohio) and Demetrius Farmer (Dover, Ohio), as well as the return of Paul Wesselhoeft (Logan, Ohio).
The linebackers are led by First Team All-GLIAC picks Warren Shields (Richwood, Ohio) and Cody Culbertson (Galloway, Ohio). Shields made 99 tackles (11.0 for loss), while Culbertson had 73 tackles (11.5 for loss) and a pair of interceptions.
The secondary will miss graduated All-American Justin Bell, but does return All-GLIAC corners in Billy Eakins (Pickerington, Ohio) and Da'Twane Harris (Cleveland, Ohio). The duo combined for five interceptions and 12 pass break ups. Also back is All-GLIAC safety Brad McCurdy (Columbus, Ohio), who made 73 tackles last year.
ODU's specialists are back, including All-American kicker Brent Wahle (Pataskala, Ohio). Wahle made 21-of-25 field goals last year. He has received five pre-season All-American honors this year. Punter Michael Snyder (Clayton, Ohio) is also back, while Johnson (1,513 return yards) will be the primary kick returner.
• ODU has a 7-3 record all-time in season openers.
• Since 2006, ODU has an overall record of 60-26 (.698 win percentage.) The Panthers are 22-4 in their last 26 games (84.6 percent).
• ODU is 26-5 against opponents from Ohio since 2007 (83.9 win percentage.)
• During the 15-game regular season win streak, ODU has outscored opponents 629-244, with an average margin of victory of 25.7 points per game.
• Over the past two seasons, spanning 22 games, ODU's offensive line has allowed just 10 sacks.
• In ODU's five home games last year, the Panthers averaged 563.6 yards and 44.8 points per game.
Contact: Scott Miles