Ashland University's football team boasted one of the top offenses in NCAA Division II in 2016.
The Eagles finished last season leading the country in third-down conversion percentage (59.5) and fewest tackles for loss allowed (26), ended second in the nation in fourth-down conversion percentage (82.4 percent) and fewest penalties per game (3.45), and were third in D-II in total offense (526.5 yards per game).
Ashland scored 479 points in 2016, and posted at least 32 points in 10 of 11 contests. Offensively, the Eagles crossed the goal line 62 times – 36 via the pass and 26 on the ground.
The biggest losses for AU's offense heading into 2017 are tight end Adam Shaheen, now a rookie with the National Football League's Chicago Bears; right guard Zachary Douglass, who continued the Eagles' long recent line of O-line All-Americans; and tailback Vance Settlemire, who ranks third in program history in points scored.
With eight starters returning, however, the offensive cupboard is far from bare.
Leading the way once again will be redshirt senior quarterback Travis Tarnowski, who already is the program's all-time leader in touchdown passes (80) and is second in career passing yards (8,277). Boasting a 27-5 (.844) record as a starter, Tarnowski is looking to become the first Eagle since Duane Brown (1959-62) to lead the team in passing yards four years in a row.
The trio of tailbacks looking to take Settlemire's place as the feature back are sophomore Keishaun Sims (625 yards, five touchdowns rushing in 2016), junior Andrew Vaughn (585 yards, three touchdowns) and sophomore Luke Ogi (268 yards, five touchdowns). All three are capable of getting large chunks on any given play, as Sims (7.6), Vaughn (6.4) and Ogi (15.8) all sported big yards-per-carry averages a season ago.
Losing Shaheen, his 16 touchdown catches and his height near the goal line will be challenging, but Ashland does have three of its top five receivers from 2016 returning in wide receivers Kamaron Green (junior, 38 catches last season), Stanley Jackson Jr. (sophomore, 26 catches) and Matthew Wilcox (senior, 26.4-yard average, eight touchdowns). In addition, senior Jamie Hence and redshirt freshman Logan Bolin both are coming back off injury to help keep the pressure on opposing defenses.
The task of taking over for Shaheen looks to fall on junior Jack Holl, who has extensive experience as a backup and in two-tight-end and goal line/short-yardage sets, redshirt freshman Michael Schweitzer and sophomore converted defensive end Austin Phillips.
The offensive line kept Tarnowski clean and gave the running backs room to run in 2016, and a veteran group in 2017 is looking to do the same. Four senior starters are back in the form of tackles Damon Stewart and John Conner, center Dominic Giunta and guard Matt Murphy. The fifth starter most likely will come down to senior Anthony Grundy and sophomores Ryan Maguire and Ronnie Shaw.