2017 IN REVIEW: Ashland finished 11-2, and with a first-round NCAA Division II postseason home win and a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship. The Eagles, who ran off 11 wins in a row, ended the campaign ranked 10th in the final American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Division II Coaches' Top 25 poll.
MUCH SUCCESS OFF THE FIELD: Ashland's on-field successes are well-documented, but these are student-athletes, and the following numbers also were racked up during the 2017-18 academic year:
- 77 players with a fall-term grade-point average of at least 3.0, eight with a spring 4.0 GPA, and a team fall GPA of 2.95.
- 79 players with a spring-term GPA of at least 3.0, eight with a spring 4.0 GPA, and a team spring GPA of 3.07.
- An Academic All-American, a GLIAC McAvoy Award winner (both senior Matthew Wilcox), 2017-18 Ashland University co-Male Student-Athletes of the Year (Wilcox and senior center Dominic Giunta), 10 National Football Foundation Hampshire Honor Society awards, and 51 GLIAC academic awards (19 excellence, 32 academic).
"I've been a head football coach in college now for 24 years," said Ashland head coach Lee Owens, "and an assistant for three years prior to that…I can never remember a year, ever, where we had close to the kind of success in the classroom that we did this year. I'm really proud of our guys. It's always been our goal to have an over-3.0 team GPA for a semester, and we did that this spring."
Speaking of his staff, led by Reggie Gamble, the program's academic coordinator as well as tackles/tight ends/fullbacks coach, Owens said, "Reggie's been a really good academic coordinator for us, liaison across campus, and the professors across campus have been great. Our support people across campus have been great. Every one of our coaches takes time out to go monitor our study tables. Each one of our coaches meet with our players once a week academically on Mondays.
"We've put a lot in place."
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2018: Summer workouts began earlier this week, and more than 80 players on the 154-player roster are on hand.
"It's a big group," Owens said.
Veteran quarterbacks Billy Bahl, a senior transfer from Division I Miami (Ohio), and junior John Davies are among the team's 15 accountability captains. They lead an offense which returns its top three rushers, and six of its top seven receivers, from a season ago. The Eagles, however, will need to fill four offensive line positions, with junior left tackle Ryan Maguire as the only returnee.
"That's the place where we have the biggest concern and have to do the most rebuilding," Owens said, "but we've got great candidates. We've got a plan. If anybody can get them ready, coach (associate head coach/offensive line coach/run game coordinator Doug) Geiser can."
Defensively, while six starters graduated, the cupboard is far from bare. The Eagles return their three top tacklers from last fall, and of the top 16 players in stops, nine come back in 2018. Senior defensive end James Prater Jr., who recorded 10 sacks and 23½ tackles for loss as a junior, is a Street & Smith's preseason D-II All-American.
"We played a lot of guys (last year)," said Owens, whose defense also adds transfers in senior cornerback Isiah Roberts from Southern Connecticut and redshirt freshman whip Brevin Harris from Ohio University. "We'll still have some players there."
On special teams, kicker is the key position battle. Five kickers are listed on the 2018 roster, none of which were on campus even a few months ago.
"We feel good about somebody stepping up and doing the job for us," said Owens.