MOUNT BERRY, Ga. – A year removed from the best season in the program's short history, Berry will field 122 men for the 2016 football season after preseason camp preparation. Full Roster | Schedule | Gameday
The Vikings have been training for several weeks including a scrimmage at Huntingdon College and the annual Blue-White intersquad scrimmage that took place last Friday. Head coach Tony Kunczewski noted the change in the camp dynamic for the program's fourth year.
"I would describe camp as very business-like this year," coach Kunczewski said. "Our guys came in very focused on what is in front of them. There has been a healthy balance of offensive and defensive success day in and day out. We felt pleased at the way we competed in the scrimmage against a very impressive Huntingdon College football team."
Berry also welcomed 46 newcomers to the roster including freshmen and transfer students. While competing for playing time against the 36 tenured seniors has been challenging for some, Kunczewski was impressed with the overall effort of the newcomers.
"It is always an extremely difficult transition going from high school to college on so many different fronts," coach Kunczewski said. "Our guys have hung in there nicely, in particular Mason Kinsey and Jacob Collins have really stood out so far."
Kinsey, a freshman wide receiver from Demorest, Ga., demonstrated his talents which garnered two high school All-Region selections and placed him second on the All-Time receiving leaderboard at Habersham Central. Collins, a freshman running back from Savannah, Ga., also impressed at camp after entering Berry sporting a state championship title and a first-team All-Region selection. Both freshmen have earned a high spot on the depth chart for the upcoming game.
Shift in Focus
With camp behind them, the Vikings now look ahead to September 3rd and the Maryville Scots. Maryville holds a 3-0 all-time record over the Vikings and has been one of the most difficult teams to face in the past.
Last year, the Vikings fell to Maryville 43-17 at Lloyd L. Thornton Stadium but will look to bounce back as Berry is set to face the Scots in Valhalla Stadium for the first time. Coach Kunczewski's defense will play a major role to open the season as the Scots tallied 465 total yards of offense in last year's matchup to Berry's 298.
The Vikings will look towards three-time first-team All-Southern Athletic Association (SAA) selection Chris Lilly on Saturday after catching eight passes for 83 yards and a score in last year's contest. He also returned three kickoffs an average of 23 yards against the Scots.
Maryville running back Trenton Schuler will be running against a Vikings defense that was much improved after game one last year, finishing 2015 leading the SAA in nearly every defensive category. The Vikings closed out the year allowing a conference-best 116.9 rushing yards per game and will look to shut down Schuler who ran for 132 yards and a score last year.
The Vikings starters are loaded with seniors who have been involved in the program since its inception. Quarterback Dale Jackson finished 2015 ranked No. 5 in the SAA in passing yards per game and returns to his starting role for Saturday's matchup. Jackson is flanked by downfield receiving threats Chris Lilly and Trey Ciresi. Josh Bullock returns after being sidelined by injury in 2015, but posted 516 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns in 2014. Methus Weldon completes the receiving corps after a career season in 2015 hauling in 22 receptions for 202 yards and some crucial third down catches to keep drives alive.
Jackson's front line consists of veterans Trey Newton, Tedric Palmer, Avery Archer, Mike Wenclawiak and Jack Morgan. The offensive line will look to open holes for running back Austin Lowe who had a breakout year in 2015, rushing for a team-leading 600 yards and five touchdowns. Lowe finished 2015 ranked top ten in the SAA in every rushing category including yards, touchdowns and yards per carry.
After finishing the 2015 season with No. 1 rankings across the board, the Vikings defense continued to improve in the offseason. With added weight in some areas and healthy players in others, Nate Masters' defense is poised to repeat as one of the top defensive squads in the SAA.
The defensive line consists of D3football.com All-Region selection and first-team All-SAA nod Mamadou Soumahoro, junior Justin Akin and second-team All-SAA selection Bernard Granville Jr. The Vikings linebackers consist of two-time All-SAA selection Anthony Batey who returns after missing part of 2015 with an injury, SAA honorable mention Evan Breakspear, second-team All-SAA selection and 2015 team tackle leader Matt Farinella and two-time first-team All-SAA nod Preston Stewart. Stewart had a banner year in 2015, leading the SAA in sacks and pushing himself to program records in sacks and tackles for loss.
SAA honorable mention Austin Haight, Jordan Arnett, reigning SAA Newcomer-of-the-Year Kevin Grier and Vikings interception leader Malcholm Graham make up the Vikings secondary. Berry led the SAA in interceptions last year and will look to continue improvement into a new year.
Much of Berry's defensive success in 2015 can be attributed to the special teams play throughout the year. The Vikings return one of the top overall kickers in the SAA in three-time All-SAA selection Mitchell Blanchard. Behind Blanchard's leg, the Vikings led the SAA in field goal percentage, punt yardage and were top five in average yards per punt. Chris Lilly, Austin Lowe and Josh Bullock are set to take over return duties for the Vikings. Berry was ranked second in the SAA in punt return yardage last year.
For complete information on Berry College athletics, please visit www.berryvikings.com. To learn how to purchase tickets early or get information about Valhalla stadium policies, visit www.berrygameday.com.