CHALLENGING START: Butler won't be easing into the upcoming football season. The Bulldogs, coming off a championship campaign, will kickoff the 2013 season on the road against nationally-ranked South Dakota State on Saturday, Aug. 31. The opener in Brookings, S.D., is scheduled for a 6 p.m. (CT, 7 p.m. in Indianapolis) start at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium. South Dakota State was ranked No. 6 in the Sports Network preseason NCAA Division I FCS poll. The Jackrabbits are coming off a 9-4 season, which included an unbeaten (6-0) record at home, a second place finish in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and a first-round win in the FCS playoffs. Two of the team's four losses came at No. 1 North Dakota State, including the season-finale in the playoffs. The Jackrabbits return 15 starters from last year's stellar squad. Butler also is coming off a successful season. The Bulldogs posted an 8-3 mark in 2012 and shared the Pioneer Football League championship with San Diego and Drake. It was the second PFL title in four years for head coach Jeff Voris, who is beginning his eighth season at the helm of the Bulldogs.
Butler has never played a football game in South Dakota.
PRESEASON PICK: Butler was picked second in the preseason poll of Pioneer Football League coaches by the narrowest of margins. Defending co-champ San Diego picked up five first place votes from the coaches and earned the top spot in the poll with 111 points. The Bulldogs, who shared the title with San Diego and Drake last year, picked up four first place votes and 110 total points. Jacksonville and Drake tied for third in the poll with 99 points each. Jacksonville received two first place votes, while Drake picked up the remaining top nod. Dayton was slated fifth, followed by Marist, Morehead State, Campbell, Davidson and Valparaiso. Newcomers Mercer and Stetson were tabbed 11th and 12th, respectively.
STAFF ADDITIONS: Head coach Jeff Voris added a pair of new assistant coaches to his staff during the off-season. Joining the Bulldogs this season are new tight ends coach Tom Dilley and new defensive line assistant Lee Rose. Dilley was a successful high school coach in Indianapolis, leading Bishop Chatard High School to a pair of state championships and finishing second on the all-time wins list at Lawrence North High School. He's the first person in the history of the IHSAA football playoffs to win state championships as a player, assistant coach and head coach. Rose came to Butler after spending one year on the football staff at Charlotte Christian School in North Carolina. He played collegiate football at Richmond and Indiana, earning Academic All-Big Ten honors in 2011.
TEAM LEADERS: Four seniors have been selected as captains of the 2013 Butler football team by a vote of their teammates. Named to leadership roles for the Bulldogs this season were defensive lineman Jeremy Stephens, defensive back Sean Grady, running back Trae Heeter and quarterback Matt Lancaster. All four players were key contributors to Butler's championship run last fall and each earned first team All-PFL recognition.
FAMILIAR LOOK: The Bulldogs head into the 2013 season with a roster that boasts experience and depth. Head coach Jeff Voris, who's led Butler to 28 wins over the past four seasons, can call on 42 returning letterwinners, including 17 returning starters, to lead this year's squad. Nine of those returning starters are on offense, including quarterback Matt Lancaster, who was named the Most Outstanding Offensive Player in the PFL last season, running back Trae Heeter, who was named Butler's Offensive MVP, and wide receiver Brendon Shannon, who led the team in both receptions and receiving yards. Among the eight returning defensive starters are Butler Defensive Lineman of the Year Jeremy Stephens, and defensive backs Sean Grady and Jayme Szafranski. Grady ranked second and Szafranski third on the team in tackles last year. Voris also returns his top placekicker (Jon Treloar) and top punter (Brian Akialis) from a year ago.
Butler returnees accounted for 277 of the Bulldogs' 302 points in 2012.
PRESEASON ALL-PFL: The Bulldogs had six players named to the Preseason All-Pioneer Football League Team. Chosen on offense were quarterback Matt Lancaster, running back Trae Heeter, wide receiver Brendan Shannon and offensive lineman David Tiwari. Picked to the All-PFL defensive squad were lineman Jeremy Stephens and defensive back Sean Grady. Butler and Jacksonville paced the Preseason All-PFL Team with six players each selected. Lancaster, Heeter, Shannon, Stephens and Grady also joined offensive lineman Charlie Perrecone on the first team of Phil Steele's College Football Preview Preseason All-PFL Team.
•Senior Matt Lancaster was one of 32 players named to the watch list for the 2013 College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) FCS Quarterback Award. He also was named to the 2013 CFPA National Performer of the Year watch list.
•Matt Lancaster, who transferred to Butler from Illinois State, recorded the second-highest single season passing total in Butler football history in his first campaign last fall. Lancaster completed 217 of 361 passes for 2,708 yards and 21 touchdowns.
•Matt Lancaster led all PFL quarterbacks in rushing with 408 yards and eight touchdowns on 111 carries. He ranked second in the PFL in total offense (3,116).
•Seniors Trae Heeter was named to the 2013 CFPA watch list for running backs, while Jeremy Stephens was named to the watch list for defensive linemen.
•Trae Heeter became the fourth Butler player to lead the Pioneer Football League in rushing last fall. Heeter averaged 110.3 yards per game over ten contests. Former All-American Arnold Mickens (1994 & 1995) and Naim Sanders (1996 & 1998) each topped the PFL twice, while Richard Johnson (1993) led the league once.
•Butler returns six players who had at least 10 pass receptions in 2012. Brendon Shannon led the team with 62 catches, while JT Mesch was third with 45 receptions. Tom Judge, who made the switch from quarterback to wide receiver, finished fourth on the squad with 25 catches.
•Jeremy Stephens, who made the switch from defensive tackle to defensive end last year, ranked second in the PFL in tackles for loss (14) and third in the circuit in quarterback sacks (8.5) in 2012.
•Butler has to replace leading tackler Jordan Ridley, a three-time first team All-PFL performer. But eight of the team's top 10 tacklers return, led by defensive backs Sean Grady and Jayme Szafranski. Grady finished second on the team and 12th in the PFL in tackles (84) last season, while Szafranski was third on the squad and 13th in the league with 81 stops..
•The Bulldogs tied a school record with seven PFL wins in 2012.
•Butler is 16-8 in non-league games under head coach Jeff Voris.