Simpson hits the road to kick off the 2014 season, traveling to Mount Pleasant to face Iowa Wesleyan. The Storm handled the Tigers in last year's season opener, a 55-21 win at Buxton Stadium.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
One second. One play.
That was all that stood between the 2013 Simpson Storm football team and a share Iowa Conference Championship.
Unfortunately for the Storm and head coach Jim Glogowski, one second was all Buena Vista needed to spoil a dream season for the Storm, who were in search of their first conference title since 1997.
"It was a tough pill to swallow, but it was our own fault," Glogowski said. "It wasn't even the one or two seconds left, it was the plays leading up that cost us the game."
Despite a disappointing penultimate game in an otherwise memorable season, the Storm went on to beat Luther in the season finale and finish 7-3, good enough for sole possession of second place in the Iowa Conference.
Glogowski – entering his seventh year at Simpson in 2014 – has plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future.
After enduring a 5-15 stretch from 2009-10, Simpson has steadily risen up the ranks in the Iowa Conference. The team won five games in 2011 and six in 2012 before last year's 7-3 campaign.
Glogowski's team has earned at least a share of second place in the league standings each of the last two seasons.
"It's disappointing [the way last season ended], but, glass half full, we were there," he said. "The last two seasons you can make the argument that we were the second best team in the league."
With a new year comes new challenges, the most glaring of which is finding a replacement for four-year starting quarterback and 2014 Iowa Conference Offensive MVP, Taylor Nelson.
Enter Dylan Berkey. A senior, Berkey has patiently waited for his opportunity, sitting behind Nelson on the depth chart for the last three seasons. Although he's taken limited snaps in varsity games, Glogowski has confidence in his knowledge of the offense and decision making ability.
"He knows where to go with the football, it's just a matter of doing it," Glogowski said. "He's done it in practice, he's done it in the offseason, now we get to see if he can do it in a game."
The first-year starter should have a smooth transition to varsity football thanks to a big, experienced offensive line in front of him, a deep stable of running backs and a talented receiving corps.
Second team all-conference center Corey Meyer anchors an offensive line that went from being a question mark entering 2013 to the team's top strength in 2014.
Including Meyer, Simpson's roster boats five players who started a game in 2013. In addition to Meyer's eight games at center, 6-5, 270-pound Blake Bergstrom started all 10 games at left tackle, 6-2, 290-pound Nat Christian started nine games at left guard and 6-2, 285-pound Blake Beard started nine games at right guard.
"I'm looking forward to the offensive line gelling," Glogowski said. "Those guys have all played in big-time environments where there is a lot on the line. They know what to do."
The big, experienced offensive line is ready to pave the way for a deep group of running backs, led by sophomore Jordan Beem. Beem ran for 482 yards in his rookie campaign, the most of any Simpson player not named Taylor Nelson. Senior and team captain Ethan Calvert will be the thunder to Beem's lightning, as the 210-pound senior will be the top short-yardage option for the Storm. Senior Tyler Kenny, the scat-back of the group, is the only player on the roster with a 100-yard rushing game to his credit.
The top receiving option for Berkey coming back in 2014 is Nate Connealy. A senior and team captain, Connealy was an honorable mention all-conference pick last season and looks to build upon his 32 catches and 418 yards. With Connealy in the slot, Walker Holland (16 catches, 181 yards, 1 touchdown) and Corbin Clark (7 catches, 182 yards, 3 touchdowns) are the key returners on the outside.
Finley was a second team all-conference performer at defensive end in 2013 and Severn led the defensive line in tackles from his spot on the inside. The duo combined for 16 tackles for loss and eight sacks last year.
The linebackers will be led by senior Brandon Abernathy. Abernathy started all 10 games for the storm last season, making 65 tackles and eight tackles for loss. He and fifth-year senior Joe Gilson will lead a unit that may appear to be in transition from the outside.
"The names might not be familiar to those on the outside, but they are names that are familiar to me," Glogowski said. "These guys have been in the program and now they are getting their chance to perform."
That will also be the case in the defensive backfield, where three of four starters graduated. The lone returning starter is corner Reid Ryan, who tied for the team lead with two interceptions and broke up five passes last season.
The most notable returner for the Storm on special teams is kicker/punter, Logan Klein. A two-time Iowa Conference Special Teams Player of the Week for his punting prowess, Klein will likely handle all of the kicking duties for the Storm in 2014.
The senior came into his own in the final game of the season, pinning Luther inside the 20 five times, including twice at its own 1 and once at the 4. He is 3-for-7 in field goal attempts throughout his career, all coming during his sophomore season in 2012.
"If he picks up where he left off last year, he'll be an all-conference type of player," Glogowski said.
With the departure of game-breaking returner Brad Vogel, look for a few new faces to try their hand at returning kicks in 2014. Beem and Clark are the top candidates to replace Vogel, who closed his career as Simpson's career leader in kick return yardage.