New Marietta College football coach Jeff Filkovski knows from battlefield experience the success on offense an outstanding offensive line can bring. He was an All-American quarterback on Allegheny College's 1990 NCAA Division III championship team.
"Everything's a priority," Filkovski said but building a potent offensive line is at the top. He faces a major rebulding project. Just about all the offensive starting front graduated - both guards, a center, and a tackle.
Since Filkovski didn't come aboard until late March and had to assemble an entirely new full-time staff, recruiting was much tougher than normal. But the recruits include some impact players.
"The timing made it tough but then we generated some new interest," Filkovski said. "We got some good ones but we don't have the numbers we were hoping to have.
"One thing at this level is you can find a bunch of guys who can play linebacker on back to the skill positions. The one area that I hope we got kinda lucky is up front."
Filkovski is familiar with Marietta from last season. He was the offensive coordinator at Heidelberg who lost to MC 31-23. But he hasn't had time to do extensive evaluation from videos of Pioneers' games.
Most of the needs are on offense. In addition to holes on the offensive line, the top two receivers, All-OAC Ryan Dawson and All-OAC Chad McDaniel, leave huge holes and also gone is top rusher Joe Webb.
Marietta will need to improve its rushing offense and reduce turnovers to have a chance at a winning record. The Pioneers ranked next-to-last in scoring (15.5 ppg) and ranked eighth in rushing (90.8 ypg).
"We'll have to run it better," Filkovski said.
Also, MC finished last in turnover ratio and suffered the most turnovers, 28.
"That won't get it done," Filkovski said. "I like to take care of the football. Running the football and not turning it over are things we're going to focus on."
Last season, Filkovski's Heidelberg offense ranked third in the OAC in scoring, fifth in rushing offense (134.2 ypg), and committed the fewest turnovers, only 15.
The Pioneers' type of offense will depend on the personnel, Filkovski said.
"One thing I've learned from this game is you do what your players do best," he said.
"We want to get the best 11 players on the field.
"The biggest thing is I don't care what set we're in or what offense we're in, there are two areas I'm very cognizant about and that's quarterback and the offensive line," Filkovski said.
"I want to make it as easy as I can for those guys. The quarterback is got to make sure we're in the formation we've practiced all week and the same thing for the line."
Dexter Hughes, who started eight games at quarterback, returns but Filkovski made it plain that every position will be open for competition. Hughes passed for 1,604 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The defense, better than the offense last season, will need work, too. The losses include All-OAC nose guard Clay Ream and All-OAC linebacker Brian Hahn.
Marietta, 3-7 last season and 3-6 in the OAC, opens its season Sept. 6 in a 1:30 p.m. game against Thiel of the Presidents Conference at Greenville, Pa.
Thiel was only 3-7 last season and 5-5 the year before but was 11-1, PAC champs at 6-0, and 1-1 in the NCAA Division III playoffs in 2005. Head coach for the Tomcats is Jack Leipheimer, the defensive coordinator for Allegheny when Filkovski played.
Filkovski's head coach at Allegheny was Ken O'Keefe, now the offensive coordinator for the Iowa Hawkeyes. O'Keefe's 1990 Gators defeated Lycoming (Pa.) 21-14 in overtime in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl at Bradento, Fla. and Filkovski passed for the game-winning touchdown.
Bill Robinson is a former Marietta Times sports editor.