Numbers mean plenty for Niles

Published 12:28 pm Saturday, November 17, 2007

By By SCOTT NOVAK / Niles Daily Star
NILES – Measuring success need not be done by wins and losses.
But for the Niles varsity football team, those numbers tell the tale of the 2007 season – sort of.
The Vikings were 1-8 in 2006 and gave up a ton of points defensively.
Niles improved to 4-5 this past season and allowed fewer points than it scored offensively.
You would think second-year coach Dan Brawley would be happy about those numbers.
Although pleased that his team made improvements from the previous year, he was disappointed that the Vikings didn't make the playoffs.
"I really thought we could have made the playoffs," Brawley said. "I know we had the ability to be a playoff team. But we lost a couple of games we should have won."
Brawley said that his team never got blown out of any games like it had in 2006.
In fact, the Vikings were usually in the game at halftime. Some of those games they pulled out and some they did not.
Portage Northern, Lakeshore and even the St. Joseph games could have gone either way.
"We're not that far off," Brawley said. "We put a lot of time and energy into this thing and that is the difference between being 1-8 last year and getting blown out. We couldn't compete.
"This year we were competitive in every game. Instead of 15 or 20 guys believing in this thing, we had 25 or 30 guys, who believed they could go out there and win."
Brawley and his staff half already have begun working on the 2008 season.
Brawley said that they are going to take a "good" look at the offense and see what they need to do to improve on that side of the ball.
One of the key things the team must do is replace standout running back Ben Brandstatter, who accounted for a large chunk of the Niles offense with 1,649 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Brandstatter averaged 6.46 yards per carry.
The Vikings finished the 2007 campaign with 2,250 yards on the ground and 629 yards through the air.
Three Niles quarterbacks combined to go 42-of-113 with six touchdowns.
"We need to be more balanced and we need to be more productive offensively," Brawley said. "We have to be able to throw the football down the field."
With 19 seniors graduating, Brawley knows there is some work to do.
"We've got some big shoes to fill, but our JV team was 4-4-1 and our freshmen team went 8-1," he said. "We are going to have to have some of those kids come up and make an impact at the varsity level. We are going to have come good competition at every position."
Defensively, Brawley credited coaches Tony Short and Bernard Thomas for the improved play of the Vikings.
"They really did a nice job for us," he said. "Our defense really kept us in games all year long. We were able to give people a lot of different looks and we were not able to do that last year."
Senior D.J. Wolnik had a big year on defense for the Vikings with six interceptions and 42 tackles.
Brandstatter finished with 101 tackles, while Trevor Ernsberger finished with 72 stops.
On special teams, senior David Davis averaged 24.6 yards per kickoff return, while sophomores Cameron Sly and Colin Freas took over the punting and kicking duties respectively part way through the season and did a nice job for the Vikings.
Sly, who also played quarterback, averaged 31 yards per punt.
Freas was 11-of-12 on extra point kicks.
Brawley can also point to the fact that he and his staff were able to get more players on the field and didn't have to play as much "iron man football" as it did the previous season.
"As soon as we can get this program to where we play 11 kids on both sides of the ball, the better off we will be," he noted.
Brawley wanted to thank his seniors for working hard and helping get the program moving in the right direction.
"We are going to miss the seniors," he said. "They are a good group of kids. They are not only good football players, but good people too."