Aug. 11, 2015
Meet the Bears: Justin Kramer | Follow : @Coach_JKramer
Throughout the course of the Bears' preseason training camp, we'll take a sneak peek at each position group in anticipation of the 2015 season. In our third installment of the series, we look at the Missouri State tight ends and special teams, both of which fall under the tutelage of assistant coach Justin Kramer.
While Kramer's tight end group welcomes back three letterwinners from last year's squad, the competition for playing time figures to be one of the key battles on the offensive side of the ball during preseason training camp. As a whole, the group figures to be one of the more inexperienced positions on the roster, with the three returnees combining for only three career receptions. But Kramer welcomes the challenge of molding the Bears' blend of youth and experience into a productive and dependable unit.
"The big thing is, we got better fundamentally as a group over the offseason," Kramer said. "The guys have been very receptive in terms of grasping what's expected and what can be improved upon. The commitment level they've shown this summer--as far as being here, being accountable, working on their fundamentals--I think that's really going to translate well."
Fifth-year senior Richard Darden is the most experienced member of the group, appearing in all 12 games last fall after serving as a valuable performer on the Bears' special teams his first two collegiate seasons. Sophomores Erik Furmanek and Adam St. Peter saw action as rookies a year ago as well, and should once again factor into the mix this fall. Furmanek split his time between linebacker and tight end last year, while St. Peter played in all 12 contests as a redshirt freshman. The trio could get the first crack at claiming the starting job and extending a line of recent distinguished MSU tight ends that has included the likes of pro signees Clay Harbor and Gannon Sinclair over the last five years.
Sophomores Chris Cacciarelli and Brad Troyer, as well as freshman Chandler Collins, hope to jump into the fray during camp as well. Cacciarelli will be looking for his first live action as a Bear after redshirting as a true freshman in 2013 and sitting out the entire 2014 season due to an injury. Troyer missed last season with an injury as well following his transfer from Drake University, while Collins was a three-year starter at Springfield Glendale High, where he earned Class 6 all-state honors as a senior last year.
"I want those guys coming in ready to compete," Kramer added. "It's a fluid situation. We want them to show us they're ready to play. From the first day of camp until the last, I think we'll see some breakthroughs, some guys emerge as contributors to our offense."
2015 Missouri State Tight Ends
Chris Cacciarelli (6-4, 229, So., St. Louis, Mo.)
Chandler Collins (6-4, 231, Fr., Springfield, Mo.)
Richard Darden (6-3, 238, Sr., 1L, Memphis, Tenn.)
Erik Furmanek (6-3, 247, So., 1L, Belleville, Ill.)
Adam St. Peter (6-4, 235, So., 1L, Joplin, Mo.)
Brad Troyer (6-1, 214, So., Columbia, Mo.)
While the Bears will most likely have a new look at tight end in 2015, MSU's special teams will feature a number of familiar faces this fall. That said, Kramer is quick to point out that no spot is decided entering preseason camp.
"We have a veteran group of specialists," he stated. "But again, I've told those guys the same thing I've told the tight ends--the competition is wide open. It's about scoring points, being consistent and mastering our fundamentals and techniques."
Senior Marcelo Bonani turned in a strong 2014 campaign in his first year as the Bears' regular kicker, converting 12-of-17 field goal attempts and 29-of-32 extra points to lead the team in scoring with 65 points. He also logged one of the more memorable moments in recent MSU history with a game-winning, 53-yard boot as time expired to beat Central Arkansas. Sophomore Shelby Harris is also back for his third year in a Missouri State uniform after assuming some of the squad's kickoff duties last fall.
Like Bonani, senior Chris Sullens gives MSU a veteran presence on special teams after handling the punting duties in each of his first three seasons with the Bears. Last fall, he set school records for total punts and punting yards while averaging 40.9 yards--good for 30th nationally--per punt to earn All-MVFC honorable mention recognition. Freshman Brendan Withrow hopes to challenge Sullens in his first collegiate season following a strong prep career in which he was a three-time all-district and all-conference kicker and punter at St. Pius X High School in Festus, Mo.
MSU should enjoy added special teams stability from senior Colby Wickwar, who returns for his final collegiate campaign after handling long snapping duties in each of the Bears' 35 contests over the last three seasons.
One area of its special teams without a go-to veteran entering the preseason is its return game. MSU will have to replace one of the MVFC's top return threats in Julian Burton, who accounted for more than 500 return yards as a senior last fall. The Bears' return units will be bolstered by a deep pool of athletic and speedy performers, including sophomores Deion Holliman and Eric Phillips, freshman Matt Rush and junior Zac Hoover.
Kramer knows that the successes of his special teams units will run deeper than the talent and experience levels of his specialists, however.
"What's fun is, there's always one guy that doesn't necessarily fit the spec that you want size and speed-wise, but he plays hard all the time," he said. "Then that guy shows up in fall camp and becomes a key contributor on special teams. I'm anxious to see who that guy is going to be for us."
2015 Missouri State Specialists
Marcelo Bonani (K, 5-11, 173, Sr., 1L, Lake Wales, Fla.)
Shelby Harris (K, 5-11, 217, So., Nixa, Mo.)
Deion Holliman (KR, 5-9, 180, So., 1L, Camden, Ark.)
Zac Hoover (KR, 6-0, 188, Jr., 2L, Grain Valley, Mo.)
Eric Phillips (KR, 5-10, 163, So., 1L, Kirkwood, Mo.)
Matt Rush (KR, 5-10, 174, RFr., Springfield, Mo.)
Chis Sullens (P, 6-0, 186, Sr., 3L, Camdenton, Mo.)
Colby Wickwar (LS, 6-0, 203, Sr., 3L, Nixa, Mo.)
Brendan Withrow (P, 6-0, 210, Fr., Imperial, Mo.)