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Manchester University Spartans turn to inexperienced linemen

The prospect of beginning a season with a new starting quarterback playing behind four first-year starters along the offensive line would be enough to send some head coaches searching for a bottle of TUMS.

But now in his 11th season at Manchester, coach Shannon Griffith is comfortable in building through trial and error.

Coming off a 3-7 season in which the Spartans began 0-4, Griffith welcomes back only four offensive starters and six on defense.

Veteran center D'ante Dorsey, running back Austin Adams and wide receivers Dakota Nelson and Collin Huffine will be the cornerstones to support a first-year starter at quarterback (junior Logan Haston or senior Randy Frederick) and an offensive line that will be among the least experienced in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference.

“The biggest thing with our offense is that we have to replace four of our five linemen,” Griffith said.

“But at this point, the skill position is going to be a strength of our offense. Our two quarterbacks may not have played a lot the past two years, but they are veterans in the system.”

After an excellent sophomore season in which he rushed for 472 yards – 4.1 yards per carry – senior Adams fell off in production in 2013 (380 yards, 3.5 yards per carry). His return to form will be a huge key if the Spartans are to improve.

“Austin Adams is one of our fastest kids, but we have been trying to get him to translate that to the football field,” Griffith said.

“At times he shows it, but at times, he has not been very consistent. If he will trust himself, he can be that downhill type of guy.”

Nelson, who doubles as one of NCAA Division III's most dangerous punt returners, caught 56 passes for 582 yards last season and will have help on the other side of the formation from Huffine.

Defensively, the front four will be Manchester's strength. Led by Jon Scribner, the Spartans should be difficult to handle at the point of attack.

Evan West is the only returning linebacker, and there is some returning experience at cornerback.

In 2013, Griffith hoped for better results with lots of experience coming off a 6-4 season in 2012.

But when Manchester was hit by injuries and began 0-4, it was a difficult year.

“With all the youth we have up front, we are going to have to figure out how we are going to get better week to week,” Griffith said. “When you are starting four fresh faces up front, you really don't know what you've got. … We could be playing freshmen up front.

“We want to have an offensive identity coming out of camp.”

Manchester University

Coach: Shannon Griffith

Griffith at Manchester: 31-69

2013: 3-7

2014 schedule

Sept. 5: Trine, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 1 3: Buffalo St., noon

Sept. 20: Earlham, 1:30 p.m.

Sept. 27: at Mount St. Joseph, 1:30 p.m.

Oct. 4: Franklin, 1:30 p.m.

Oct. 11: Defiance, 1:30 p.m.

Oct. 25: at Bluffton, 1:30 p.m.

Nov. 1: at Rose-Hulman, 2 p.m.

Nov. 8: Hanover, 1:30 p.m.

Nov. 15: at Anderson, 1:30 p.m.