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In his fourth season leading the Big Blue, head coach Dan Gritti is ready for the 2019 season. After back-to-back winning seasons, the Big Blue reloaded the roster after the graduation of a large and talented senior class.

As preseason camp ended, Gritti said Millikin is ready for the 2019 with the addition of what he believes is the best freshman class in his time with the Big Blue.

“I am excited to get after it on Friday,” said Gritti. “It is hard to lose an accomplished group of seniors we had last season. We will have growing pains early this season, but I am excited to see our guys develop. Practices have been good and the freshmen have really acquitted themselves.”

Longtime official Marv Dampeer has been making an impact around Decatur for more than three decades

On offense, Millikin must replace the Big Blue’s all-time leading passer quarterback Nicco Stepina. Stepina leaves Millikin holding 14 Big Blue offensive records. Junior quarterback Cal Pohrte will take over leading the Millikin offense this season and has a deep and talented group of receivers led my two-time CCIW All-Conference First Team receiver senior Jordan Smith. 

Smith set Millikin and conference records last season with 17 touchdown catches and set a new Big Blue mark for receiving yards in a season with 1,044.

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“We will have a balanced offense,” added Gritti. “We will run a little more than in the past, but we will be prepared to take advantage of what the opposing defense gives us.”

The Big Blue defense will be inexperienced with only four returning starters from last year. The defense will be led senior linebacker Matt Brown who has been Millikin’s leading tackler and the most valuable player on defense in each of the last two seasons.

Gritti wants the Big Blue to force more turnovers on defense this season especially in the passing game. His other goal for the season is to have a more explosive running game on offense.

Hope College is coming off back-to-back 8-2 seasons and will be looking to avenge Millikin’s 25-21 victory in Holland, Michigan last season. The Flying Dutchmen are picked to win the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) after receiving four of the seven first place votes in the league’s preseason poll. Hope returns two All-MIAA first-team selections: senior quarterback Mason Opple and center Zach Smith.

In last year's meeting with Hope, Millikin came back in the fourth quarter to pull out the 25-21 road victory. The Big Blue held Hope scoreless in second half. Millikin had 422 yards of total offense gaining 261 passing and 161 yards rushing. Hope had 335 yards of total offense. Stepina was 19-for-38 for 261 yards passing and two touchdowns. Smith had six catches for 101 yards. Opple led the Hope offense 15-for-23 for 139 yards. Opple had 62 yards rushing.

Millikin will be led on the field by three captains. The captains are Brown, senior defensive lineman Jordan Williams and junior wide receiver Patrick Cooper.

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Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten

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Reporter

Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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