BY ADAM WINAY | STAFF SPORTS REPORTER
Butler football players and coaches are preparing for another run at the Pioneer Football League championship. The Bulldogs started full-time training camp a few weeks ago.
Last season, Butler finished with an overall record of 8-3 and went 7-1 in conference play. The Bulldogs shared the PFL championship with San Diego and Drake.
Butler has won two PFL championships in the last four years under coach Jeff Voris.
Butler players have high expectations coming with the possibility of a postseason berth awaiting them at the end of the season.
This is the first year the PFL champion will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Voris said the team lost only eight players from last year’s squad, and 17 starters are returning for this season.
Voris said having those starters brings crucial experience to the team.
“You got guys that have played in the league and understand the competition level,” Voris said. “A lot of those guys are seniors, and with a senior season always comes a unique focus.”
Redshirt senior quarterback Matt Lancaster and senior running back Trae Heeter return after strong offensive seasons in the PFL.
Lancaster was named PFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2012. He threw for 3,116 yards and rushed for 408 yards. Heeter led the PFL in rushing with 1,103 yards.
The defense has three returning starters: redshirt junior defensive back Sean Grady, senior defensive back Jayme Szafranski and senior defensive lineman Jeremy Stephens.
Szafranski said a majority of the football players stayed at Butler over the summer working with coaches and trainers.
“We were at it all summer and making sure we were up to par and staying in shape,” Szafranski said. “I’ve been here every summer, and this was by far the best summer. We had more guys here than before.”
The coaching staff is happy with the progress made over the summer and during training camp. Voris said the team’s 26 new players learned the system quickly.
“Coming off a really good season and having a lot of the same guys come back, we are really excited for the season,” said fifth year senior wide receiver Brendan Shannon.
The upcoming season starts Saturday at No. 6 South Dakota State.