Whether he is taking on opposing running backs or chasing down wide receivers, Devon Vance is always around the football for Wisconsin-Platteville.”I’m the extra guy [near the line of scrimmage] when I’m needed there, or I’m the deep safety,” said Vance, a Prairie Ridge graduate who started 12 games as the NCAA Division III team’s free safety last season. “I love the freedom that I have. I get to see the whole field and react. I get to run around and make plays.”Vance was the team’s second-leading tackler last season with 85 stops and helped the Pioneers to a 10-2 record and their first playoff appearance and postseason win in school history.Last week, Platteville was voted No. 8 in the D3Football.com preseason poll as a follow-up to its breakthrough season.“It’s awesome for us to be recognized,” said Vance, who is entering his junior season. “But that’s not where we want to finish.”Vance was part of a team that was the No. 3-ranked pass defense in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference last season, allowing 222.1 yards a game. They also ranked third with 31 sacks.Backed by an offense that averaged nearly 38 points a game, Platteville used an attacking defense to force 28 turnovers.“I like that we blitz a lot,” said Vance, who is one of nine returning defensive starters. “We were a young, athletic defense last year. We made up for some mistakes with our athleticism. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do with another year of experience.”The Pioneers’ only two losses last season came to WIAC member Wisconsin-Whitewater, which won the national championship, and national semifinalist North Central College.“We don’t want (last season) to be a once-every-10-year thing,” Vance said. “After the loss to North Central, that left us even hungrier.”A major challenge this off-season has been damage to campus and Ralph E. Davis Pioneer Stadium during a June 16 EF-2 tornado.An estimated $10 million of damage occurred in the area, including major damage to the stadium. Three of the four light standards were mangled, along with the visitors’ stands and portions of the home stands.“It’s something that you only really see on TV,” Vance said. “I live about 400 yards from where everything touched down.”Despite the damage, new lights, playing surface and visitors’ stands are expected to be ready for the team’s Sept. 13 home opener against Dubuque, according to school officials.Kinney collects preseason honors: Johnsburg grad Thomas Kinney, a senior at Southern Illinois, was one of 36 college placekickers to be name this week to the Fred Mitchell Award Watch List.The Mitchell award is given annually to the kicker who exemplifies excellence on the field and in the community.Kinney is one of only seven Football Championship Subdivision players chosen among the watch list selections. Last season, he made 18 field goals for SIU, including a season-long 52-yarder against Western Illinois, the second-longest field goal in FCS a year ago.Kinney is active as a volunteer with the Special Olympics and was part of a Saluki contingent to take part in the annual Souper Bowl of Caring.Kinney was one of two SIU players to be named to the preseason All-Missouri Valley Football Conference team.• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.
On Campus: Vance finds freedom in Platteville defensive backfield
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