Coach Dean Kreps and his staff face one of the biggest rebuilding challenges in recent seasons as the Flying Dutchmen embark on an ambitious football journey.

The Flying Dutchmen graduated 24 seniors from their MIAA co-championship team. Many were in the starting lineup. The result is that the 2008 pre-season depth chart lists just two offensive and five defensive returning starters.

On top of that, Hope also has arguably one of the toughest pre-league schedules in Division III. Hope's four non-league opponents posted an impressive 31-11 cumulative record last fall.

The pre-season roster of 180 players includes 26 returning letterwinners, 10 on offense and 16 on defense. The roster includes 65 freshmen or players new to the team along with 64 sophomores, 35 juniors and 16 seniors.

Marking the 99th season of Hope football, the Flying Dutchmen will be bidding for a third consecutive MIAA championship. The 2007 team posted an overall 6-4 record, marking the 12th straight season that the Flying Dutchmen ended .500 or above, a school-record.

The offense will center around senior quarterback Jake Manning of Schoolcraft, Mich. (Schoolcraft HS). A two-year starter, Manning already ranks third all-time in passing yardage and sixth in total offense. Last season he threw 22 touchdown passes while completing 58% of his attempts covering nearly 2,500 yards.

The 2007 Flying Dutchmen averaged 34 points and 422 yards of total offense per game. Manning's challenge is the fact that the team's six leading receivers last fall have graduated. They accounted for all but 64 of the team 2,576 receiving yards and 22 of the 23 receiving touchdowns. Also gone are the team's two leading tailbacks who together gained nearly 1,500 yards and scored 19 of the team's 22 rushing touchdowns.

Two-time All-MIAA tackle Erik Ladomersky a senior from Grandville, Mich. (Grandville HS) is another returning standout. Ladomersky and Manning will be team co-captains.

The defensive secondary experienced with four returning starters - sophomore corner Chris Jackson of Keego Harbor, Mich. (Pontiac HS), sophomore safety Kevin VanDokkumburg of Holland, Mich. (Holland HS), senior safety Andy Johansen of Holland, Mich. (West Ottawa HS), and senior safety Kevin Mill of Romeo, Mich. (Romeo HS). Also returning in the defensive starting lineup is junior linebacker Chris Batterbee of Gladwin, Mich. (Gladwin HS).

The cupboard is not necessarily empty, however, as many of the Hope players on the two-deep chart last fall were underclassmen.

The 2008 schedule has three new non-league opponents. The Flying Dutchmen will be playing UW-Eau Claire for the first time and will be renewing rivalries with Illinois Wesleyan and Carthage. UW-Eau Claire advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III playoffs last fall. Hope's three other non-league foes (Wheaton, Illinois Wesleyan and Carthage) are all members of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW). Hope last played Carthage in 1985 and Illinois Wesleyan in 1999.

The MIAA schedule has a new look with the departure of Wisconsin Lutheran and the newly named Trine University, formerly Tri-State.

The 99th year of Hope football will begin with the traditional home Community Day game on Saturday, Sept. 6 against Illinois Wesleyan. The Flying Dutchmen will also play a home night game, hosting Wheaton under the lights of Holland Municipal Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 27. The 11-week/10-game season includes a bye on Saturday, Oct. 18.