Courtesy of Brent Hager - WVIAC Associate Commissioner
PRINCETON, W. Va. – The Shepherd University football team has been chosen as the favorite to capture the WVIAC title in the annual preseason poll as voted on by the league’s coaches.
Shepherd, which totaled six first-place nods and 76 points from the votes, should be up for the challenge of claiming its sixth WVIAC Title since the 2004 campaign. Defending WVIAC Champion Concord, under the direction of WVIAC Coach of the Year Garin Justice, received the other three first place votes and 71 points, which was good enough for second place in the poll.
West Virginia Wesleyan, which soared into the top 20 last year under first-year head coach Jonas Jackson, registered a second-place vote and multiple third place votes en route to 55 points. The Bobcats are predicted to finish third.
The University of Charleston, which won its last four games en route to a 5-6 campaign on the season and a 5-3 WVIAC mark, was tabbed fourth by the league’s coaches. The Golden Eagles totaled 50 points. UC was second on one ballot and third on another.
Fairmont State edged Glenville State for fifth place in the WVIAC Preseason Poll. The Falcons, coming off a 7-4 record including a 4-4 WVIAC effort, tallied 46 points. FSU received two second-place votes by the WVIAC coaches.
The Pioneers are sixth in the poll after amassing 45 points. GSC received a third-place nod on one ballot. West Liberty is seventh in the WVIAC Coaches’ Poll after garnering 31 points. Seton Hill is eighth after picking up 16 points while West Virginia State is ninth with 15 points in the poll.
The Rams return an abundance of talent from last season’s team. SU (9-2, 6-2) boasts returning quarterback Bobby Cooper under center. Cooper threw for 2,161 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2011 while Kenny Williams will handle the ground attack after compiling 842 yards and 14 rushing scores a season ago. Defensively, Howard Jones and Corey Washington earned all-WVIAC and all-region honors in 2011, with Jones earning the accolades at defensive end while Washington did at free safety. Washington led the Rams with 57 tackles and nine passes defended while Jones ran wild, posting 23.5 tackles for loss. He also had 12 sacks. Troy McNeill averaged 37.4 yards a punt last year while punt returner DJ Scott and kick returner Will McKenzie should give the Rams great field position.
The Mountain Lions (7-4, 7-1) return all-conference players in quarterback Zack Grossi and wide receiver Ryan Stewart on the offensive front. Grossi threw for 2,541 yards and 17 scores while Stewart hauled in 44 catches for 831 yards. He also crossed the goal line 10 times. Defensively, Jake Lilly, an all-conference performer, returns after posting a team-best 115 tackles, eight of which were for a loss. Josh Miller will also head the defense after tying for a team-best six sacks in 2011 while earning all-WVIAC accolades. Punter and kicker Brad Cox will help Concord’s special teams. Cox averaged 38 yards a punt while forcing 14 fair catches and placing 13 inside the 20-yard line. He also averaged 54.6 yards on kick-offs.
The Bobcats (9-2, 6-2) had a tremendous 2011 season under first-year head coach Jonas Jackson. WVWC returns just a handful of starters on offense and must replace WVIAC Offensive Player of the Year Adam Neugebauer. WVWC will look to transfer quarterback Nate Montana to direct the offense while playmaker Donte Boston, another transfer, will help the receivers. All-American defensive end Jonas Celian will disrupt opposing offenses while fellow all-conference performer Jesse Robertson will make an impact from his linebacker position. Robertson led the Bobcats with 88 tackles in 2011 while Celian registered 14 sacks. Casper Bernild will take over the kicking and punting duties while James Williamson could be a threat returning kicks.
The Golden Eagles (5-6, 5-3) won their last four games of the 2011 campaign under the guidance of first-year head coach Pat Kirkland. The offense returns All-American Jordan Roberts at running back. He averaged 130 yards a game on the ground and scored 17 touchdowns a season ago. All-conference offensive lineman George Davilla could challenge for All-America honors as well in 2012. Honorable mention all-conference performer Jeff Green tallied 11 sacks a year ago. He, alongside Ike Gibson will help out what could be a strong defensive unit this season. First-team all-conference punter Puma Nuredini will hold down the kicking game for the Golden Eagles. In 2011, Nuredini averaged 39.2 yards per punt and placed 17 inside the 20-yard line.
The Falcons (7-4, 4-4) return WVIAC Offensive Freshman of the Year in running back Daniel Monroe. In 2011, Monroe rushed for 999 yards and 13 touchdowns in just 10 games. He added one more score on a reception. FSU also returns first-team all-conference selection Chris Barfield, who should once again help pave the way for Monroe to chew up yards quickly. All-conference performers Dewey McDonald and Garrett Davis will play a large role in the Falcons’ defensive schemes. Davis posted a team-high 101 tackles, including eight sacks, in 2011. McDonald was second on the squad with 73 tackles. All-American Matt Wilmer averaged 35.1 yards per kick-off return and 23 yards per punt return. Wilmer, along with Ryland Newman, who averaged 26.8 yards per punt return, should give FSU tremendous field position. Newman picked up all-conference honors at cornerback a season ago.
The Pioneers (5-6, 5-3) return a solid offensive front. The line is bolstered by first-team all-conference selection Mark Jackson. He, along with the rest of his teammates, will give all-conference performer Darold Hughes enough time to find his targets or allow Hughes to make plays once he gets into space. Hughes threw for 2,002 yards and 12 scores while running for four more in 2011. James Washington (first-team all-WVIAC) paced the defensive effort with 12.5 tackles for loss a season ago, 10 of which were sacks. He also rattled quarterbacks with five hurries from his defensive end position. All-WVIAC standout Terry Reese was second on the team with 73 tackles while earning honorable mention accolades. Punter Tanner Collins averaged 36 yards per kick and placed 11 inside the 20 while Colston Bayless nailed nine-of-11 field goal attempts on the year.
The Hilltoppers’ (1-10, 1-7) youth from 2011 has turned into experience for the 2012 campaign. WLU came up just short in several close games a season ago. WLU has an All-America candidate in wide receiver Brandon Schroeder. En route to earning first-team all-conference honors in 2011, he hauled in 76 catches for 1,007 yards and seven scores a season ago. Offensive lineman Sawyer Russell will take charge up front. On defense, nose guard Leonidas Redding will clog the middle while Justin Black is a complete player at cornerback. Both earned all-conference honors in 2011. Redding totaled 37 tackles while Black had five passes defended. Black will be a force on special teams as he averaged 24.5 yards per kick-off return in 2011. He also had a touchdown on a kick-off. Punter Griffin Yocum averaged 38.2 yards per punt, earning all-conference honors. He boomed a punt of 61 yards last year and forced seven fair catches.
The Griffins (1-10, 1-7) return quarterback Ryan Morris, who tossed for 1,600 yards and nine scores in 2011 while averaging 177.8 yards per game. He will be looking to wide receiver DJ Carter to be the leader of the group. Defensively, linebacker Calvin Mason returns. He finished third on the squad with 66 tackles, seven of which went for a loss. Fellow senior Darius Turner will lead a talented group of safeties this year. In 2011, Josh Cavalier did it all for special teams. He connected on four-of-six field goals, including a long of 46. He also averaged 36.4 yards per punt and had 34 kick-offs on the season. Aaron Prescott will be pushing Cavalier for the punting duties this year. Prescott registered a SHU-long of 53 yards on one punt a season ago while averaging 34.7 yards.
The Yellow Jackets (1-9, 1-7) dropped four games by one score in 2011. WVSU returns the core of its team from last year. All-conference quarterback Ricky Phillips returns after a huge campaign a season ago. Phillips threw for 2,460 yards and 18 touchdowns while running for 267 yards and two scores. He will be looking for all-conference receiver Ervin Kent, who came down with seven touchdown catches a year ago. Kent totaled 34 catches for 580 yards in 2011. Defensively, Tyler Long’s presence should disrupt opponents. He registered 65 tackles, seven of which went for a loss. Jarrod Zirkle will also be a factor in the Yellow Jackets’ success in 2012. He is coming off a solid campaign that featured 22 stops, a pass break-up and one defended.
The 2012 slate gets underway on Aug. 30 as four league programs will be playing in Thursday night contests. For the 2012 composite schedule, go to http://www.wviac.org/calendar.aspx?path=football&season=2012%20&
Place Team (First-Place Votes) Points
1. Shepherd (6) 79
2. Concord (3) 71
3. West Virginia Wesleyan 55
4. Charleston 50
5. Fairmont State 46
6. Glenville State 45
7. West Liberty 31
8. Seton Hill 16
9. West Virginia State 15
Note: Monte Cater photo courtesy of Brent Hager WVIAC Associate Commissioner