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Local Small College Football Preview

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Small college football is alive and well in western PA, across Division III, Division II and the Football Championship Subdivision. PSR breaks down the teams to watch this fall.

Duquesne Dukes
FCS/Northeast Conference (NEC)

Coming off a 7-4 (4-3) record, the Dukes have much to look forward to in 2011. Other than a bad mid-season loss to Monmouth, the Dukes other two conference losses were to 2010 NEC champion Robert Morris and second place Central Connecticut State. The Dukes are bringing back 14 starters (8 offensive, 6 defensive), including 2010 All-Northeast Conference second team running back Larry McCoy, who rushed a career high 252 times for 1,259 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore. Junior quarterback Sean Patterson returns as the head signal caller, looking to build off his first full season as a starter. Patterson lost his top two receivers, but junior wide-out Akeem Moore will assume the role as the go-to target. Moore had 22 catches for 322 yards with a team high 14.6 yards per catch a season ago. Duquesne’s top returning tackler, junior Serge Kona, made the move from linebacker--where he started all 11 games in 2010--to safety this spring. With the Dukes’ returning pieces, look for them to make a run at the NEC championship.  

Robert Morris Colonials
FCS/Northeast Conference (NEC)
The defending NEC champs have many holes to fill as the Colonials enter the 2011 season. With only 10 starters returning (6 offensive, 4 defensive) from last year’s senior-led team, the Colonials must gel quickly in hopes of repeating as NEC champions. The Colonials lost all four starters in their defensive backfield, along with their leading tackler and 2010 NEC Defensive Player of the Year, linebacker Alex DiMichelle. Though starting QB Jeff Sinclair returns for his junior season after a successful sophomore campaign, 2010 NEC Offensive Player of the Year running back Myles Russ is gone after amassing over 4,000 yards rushing as a Colonial. The offense won’t be completely adrift, though, as the Colonials top receiver and member of The Sporting News FCS preseason All-American team TE Shadrae King returns for his senior season. Although many uncertainties lie ahead, 2010 NEC Coach of the Year Joe Walton should put together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2003-2004.

Mercyhurst Lakers
Division II/Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) – West Division

Coming off a surprise PSAC championship season, Mercyhurst looks to start out fast in hopes of defending their title. The Lakers will play six of their first seven games at home, but finish the season with four straight road games. Mercyhurst is ranked eighth in The Sporting News preseason Top 25 — the highest ranked PSAC team in the poll. The Lakers just posted their best season in program history, going 10-3 (6-1), while advancing to the quarterfinals in their first-ever NCAA tournament berth. The Lakers return 10 of 11 starters on an offense that set program records for points scored (354), highest passing completion (58.3), and tied the records for passing touchdowns (29) and touchdowns in a game (5). 2010 PSAC West offensive player of the year senior WR Trevor Kennedy returns as starting QB Travis Rearick’s main target in 2011. The offense will key Mercyhurst’s success as seven starters are lost on a defense that tied the single-season shut out record (2). Mercyhurst’s handling of their new role as “the team to beat” in the PSAC will be crucial in deciding their 2011 success.

Slippery Rock Rockets
Division II/Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) – West Division

After a mediocre 6-5 (3-4) season, Slippery Rock has enough returning pieces to turn some heads in 2011. The Sporting News ranked Slippery Rock 25th in their preseason Top 25 poll mostly in part to the 16 returning starters (9 offensive, 7 defensive) from last season. The Rock started out 6-2 last season before dropping their final three contests by a combine total of 16 points — games that could’ve gone either way. Slippery Rock was only a couple close defeats away from being a PSAC West contender a year ago. The Rock will go as far as junior RB Akeem Satterfield, the No. 2 scorer and No. 6 rusher in the nation last season, can carry them. Satterfield rushed 263 times for 1,352 yards and 20 touchdowns. He'll team with QB Ryan Sabo, who threw for 1,388 yards and five touchdowns on 245 attempts. Satterfield will be without Division II lineman of the year C Brandon Fusco clearing the way as the Minnesota Vikings drafted Fusco in the sixth round. With leading tackler LB Zach Sheridan returning for his senior season anchoring the defense, Slippery Rock should improve on last season’s output while chasing after that PSAC West championship.

Washington & Jefferson Presidents
Division II/Presidents Athletic Conference (PAC)

The Presidents ended their 2010 campaign by capturing the 2010 ECAC Division III Southwest Bowl with a 54-41 victory over Franklin & Marshall. Though the Presidents ended up 9-2 (6-1), they must find a way to defeat three-time defending PAC champion Thomas More. Thomas More knocked off W&J three consecutive years by a combined 21 points. The Sporting News NCAA Division III Top 25 preseason poll ranks the Presidents at 16th, just two rankings behind Thomas More. Returning for the Presidents in the quest for their 28th consecutive winning season is junior RB Tim McNerney, who’ll be the focal point of the offense after the departure of starting QB Gino Rometo. McNerney rushed 224 times for 1,009 yards and 18 touchdowns last season in his first year as a starter. Senior WR Adam Dominick will provide experience at the receiver position for the Presidents’ eventual starting quarterback. The team’s leading returning tackler on defense is Neil Sorice, who accounted for 70 tackles (10 for a loss) and 2.5 sacks. Thomas More visits Washington & Jefferson this season in a must-watch contest between two schools fighting for PAC football supremacy.

Allegheny Gators
Division III/North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC)

After another successful campaign, the Gators look to improve their 7-3 (4-2) record through veteran leadership. Finishing third in a competitive North Coast Athletic Conference, the Gators need to rely on their veterans if they want any shot of competing for a NCAC championship. With the departure of signal caller T.J. Salopek and leading rusher RB Brian Tamburlin, the Gators offensive line will be called upon to keep the offense afloat. Led by offensive captain and 2010 First Team All-Conference senior LT Sam Taylor, along with two other returning starters, the offensive line should be one of the team’s biggest strengths. Defensive team captain senior MLB Doug Williams anchors a unit that returns six starters from last season, including DE John Douglas, who registered a team high 4.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2010. The Gators must take advantage of their edge in the special teams department as the NCAC’s top punter, Andrew DeJong, returns for his senior season. With more uncertainty on the offensive side of the ball, DeJong’s ability to pin opponents back deep will be crucial in allowing the offense to find its groove without punishing the Gators’ defense.

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