Cal U no longer favorites in PSAC West
For the first time in nine years, the California University of Pennsylvania football team wasn't chosen as the preseason favorite in the PSAC West or at least predicted to share the division title.
Actually, the Vulcans didn't even get a sniff of the top spot in the preseason as they were voted by the division's coaches to finish fourth behind IUP, Mercyhurst, and Slippery Rock.
The preseason rankings came as no surprise to head coach Mike Kellar.
“All those years we were picked first, no one came right out and handed us the trophy. The games are played on the field, so we'll see what happens,” Kellar said. “A lot of those selections are based on what the team's have coming back. In our case, we lost a lot.”
Gone from the Vulcans are All-American Rontez Miles at safety, who is now in camp with the New York Jets; center Eric Kush, who just visited Pittsburgh as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs; the fourth-leading passer in school history in Peter Lalich, and the leading rusher for the past three seasons, Lamont Smith.
“I think we have a chance to be a really good football team, but it's hard to say that ... it's still camp,” Kellar said. “We've had some lulls and some really good practices.”
So who will replace Lalich?
“Cody Schroeder is the clear-cut starter,” Kellar said. “He was the starter each of the last two springs and he took over when Pete was hurt last year.”
Schroeder, a sophomore, threw for 808 yards and five touchdowns last season while subbing for Lalich.
“He understands our shifts and has command of the offense,” Kellar said of Schroeder. “He understands the movements and has a high comfort level with the receivers.”
James Harris will serve as the number two quarterback.
A transfer from Wake Forest and a Georgia native, Harris brings a lot of talent with him to Cal U.
“James is a super quality kid and he can really throw the ball,” Kellar said. “I think he has a bright future here.”
Taking over for Smith at tailback will be the powerful Jeff Knox, who played offense and defense last season.
“I have to have him sit down and make adjustments with the offense,” Kellar said with a laugh. “If I don't make him sit, he'll be right back on the field with the defense.”
Knox finished 2012 with nine rushing touchdowns.
Ringgold graduate Derrick Fiore will back up Knox.
“We moved Derrick from safety to tailback, and I really think he can surprise some people in this league,” Kellar said of the former Rams speedster.
Seniors Trey Johnson, Mike Williams, and Nadir Brown will anchor an experienced receiving squad. Kellar looks for contributions from sophomores Kuwan Scott and Devin Lomax, and senior C.J. Goodwin.
Starters on the Vulcans' offensive line will be redshirt junior Mike Price at left tackle and Chris George, a junior at left guard. Jack Abercrombie will slide over from guard to replace Kush at center. Jeremy Seamen, a redshirt sophomore, will see time at right guard along with Belle Vernon Area graduate Tyler Sellew and freshman Shareef Clinton. Sophomore Kenny Smith will play right tackle along with Tyler Peerson, another freshman.
“Our line is young and talented,” Kellar said of the unit. “The best thing is, everyone returns next season. There's room for a lot of growth there.”
Desimon Green, a Clairton product, will start at tight end to replace the graduated Blake Williamson.
“He's had a great camp,” Kellar said of Green. “He has great ball skills and we're pretty excited to see what he's going to bring on the field.”
Defensively, the Vulcans will feature multiple sets and looks after the hiring of Mike Lopez to fill the role of the departed Mike Conway.
“I've known Mike Lopez for a lot of years,” Kellar said of his defensive coordinator. “He brings such an energy with him, he's a football junkie. We'll be based out of a 3-3 stack, but we'll have a lot of different looks.”
BVA grad Spencer Lynn, a junior, Brian Justice and fellow senior Jeff Parrish, give the Vulcans a ton of experience at the linebacker spot.
“Both of those guys played in playoff games when they were so young,” Kellar said. “They give us great experience to plug in behind the d-line.”
All-American defensive end B.J. Stevens returns, as does Darnell Harding, who had 12.5 sacks in 2011.
“Our defensive line needs to be the strength of our defense and I really think they will be,” Kellar added. “With our multiple sets, there's going to be times when we have Harding and B.J. lined up with the linebackers. We should be able to get to the quarterback and ball carriers, that's for sure.”
Freshman Blake Bell and seniors Noah Taylor and Paul Everson will see time at defensive tackle.
“I love our line, but we really need to stay healthy,” Kellar added.
Dewey McDonald, a senior, transferred from Fairmont State, to give the Vulcans yet another All-American at the safety position. He'll be instrumental in replacing Miles.
“McDonald's had a really good spring and he's one of our captains,” Kellar said. “He's a great addition to our football team.”
Joining him at safety will be former Vulcans basketball player, C.J. Townes, who finished with one interception and 66 tackles last season.
Rodney Gillon and Terrell Roberson, who started most of the games last season, will lead the cornerback position. Corey Ford and redshirt-freshman Josh Page will also see time.
Andrew Cerett, a sophomore, averaged 42 yards per punt last season and will return as will junior-kicker Cody Nuzzo, who hit on 11 of 14 field goals last season.
“Cody came back in better shape this year than I've ever seen him,” Kellar said. “He had a really good summer and I know what kind of year he could have.”
The Vulcans open Sept. 7 when they travel to Hillsdale (Mich.). They will host Kutztown the following week in their home opener.
Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2667.