Area players expect to make Cal U impact
There may not be a lot of local players on the California University of Pennsylvania football team's roster, but the Mid-Mon Valley products are poised to make an impact on the Vulcans' season.
Five players make up the local contingent, led by redshirt-senior linebacker, Spencer Lynn, and junior running back Derrick Fiore.
Other local players include former Monessen Greyhound, Justice Rawlins, California Area grad Skyler Dickinson, and Ringgold's Chase Colucci, a transfer from St. Vincent.
Lynn was among the team leaders in tackles on special teams last season and head coach Mike Kellar is expecting him to make a bigger impact on the defensive side of the ball this season.
“Spencer started his redshirt-freshman year as a backup and ended up the starter and had a great year,” Kellar said. “The next season he ended up missing significant time with an illness. Even when he did come back, he was still recovering. Then the following year he tore his hamstring and missed time. A coaching change and different system last season set him back a bit, but he had a great year on special teams and started seeing the field more throughout the year.
“This year, he's come back in great shape. He's always going to be in great shape, he's going to be a damn Navy Seal. But he's going to play so much faster. He put in a lot of time and I expect to see him make an impact this season.”
Lynn admitted that all the changes in system and staff made things difficult.
“I'm finally comfortable in saying that I know this defense like the back of my hand,” Lynn said during the team's media day on Wednesday. “It took a little while, but I know where I need to be and when I need to be there.
“It's going to put me in a good position and put me on the field.”
Lynn said he always plays for more than himself.
“I'm thankful that I'm playing so close to home, I always have been,” he said. “That's my motivation, playing in front of my family and making them as proud as possible.”
Fiore saw the field a lot last season, serving as a backup running back. This year, he thinks he has even more to offer.
“Speed, agility and power,” Fiore said. “I expect great things. We have the entire offensive line coming back, which is nice as a running back. When I came here, I was a safety, but I'm happy to be back at running back, which is where I was at Ringgold.”
Kellar mentioned another skill Fiore brings to the Vulcans offense.
“He's really good at catching the ball out of the back field,” Kellar said. “He has the ability to recognize blitzes and does a great job pass blocking. He's a hard-nosed kid and we really like what he brings to the field.”
Fiore said he worked a lot over the summer with starting quarterback, James Harris.
“I had a lot of chemistry with (former quarterback) Cody (Schroeder), but I was able to work a lot with James and now we have good chemistry.”
Rawlins, now a fullback, knows he's back to being a young pup on the Vulcans roster.
“It's definitely all switched around,” he said with a laugh. “It's different. I was on top ... a leader at Monessen, now I'm on the bottom.”
Rawlins laughed, remembering a tweet he sent out about attending a running backs meeting. In it, he said he was thinking like a linebacker.
“I'll sit there and I'll be thinking, ‘oh that's not going to work,' but then realize I'm not playing defense anymore,” he said. “I'll adjust, though. They have me at fullback, which is great, because I like running over and through people.”
Rawlins won't be the only “big” back from Monessen playing in the PSAC West this season with Brett Crenshaw, a redshirt-junior, playing for Slippery Rock.
“We decided that when I got here, we weren't allowed to talk anymore,” Rawlins said with a laugh.
He relishes the opportunity to play college ball close to home, though.
“It's important to me, but with my brother (Chavas) at Duquesne, there are a lot of days where we play at the same time,” he said.
Laughing, Rawlins said he'll find out which brother his family loves more.
“I'm just playing, but there's games when he'll be able to come here and I'll be up there for his first game because they start before we do here,” he added.
Lynn said all the local guys should welcome the opportunity playing in front of family and friends.
“I'd just tell them all to enjoy it,” Lynn said. “There's a lot of guys you played with in high school that aren't playing anymore. Just enjoy playing close to home ... enjoy it and have fun.”
The Vulcans kick off practice 1 p.m. today and will open their season 1 p.m. Sept. 6 against Virginia State at Adamson Stadium.
Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2667.