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Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011

Robert Morris football coach Joe Walton said it's a good time to be in the Northeast Conference.

League members now can compete in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, as Robert Morris did last season for the first time in school history. And NEC products, such as Dallas Cowboys receiver Miles Austin of Monmouth, dot NFL rosters.

While Central Connecticut State was named the league's preseason favorite Wednesday for the second consecutive season, Robert Morris was voted third behind Duquesne — speaking to the league's depth.

"The mere fact that the conference has grown so much and guys are getting to the NFL now is a big thing for the conference. It helped the recruiting," Walton said. "Some of them have gone to the NFL and had success, so that makes us more viable, I think, to prospects. Over the last two or three years, our recruiting has been better."

Junior quarterback Jeff Sinclair (Highlands) was named to the All-NEC preseason team. Sinclair completed 128 of 257 passes for 1,920 yards and 22 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions in 2010.

"The best way to describe Jeff is he's a proven winner," Walton said. "He's a very competitive kid who can do a lot of things on his own. He's definitely our leader on offense. Certainly the way he goes will tell a lot about what kind of season we have."

Duquesne junior running back Larry McCoy, also named to the All-NEC team, is another one of the league's rising stars. McCoy carried 252 times for 1,291 yards and six touchdowns last season. He'll run behind an offensive line featuring five returning starters.

"He was a major part of our offense last year," coach Jerry Schmitt said. "Depending on how defenses play us, I guess that'll dictate his role. His development's been great."

Schmitt sounded even more enthusiastic about Duquesne's new stadium and training facilities, which he believes will allow the program to become more of a factor in league play. Duquesne joined the NEC in 2008.

"Last year, we had our new field, new bleachers. We've been in a brand new office for just three days," he said. "The kids will walk in Sunday to a brand new locker room. We have a commitment from the university and the president and the athletic director."

St. Francis coach Chris Villarrial said his goal is to improve on last year's 1-10 record.

"You've got to focus all your positive energy forward," he said.

Honor roll

Area players named to the All-NEC preseason team:

» KR Anthony Coleman, Robert Morris, Sr.

» OL Ron Dunn, Duquesne, Sr.

» DL Alex Inda, Duquesne, Sr.

» TE Shandrae King, Sr.

» LB Serge Kona, Duquesne, Jr.

» RB Larry McCoy, Duquesne, Jr.

» OL Logan Miles, Robert Morris, Sr.

» DL Nolan Nearhoof, Robert Morris, Jr.

» QB Jeff Sinclair, Robert Morris, Jr.

Additional Information:

Preseason poll

The Northeast Conference preseason coaches poll, with first-place votes in parentheses:

1. Central Connecticut State (5)

2. Duquesne (2)

3. Robert Morris (1)

4. Albany

5. Bryant (1)

6. Monmouth

7. Wagner

8. Sacred Heart

9. Saint Francis

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