Duquesne football star A.J. Hines running down a dream
Duquesne All-American running back A.J. Hines wants to enjoy his senior season, but he also is in a hurry.
“I want to show scouts that I am fast, and that once I break away, I won’t get caught,” said Hines, who rushed for 1,520 yards and 15 touchdowns last season and led the Dukes to the second round of the FCS playoffs for the first time in school history.
Hines enters the season first among active FCS players with 3,849 career rushing yards and 38 rushing touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 225-pounder said he can run the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds, which isn’t blazing but is faster than several running backs who were drafted in April.
“That’s what they’re all asking about and wondering about,” Duquesne coach Jerry Schmitt said of pro scouts. “We have not timed him in the 40. I just know any time he’s been on the field, he has a game speed where people don’t catch him.
“He has a chance (to play in the pros). He knows that. We talk about it all the time, but first and foremost right now is doing the best he can for this team.”
Hines was named to the watch list for the Walter Payton Award as the top player in the FCS, and he’ll be the fulcrum for an offense that also returns starting quarterback Daniel Parr.
Last season — his first with the Dukes after transferring from Florida Atlantic — Parr led the NEC with 27 total touchdowns (20 passing, seven rushing). He started all 13 games and ranked 16th in FCS in pass efficiency.
“He’s started to elevate his game with the system and some of the things he can do mentally, where last year he was learning on the fly in the games,” said Schmitt, whose team went 9-4 last season and made program history by beating No. 16 Towson in the first round of the playoffs before losing to No. 5 South Dakota State in the second round.
“His arm strength and his footspeed helped him out last year, and now he’s adding to that staying in the pocket and making the right reads and making protection checks.”
Hines and Parr will be working behind an offensive line that graduated four starters. The Dukes also must make up for the loss of receiver Nehari Crawford, the program’s all-time leader in catches and receiving yards.
That responsibility will fall on 6-5, 225-pound senior Kellon Taylor and a pair of juniors: Illinois transfer Dominic Thieman and Davie Henderson, who missed last season with a torn pec.
Taylor, who also played basketball the past three seasons, finished second on the team with 44 catches and 576 yards last fall. He is “looking faster than ever,” Schmitt said, and is fully focused on football.
On defense, the leader is Franklin Regional graduate Brett Zanotto, who recorded a team-best 89 tackles last season.
Duquesne, which was picked to repeat as NEC champion, opens at 4 p.m. Sept. 7 against Walsh.
“They’re working for more,” Schmitt said. “And it’s been very enjoyable for me to watch how this group has turned last year’s success into a positive in the offseason.”
• Robert Morris opens its second season under coach Bernard Clark Jr. at 7 p.m. Thursday against FBS Buffalo.
The Colonials, who went 2-9 last season, were picked to finish seventh of eight teams in the NEC.
Senior tight end Matthew Gonzalez (team-high 40 catches, 642 yards, 12 touchdowns) is back after earning second-team Associated Press FCS All-American honors.
Senior receiver Tim Vecchio (Penn-Trafford), who stands fifth all-time at RMU with 94 catches, returns, along with the top two rushers from last season, senior Terrence Stephens Jr. (West Allegheny) and redshirt sophomore Alijah Jackson. The duo combined for 1,361 yards.
Jeff Vella is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .