Nothing to take for granted: Shepherd to see talented teams in 2019 season
SHEPHERDSTOWN – Don’t look back to 2015. Or 2016. Or 2017. Shepherd won all its regular season football games in those three seasons.
Don’t look to the 2019 season as a long march through a series of first-seen or little-seen opponents to the promise land of another postseason playoff visit.
Many of these new-to-the-schedule teams don’t equate to West Virginia State, West Liberty, Concord, Urbana or West Virginia Wesleyan.
These teams have some talented players. And they have some depth. And they are used to winning.
This will not be a breeze through a comfortable Saturday with a tailgate gathering, some glad-handing during the football game and then more smiles, cool drinks and thoughts of the next victory in the aftermath of a Shepherd success.
Shepherd does have some weak teams on its 11-game card. Seton Hill, Lock Haven, Millersville and East Stroudsburg are not going to plunder the Division II ranks any time soon.
But West Chester, Kutztown, Shippensburg, Bloomsburg and Mercyhurst are torch bearers for how to win games. And the Rams aren’t even playing conference titans Slippery Rock, California and Indiana.
Even coming off a 7-3 record season in 2018, the Rams have areas that need significant improvement.
Can the Rams show an upgrade in their offensive line? They must be able to get meaningful ground yards, or be forced to throw more often than they want. And how about the defensive line and corps of linebackers? Fairmont, Notre Dame and Virginia-Wise ran well in beating Shepherd last year.
There are no proven running backs returning from 2018. The lone proven receiver with satisfactory credentials is tight end DJ Cornish. A handful of transfers have been brought in as wide receivers, but Devin Phelps (Bowie State), Rodney Dorsey (Towson) and Michael Freeman (Connecticut) did very little in 2018.
Chrys Lane was an all-conference linebacker and Ponce DeLeon had five interceptions a year ago. But the entire defensive secondary had few bright moments or any consistent playmakers.
Special teams – once a national treasure when C.J. Davis was returning punts or kickoffs – were in quiet retreat last season. And the Rams missed extra points and field goals too often.
Penalties have bitten the Rams. Being penalized over 100 yards at times has been damaging.
Little or nothing can be taken for granted this season. This is going to be the rough and tumble world of the gilded athletic departments of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. The elite of the league have their scholarships, their facilities and their talented Division II players in place. They will welcome the Rams … and many will expect to beat them.