Subtle and overt changes with Shepherd football
SHEPHERDSTOWN — This won’t be a watershed football season at Shepherd.
Despite moving to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference for the 2019 season, there won’t be any monumental changes taking place before then.
The Rams have another year in the Mountain East Conference. And with the offensive players they still possess, it won’t be just waiting for Sept. 2019 to get to the fast-moving calendar.
While numerous changes are afoot, there won’t be any “wait ’til next year” calls in the Rams’ camp.
In its seasons in the MEC, Shepherd has lost only two conference games, and it has missed winning the league championship only once.
Winning conference football games has become more than a little-noticed tradition at Shepherd.
Changing conferences won’t dull the Rams’ appetite for still another MEC title, before it’s off to playing Indiana, California, West Chester, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and Bloomsburg of the well-known PSAC.
New faces will be prominent both on the sidelines and on the field when the Rams begin the 2018 season at prosperous Notre Dame (Ohio). Shepherd outlasted the Falcons, 54-49, in its 2017 opener at Ram Stadium.
After taming Notre Dame, the Rams went through another undefeated regular season before being tripped by Findlay (Ohio) in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Long-time head coach Monte Cater has retired after 31 years at Shepherd. Before leaving, Cater had become the most successful active coach in all of collegiate football.
Ernie McCook has succeeded Cater, moving from offensive coordinator to head coach. And three new assistant coaches have joined the Shepherd ranks.
Shepherd will be without a statistics-producing quarterback for the first time in many years.
Connor Jessup was a one-year starter with a fistful of passing records in his dossier. Before Jessup, Jeff Ziemba — the holder of almost all the passing records Jessup didn’t have — started for three years.
There is no experienced returnee this season. It’s possible a freshman could start for the Rams.
The new quarterback will have the luxury of having a crew of useful receivers to aim his throws toward. This could be Shepherd’s deepest group of receivers the team ever had.
Ryan Feiss had 95 catches for 1,391 yards and nine touchdowns. Hakeem Holland played only the first game and very little in the second game before being injured, but had four touchdowns. Tight end D.J. Cornish had 36 catches for 561 yards and six touchdowns. Wanya Allen grabbed 53 passes for 721 yards and 12 touchdowns. Duron Norris could also be a factor after 13 catches and two scores a year ago.
Patrick Griffin ran for 474 yards in his role, behind now-gone Jabre Lolley.
Jaime Colon and Levi Lloyd help alleviate the considerable need of finding three other offensive linemen.
Chrys Lane is probably the best of the Shepherd defensive players. The linebacker was effective last season as a freshman.
However, gone from the Shepherd defense are too many multi-year starters and multi-year contributors.
DeJuan Neal and Scott Dixon are sure to play. Chris Jones and Ponce DeLeon augmented the 2017 defense that had sometimes-brilliant, always-reliable linebacker James Gupton. Leaving along with Gupton were Elijah Norris, Tre Anderson and Myles Humphrey.
Defensive lineman Ricky Robinson showed promise, and both Juwan Addison and Anthony Gallegos have to provide some playmaking for the Shepherd defense to show improvement.
Shepherd still has punter Ruan Ventor, and placekicker Hayden Austin-Scriven found the end zone with some of his kickoffs a year ago.
Any and all new faces coming in for the first time from either college, junior college, prep school or high school could provide talent enough to either start or be critical factors. Shepherd has thrived with its transfers in most seasons.
This won’t be a transition season.
The PSAC will have to wait.
Shepherd has its new looks. But it also sees the same teams it has been beating, and owns lengthy win streaks over most of them.
Finding an effective quarterback is a necessity . . . as is finding a considerable number of run-stopping, points-stingy defensive players.