Shepherd has enough playmakers for another season to remember
Shepherd is better than any team from the Northeast-10 Conference. Only Winston-Salem State from the CIAA could menace the Rams in a head-to-head match. There are teams from Pennsylvania that can match the Shepherd firepower and defense . . . and every one of them has more scholarship money to bring in the quality players.
And only Concord from the Mountain East Conference group of teams can make a yearly stab at keeping the Rams from winning the league championship.
How good have the Shepherd teams of the last few decades been if last year’s 8-2 record left some coaches, players and followers with at least a slightly bitter taste concerning the 2014 season.
Shepherd’s season ended when it suffered a blocked field goal that Concord used to win in the final game of the year.
If 8-2 is not a gold-lined season, what will it take to satisfy the empty feelings left from that blocked field goal?
A conference championship? A berth in the NCAA Division II playoffs? A record with only one loss, or better yet, an unbeaten season?
The Mountain East Conference is in its third year of existence, meaning its champion receives an automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs for the first time.
What can the Rams do to move closer to an unbeaten or one-loss season?
They can be more penalty-free. Too many times in 2014 did Shepherd get penalized from 90 to 110 yards in games. They can find a way to return to the dominant special teams that were the hallmarks of other playoff teams from the recent past. And they can find ways to make more long-distance gains or even long-distance touchdowns than they did in 2014. Finding enough quality offensive linemen will be a priority again.
As in the past few seasons, the Mountain East Conference has enough teams to give the Rams a 10-game slate without having to schedule any team from outside the league. There won’t be Shippensburg, Bowie State, Virginia State or St. Joseph’s of Indiana on the schedule.
If many of the Pennsylvania schools have more scholarships and waivers available than does Shepherd, how do the Rams keep up with the more dollars the Joneses of the Division II world have?
Shepherd’s best players are as meaningful as any of Super Region One’s athletes at having an effect on games.
Octavius Thomas and James Gupton are defenders who can give Shepherd the deserved nickname of “Linebacker U.”. Both players are still underclassmen, and both could reap individual honors should Shepherd reap team honors.
C.J. Davis is a kick/punt return specialist whose skills give the Rams either touchdowns or generous yardage when the opponent punts or kickoffs.
Myles Humphrey could lead the Mountain East in sacks. If Humphrey doesn’t lead the conference in sacks, then Shaneil Jenkins just might.
Wide receiver Billy Brown has no peer in the conference and could be the most reliable pass-catcher in the Region.
That’s six players whose talents continually boost Shepherd toward the top of the Mountain East . . . and possibly beyond . . . here in 2015.
But the Rams didn’t have another receiver anywhere near Brown’s ability last year. And they didn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher or a quarterback who could require opponents to back off the thought that “If we can keep Shepherd’s runners from controlling the football and wearing us down, we can win the game.”
An 8-2 record was accomplished without some special ingredients the Rams had for many of their more recent seasons.
What could happen if Shepherd finds a few more complimentary players, discards some of its penalties and gets positive results from its inconsistent kicking game?