Wednesday, September 2, 2009

2009 JU Football Preview

If there was a word to describe the 2009 Jacksonville University football team, what would it be?
Pressure would not be it, at least if you ask around the team.
The Dolphins are looking to build on their history-making 2008 season with a repeat Pioneer Football League championship and a possible playoff appearance. Expectations are high, but the team does not seem to be phased very much by them.
“The team has responded real well after the winning the championship,” sophomore quarterback Josh McGregor said when asked about the mindset of the team coming into this season. “We have our heads on our shoulders and we are ready to show people that we are not just a one-year wonder, we will be able to compete each and every year.”
McGregor will be at the helm of an offense that was second in the PFL in total offense and fourth in passing offense. It will only help him that he is going into his second year under Head Coach Kerwin Bell’s system.
“I feel real comfortable this year and I’m hoping to learn from last year’s mistakes and make it an even better season.” McGregor commented. He is coming off of a record-setting season which saw him rewrite the single-season school record book for passing yards (2,444), passing touchdowns (24), and completions (172). He is also within striking distance of the all-time school records for each of those categories.
There is certainly depth and experience at the quarterback position, with junior quarterback Erik Stepleton backing up McGregor. He proved capable of leading the team to victory last season as he stepped into the lineup and leading the team to a fourth quarter come back win over San Diego.
The running back position promises to be just as loaded as and maybe even more loaded than quarterback. There is a stable of backs, highlighted by Rudell Small. The all-PFL back rushed for 1,364 yards and 13 touchdowns. Backing up Small are sophomores J.J. Laster and Keith Dawson, and juniors Ron Harris and Maurice Manning.
“I feel that have the best core of running backs in the conference,” Small said. “I believe all of us are able to step up and make big plays when we’re called on.”
*Area on offense with the most question marks-offensive line: The line will have to overcome the loss of stalwarts Mike Aguilar and Chris Tessitore, who anchored the line for the last three years.
With junior tackle Leonard Payton and sophomore center Ian Osking as the returning starters from last year, questions still remain for the other three spots. Candidates to start are sophomore tackle Chad Cypher, junior guards Dustin Robinson and Levan Sims.
*Surprise player to step up on the offense-FB Jarvis Williams: The junior linebacker-turned-fullback has finally nailed down the starting spot to lead block for Small and the other talented tailbacks.
Williams looks like he will be a solid target out of the backfield for McGregor and could end up showing the same effectiveness that tight end Chris Kuck did last year, leading the team in touchdown receptions with five. He finally seems to have found his niche on the team and it should pay dividends as he could be the best pure fullback in the PFL this year.
*Wide receiver most likely to step up as the main target-Josh Philpart: The sophomore is primed to step into role of lead receiver on the team after tying for the team lead in receptions (36) ending up second on the team in receiving yards (444) and receiving touchdowns (four).
Philpart is a reliable target as a possession receiver that could be the next of the great receivers to come out of JU. He possesses great hands and good route running ability that makes him dangerous.
He is far from the only receiver returning for the Dolphins. Juniors Tommie Rogers, Rodney Sumter, and Elliot Finkley along with senior Sam Bell figure to play key roles in the passing game. As mentioned earlier, the tight ends could also be big parts of the offense in different ways. Kuck is smaller and known more for his pass-catching ability, while senior Tim Kraemer is big and a great run-blocker.
“We have a ton of good receivers and I am hoping to put up big numbers with these guys,” McGregor commented when asked about replacing Geavon Tribble in the passing game. “I feel like any receiver that we call on will go out there and make plays for us.”
‘An even more dangerous unit’
The defense returns a load of talent to a unit that finished in the top 20 nationally in both scoring and total defense.
The defensive line promises to be a strong point on the defensive side of the ball, with a wealth of experience and talent. They are led by junior defensive end Shaun Lewis, who came out of nowhere to tear through the PFL last season and finish second in the conference in sacks.
“I’m very confident, we have a lot of guys returning,” Lewis said when asked about his confidence in the defense this year. “We’re a veteran defense, and when you add the young talent we’re an even more dangerous unit.”
The other returning defensive ends include juniors Bradley Burns and Ray Gault along with senior Aaron Frye. On the interior part of the line, the returning defensive tackles are Haywood Range, Rolando Fines, and Cevonte Heagle. With so much depth on the line, there should plenty of opportunities with fresh legs on the field at all times.
“Everything starts up front on the defensive line,” Lewis commented. “We know we set the tone on game day and we’re going to always be ready to make plays.”
*Area on defense with the most question marks-the secondary: The back four on the defense has to replace two of the better defensive backs in school history in Tremaine Mack and Robson Noel.
Returning is senior safety Jason Wood, who is the clear leader of the secondary. After picking up all-american honors this offseason, Wood is poised to lead this defense to another top five national ranking in pass efficiency defense. He is also within striking distance of the career tackles record, needing 89 to break Brandon Torre’s mark.
“I won’t sit here and lie, the record matters to me,” Wood said when asked about being so close to the record. “At the same time, winning matters more. I’d rather go 11-0 and not even come close to the record rather than achieve it and lose games.”
There is youth in the secondary, but the talent is there to make it a formidable threat. If the secondary gels by the time conference play rolls around and hopefully sooner, this defense will be scary.
The leading candidate to replace Mack at the other safety position is senior Keenan Bowe. Both cornerback positions have good competition for the starters. The top candidates to play are Brian Valdez, Leonard Smith, JeMarr Anderson, and Roderick Clark. Anderson and Clark are new to the team this year, with Anderson transferring in from Temple. Clark is hoping to pick where he left off in his freshman year when he started for the Dolphins. This should be one of the more intriguing positions for Jacksonville this season.
“The core of defensive backs is very versatile and deep this year,” Wood said.
The linebacking core has experience returning, led by Layne McCombs, Joseph and Allen Fennell, and Will Perry. Sophomore Andy Sainvil has a chance to make an impact as a backup this season.
The Fennell brothers are the talk of the linebackers, because they are probably the two most talented in the unit. This is the year for both of them to step up, if they show the talent and utilize the experience they have, it will be dangerous for the rest of the PFL.
Perry stepped up as a vocal leader last season and there’s no reason to think he won’t back it up on the field just like he did in 2008.
The special teams should be solid once again this year, with senior Donovan Curry back to handle the kicking duties. Sophomore Logan Chipperfield has the punting duties.
There are plenty of predictions going around about your Jacksonville Dolphins, but when I look at the schedule I only see two potential roadblocks to an undefeated season: September 12 at Samford and October 24 at San Diego. If there is any season to make the playoffs, this would be the year. My prediction for this season is 11-0 with a huge upset over their Souther Conference opponent. Are the playoffs in the future? I think so.
The 2009 JU Dolphins will be the Florida Gators for everyone in the PFL, but do they feel the pressure? Not if you ask no. 47.
“No pressure at all, we feel like we have the most talent in the league. We’re confident and ready for any challenges we face this year.”

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