EDINBORO, Pa – It was a simple moment.Twenty minutes before kickoff in his team’s season opener at Edinboro, Bill Zwaan Jr., stormed down the field toward the endzone during pre-game warm-ups, emphatically screaming, “Lets Go Rams!” repeatedly challenging his teammates to match his emotional intensity before gathering the club for a huddle beneath the goalpost.
On any other team, in any other year, this would be a seminal move by a quarterback establishing himself as the unquestioned leader of his team. But West Chester returns 20 of 22 starters from a playoff-tested 2006 squad, including a running back that appears back to his vintage form, and has higher expectations as a team then ever before. These intangibles make Zwaan’s display of leadership, however comforting, almost unnecessary.
After all, this is the team that will win the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference title.
This is indeed the final season for head coach Bill Zwaan’s inaugural recruiting class at WCU. To a man, they have the talent and mindset necessary to accomplish their ultimate goal.
Offensively, one need look no further then Zwaan Jr., for validation to paragraph four’s monumental prediction. The quarterback threw for 2,110 yards and 22 touchdowns a year ago and already looks improved following 2007’s season opener.
In his first outing of the season, the quarterback completed 18 of 29 passes for 217 yards and one touchdown. What’s more promising is the fact that this offense is no longer funneled exclusively through third-year wide receiver Michael Washington.
Six players caught a pass and tight end Ryan Paulson led all receivers with four receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown.
However, fleeting the final numbers from Saturday look on paper, the quarterback appeared poised in the pocket and improved at going through his progressions and checking down to secondary receiving options.
“I think he feels more comfortable with everybody,” head coach Bill Zwaan said of his son and starting quarterback. “He got real comfortable throwing to Cody [Clark] at the end of last year, that gave us a second weapon, now Ryan Paulson gives us a third weapon, Steve [Miller] gives us a fourth weapon and I think he has a lot of confidence in everybody.”
One of WCU’s most dynamic weapons lines up directly behind Zwaan, Jr., on offense. Osagie Osunde made a triumphant return to the gridiron against Edinboro on Saturday, rushing for 114 yards and a touchdown, after missing the final six games of 2006 with a leg injury.
Osunde looked like the workhorse running back, who amassed 3,049 yards and 40 touchdowns in his career, on Saturday.
“Oh, he looked awesome,” Zwaan, Jr., praised of his running back. “He looked like his old self again, he’s such a steady running back.”
Ironically, the most valuable weapon and this team’s most critical component does not play quarterback, running back, wide receiver or tight end. No, the engine that fuels this offensive machine and its biggest source of optimism is the Golden Rams’ offensive line.
The chemistry amongst offensive lineman is especially valuable due to the fact that they all share the same goal for 13 plus games: protect the quarterback. It’s considered a good year when a team can return one or two road pavers from the prior season, but returning all five is almost unheard of.
“Those guys are the best, they opened holes all day long and it was fun to run behind them again,” Osunde said following Saturday’s 32-16 win.
On the defensive side of the ball, the “quarterback” of the defense is none other than weakside linebacker Lateef Ferguson. The captain brings nothing less than total intensity every week with his bone rattling hits and vocal prowess. As Lateef Ferguson goes, this team follows.
The foundation is being set with a solid mix of veterans and eager underclassmen for this defense to become the backbone of the team in 2007 and beyond, as evident by the dominating eight sack, four turnover performance against the Fighting Scots, which was highlighted by Vlad Garbovsky’s school record four sacks.
And finally, the perfect storm of a schedule that lay in front of the Golden Rams serves as a favorable road to post-season glory. After clearing Saturday’s first hurdle in Edinboro, few obstacles remain ahead.
So, in the coming months Zwaan, Jr.’s commanding display of authority early Saturday afternoon will be nothing more then a footnote to a much greater story, one that sees the QB and his teammates celebrating at least a PSAC Championship.
Matt Lombardo hosts a weekly sports talk radio show on 91.7 FM WCUR, Saturday’s from noon-2PM and is simulcast worldwide on www.wcur.fm