This is an exciting time of year for the West Chester Golden Ram football team. Spring practice is coming to an end, and the annual Purple and Gold game is this Thursday at 6 p.m. at Farrell Stadium. Head Coach Bill Zwaan’s team is coming off a Lambert Trophy winning season as the top team in the northeast region of Division II football, and has high expectations once again this season.
Zwaan appeared as a guest on my radio show last Saturday to discuss the current state of his team as well as his thoughts on the upcoming season.
Quad: Coach, could you talk a little about how this team is progressing in spring practice?
Bill Zwaan: We’ve actually had a pretty good spring practice, we’ve had a couple kids who are hurt who aren’t involved in spring practice for one reason or another, and that’s been good for some of our backup kids to step up and play and they’re getting a lot more reps and they’re really getting the job done, in some ways, the kids who haven’t been practicing have opened up the door for us to look at other guys who have been practicing and we have so many returning players to this team that know how to practice and know what we want out of practice and they’ve really had a good spring.
Q: Have there been any injuries of note?
BZ: Nothing that’s going to carry over into the fall but we have a few guys who haven’t been able to practice at all during the spring, Michael Washington got hurt in winter workouts, just a bruised foot but we’re keeping him out of spring just as a precaution Brian Paulson our starting TE got hurt in Intramural basketball, and he’s practiced a little bit but can’t hit and he’s just running some rounds that kind of thing. Tyler Downs got hurt not on the field but off the field and he hasn’t practiced, we have a couple guys not practicing because of injuries but we should be fine come fall.
Q: You were fortunate enough to net a recruiting class that was very talented on both sides of the ball, could talk about those players and how you see them gelling with the returning veterans you have on the roster?
BZ: None of the freshman are here yet, we haven’t really gotten a look at them yet, but some of them have come up to watch practice and they’ll all be here for our spring game on Thursday, but we are probably going to be one or two of those guys we may look at, at certain positions, they might be able to help us, we might look at one of the young guys at the corner, including the defensive backs and wideouts, some tremendously fast kids with some size who we think that if we put them in a position that doesn’t take a whole lot of learning, such as corner, we might be able to use some of those kids earlier in their career, we may see Jarred Eaton from Abington or one of the other guys we brought in who you might see right away. The one thing we did in recruiting is brought in a tremendous offensive line class, because our offensive line is all older and they will be graduating soon, and we think we really hit the mother load with that group.
Q: Do you see the offensive line repeating the great success they had last season as a driving force for your club down the stretch of the season and in the playoffs?
BZ: I think those guys, that group on the offensive line, there’s really six of them, Kennis Jones and five other seniors who played a lot of football, since sophmore year, three or four have been playing since Sophomore year, and because not only are they competent because of the playing time they’ve had but they are critical of themselves, they know that they can’t make a mistake and when they do make a mistake in spring practice, they really push each other really hard and not allow themselves to make another mistake. That group that we will live on next year, they are the ones who will open the holes up for Osage, Dean, Lee Hopkins and set time for Billy to throw the football
Q: Coach, you mentioned Billy, could you talk a little bit about the quarterback position as you see it developing this season, especially since Matt Burdalski has graduated?
BZ: Bill started and he’s started with the first group the whole time, and Joe Wright has taken some reps with the first team and we consider Joey another starter, he could easily go in and play with us and we feel that we have two very good quarterbacks, two starting college football quarterbacks in the fold and I think just the way that Bill kind of with the pressure off of his shoulders has really looked good this spring.
Q: Last season you rotated Bill and Matt quite heavily; do you see yourself doing the same thing this year with Bill and Joe?
BZ: We’ll probably do that a few times just to keep Joe fresh just so he gets a few reps here and there just in case something does happen to Bill, but probably just a few plays here and there.
Q: Linebacker looks to be a position of transition for you guys, could you talk about that group a little bit?
BZ: Well actually Matt, our linebacking core has probably been our best defensive group this spring. Mike Dell is moving in for Chris Tagye and inside linebacker, and Mike started last year after Chris got hurt, he played a lot last year and made a lot of big plays, he’s basically a returning starter. We’re excited to see how Mike plays because we think that he’s a heck of a football player, and of course Lateef Ferguson was the defensive player of the league last year, so I think our inside linebacking group is real strong. Glen Wolrath will back that group up, so those three guys will handle the inside positions, Joe Cefalo will start at the outside position and has been for years, and Greg Smith really started a bunch of games for us last year when jimmy Lewis was injured so Greg’s got a lot of playing time, he’ll get a lot of playing time at the outside position, Sam Scott, we have a lot of young guys and we feel very good about our linebackers, we’ve lost a couple good players in there, but the guys we have recruiting for the last couple years are pretty good too.
Q: I noticed one name you didn’t mention was Jimmy Lewis and I know that might be a touchy subject for you, but can you talk about that situation?
BZ: Well, its really not. Jimmy he’s decided that his dream has always been to try and play division I football and he only has one year left so he decided to go try to do that, so, it’s disappointing for us because we liked Jimmy a lot and he was an integral part of our team and we have to try and live with it.
Q: Coach, a lot of people have your team pegged as early favorites in the PSAC, and a possible threat to do much more this season, how do you deal with such lofty expectations?
BZ: I think we have high expectations every year, so whether we’re picked to win the PSAC at the beginning of the year or not, so we always approach it with high expectations so its no different then anything in the past, We have so many players back with so much experience that they’ll handle the situation very well.
Q: You have been in the fortunate position to be at or near the top of the conference year in and year out. How do you maintain that competitive drive each and every season?
BZ: You have to recruit good kids every year, you have to bring good kids into the program and teach them how the program runs and teach them that we expect to win and what it takes to win and it really comes back to the kids that you recruit and we’ve been lucky because we’ve been very successful with some of the guys that we brought in and we’ve missed on some guys and that hurts your recruiting but for the most part, we’ve had a great core of young men not only are good football players, but are good kids. They practice hard, they play hard, go to class, do the right thing. One thing is establishing the program the way you want it and then recruiting the kids that buy into that and so far we’ve been lucky with that.
On paper this team has the horses,
with 19 of 22 returning starters from a playoff team a year ago, to not only compete for a PSAC championship, but fight for a NCAA Division II National Championship as well. Fans can get their first glimpse of the 2007 Golden Rams on Thursday night at Farrell Stadium.
Matt Lombardo hosts a weekly sports talk radio show on 91.7 WCUR on Saturdays from noon-2PM and is simulcast worldwide at www.wcur.fm