Following a disappointing 2009 season, the 2010 West Chester University Golden Rams football team has their sights set on continuing the program’s winning tradition, starting on Thursday, Sept. 2 at University of Delaware. The Golden Rams come into the season ranked No. 22 in the country in the American Football Coaches Association Division II preseason football poll. This marks the eighth consecutive season where West Chester has been nationally ranked at some point during the season. Expectations are running high for this group of Golden Rams, even though only 10 starters, seven on offense and three on defense, return for the upcoming campaign.”We were picked to win the PSAC East,” head coach Bill Zwaan said. “We are young and it may take us some time to get going, but I think if we stay healthy, we will get better as the year goes on and we should have a good year.”
West Chester is coming off a season in which they finished outside of the national rankings for the first time in four years and failed to reach the NCAA Division II playoffs for the first time since 2003. The Golden Rams finished the 2009 season 7-4, winning their final three games by a combined score of 134-27, including a 30-14 victory over division rival Bloomsburg University.
“We have concentrated more on playing together as a team,” Zwaan said of the difference between this year and last year. “We became too individualistic last year and that hurt us. When we played as a team last year we played very well.”
In a recent vote by the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) head coaches, the Golden Rams garnered the most points and were selected to win the PSAC East once again this year and play in the PSAC Championship game. But in a rare occurrence, West Chester did not receive one first place vote from the other conference head coaches. Bloomsburg (one vote), C.W. Post (three votes), defending conference champion Shippensburg University (three votes) and East Stroudsburg University (one vote) followed the Golden Rams in the East rankings and all received first place votes.
“It is a back handed compliment,” Zwaan said of his team not receiving any first place votes. “We know no one thinks we will win it, but we have a different idea.”
West Chester returns just three of its 10 All-PSAC honorees from last year – wide receiver Dan DePalma, center Kyle O’Neil and defensive end Travis Ford-Bey. On offense, sophomore quarterback Mike Mattei takes over the reins of a unit that ranked third overall in the PSAC and second in passing. Unlike his predecessor Joe Wright, Mattei possesses the ability to scramble and run with the football, which should add a different wrinkle to the offense.
“Mike is a great leader and has a good arm,” Zwaan said. “He can also be a threat running the football, so he adds a different dimension to the offense that way.”
There is a lot of experience surrounding Mattei. The offensive line is entering its third season as a collective unit lead by O’Neil. Also up front are Chris Faix, Ryan Costello, Gerry Penrose and Eric Hawthorne. The line gave up a total of 13 sacks in 11 games last year.
At the skill positions, West Chester has an abundance of talent. Senior running back D’Andre Webb and junior Jackson Fagan should form a formidable one-two punch out of the backfield for the Golden Rams. Unlike other years, this tandem will be relied upon heavily to help out the young signal caller. Webb led the team with 423 yards rushing, seven touchdowns and 5.2 yards per carry average. Fagan finished second on the team with four touchdowns and third with 203 yards rushing.
At wide receiver, DePalma will be the go-to guy for Mattei. DePalma was second on the team in receptions (45), first in receiving yards (832 yards) and tied for first in touchdowns (nine) as he was a second team all-league selection. This group is also very young as sophomores Sean Beahan, Jim Kelly, Bill Pommerer, Tom Shrader, Blaze Wasserleben and red-shirt freshman Tim Keyser round out the receiving corps.
Another change is being made at tight end. Last year, Ryan Paulson, an all-league selection, led all tight ends in the PSAC with 304 receiving yards. Junior Alex Tosi and sophomore Justin Curry will do their best to replace Paulson’s pass-catching ability and as the security blanket for Mattei.
“We should be able to continue our success,” Zwaan said. “Offensively, we have a very experienced offensive line and two running backs who have played a lot and have had pretty good success. That should take some pressure off the young quarterback.”
The Golden Rams return three starters (Ford-Bey, senior Cordero Newkirk and junior Matt Colyar) to a defense that was the best in the PSAC in 2009. West Chester allowed just 77 yards per game last year on the ground, which ranked near the top in all of Division II.
Along the defensive line, Ford-Bey leads the way. He finished last year with 3.5 sacks and a team-high seven quarterback hurries. On the other end will be senior Troy Wasserleben. Wasserleben has waited patiently for this opportunity and is ready to show he is ready for the job. Last year, Wasserleben recorded 21 tackles and two sacks. Inside is senior nose guard Scott Schiavo, along with red-shirt freshman Nick Garcia.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” Wasserleben said. “I can’t wait to help the team win every game.”
The biggest change defensively is taking place at the linebacker position. Last year, Sam Scott, Mike Dell, Mike Holland and T.J. Cascio led the way as they were the top four tacklers on the team, but all four have graduated and made way for a new batch of Golden Rams to roam the middle of the defense.
The four new starting linebackers, Ronnie Koons, Morty Hoey, Victor Iturbides and Andrew Sheehan, have been on the team for the last two to three years, so they have the experience to take over in the 3-4 defense. Also with a chance to see some playing time are sophomore Mike Lonergan and red-shirt freshman Anthony McCloskey and Mike Pereira.
“We will have a tough time replacing those linebackers, especially their experience,” Zwaan said. “But the group that will play is pretty good and they are older and have some experience. Ronnie Koons and Morty Hoey are seniors and Victor Iturbides and Andrew Sheehan are juniors.”
The secondary is led by Colyar and Newkirk. An area of concern over recent years turned into a strength last year for West Chester. Newkirk ranked second in the conference in passes defensed (13). He also returned an interception 61 yards for a touchdown last year in the season opener. This will be Colyar’s third year starting in the defensive backfield. Taking over for Kevin Garland and Corey Rhood will be sophomore John O’Donnell and red-shirt freshman Chris Mallory-Hughes. The Golden Rams can go three deep in the secondary with Carl Barnes, Bryan Hinderer, Cedric Jeffries, and Zach Wood all in the mix.
“We are really strong up front defensively and have the makings of a really good secondary,” Zwaan said. “That should help the linebackers as they gain experience.”
Junior Chris Hill will once again be the primary kicker and punter this year. There is reason to believe that Hill will have a much better year this year than in 2009 because of his experience and confidence. Hill was 6-11 on field goals with a long of 32 yards and 45-49 on extra points. Hill ranked sixth in the conference in punting average (38.2 yards per punt) and placed 16 punts within the 20-yard line.
DePalma and Webb will handle the kick returning duties, while DePalma and Fagan will handle the punt return duties. DePalma ranked fourth in the PSAC in all-purpose yards (108 yards per game). He averaged 24.4 yards per kick return.
The PSAC East has a chance to be as competitive as ever this year. West Chester will be battling to reclaim the top spot in the division with the likes of Bloomsburg, Shippensburg and C.W. Post.
“I think C.W. Post will be very good,” Zwaan said. “Bloom, Stroud, and Ship are all good. It’s a tough league.”
This week West Chester opens up their season with a Thursday night matchup at the University of Delaware beginning at 7 p.m. The Blue Hens have dominated this rivalry as of late, but the Golden Rams have a chance to make this a very interesting game.
“The players look forward to the Delaware game,” Zwaan said. “It is a great experience for them. I wish we had another game to get some of the young guys’ feet wet first, but we have to be ready to compete against a really tough opponent.”
PSAC East (Predicted) Standings
LJ Harrell is a graduate student in the communication studies program. He can be reached at LH639694@wcupa.edu.