After a season for the record books in 2013, the West Chester University football team has its goals set high for the upcoming 2014 season. Opening this past Saturday, Sept. 6 at the University of New Haven, the Rams began their battle in hopes of topping all expectations once again.
Despite the loss of All-American tailback Rondell White, head coach Bill Zwaan believes the duo of juniors Brandon Monk and Eddie Elliot will rise to the occasion and fill the big shoes White has left behind.
In 2013 Monk carried the ball 66 times, while still netting 506 yards on the ground, holding an impressive seven and a half yards per carry. While Elliot did not rush the ball as much, carrying just 14 times for 177 yards, his receiving talents out of the backfield helped him cause damage to opposing defenses. Posting 20 catches for 345 yards and three receiving touchdowns, Elliot will be a huge threat for the Rams this season, whether carrying the ball or through the air.
Coach Zwaan stated this past Thursday, “We may not run the ball as often as we did last year, but I think we will still be very effective.”
With the loss of White, along with two running backs filling new roles, the offense will look to senior captain and quarterback Sean McCartney to take over the big play “swagger” that we so often saw from White last season.
McCartney sometimes went unnoticed last season, but not by anyone on the West Chester coaching staff. Throwing for an impressive 3569 yards and 34 touchdowns, McCartney dominated the PSAC becoming one of the most feared quarterbacks in the conference. Zwaan spoke about McCartney in high praise saying, “Sean will probably be relied on more to lead and make big plays to replace some of the big plays Rondell (White) gave us. We have a good compliment of receivers and Sean should have a big year.”
The receiving core that Zwaan spoke of includes three returning big time players in Shannon Mayer, Erick Brundidge, and Adam Dempsey. Brundidge had a breakout 2013 season, catching 46 passes for 759 yards and team-high 10 touchdowns.
Another huge target for the Golden Rams will be tight end Tim Brown. Brown, a returning starter, reeled in 20 catches for 429 yards last season, while adding five touchdowns for the Rams.
Despite all of these offensive talents, the Rams defense might be their strongest suit. Senior linebacker Ronell Williams was cited as a preseason DII All-American for the third time, while senior DB Al-Hajj Shabazz earned his second preseason DII All-American honors.
Both defensive stars registered huge seasons in 2013, Williams finishing with 110 tackles and Shabazz with four interceptions. Despite great 2013 seasons, both will look to build upon their numbers and help lead a young but talented Rams defense.
Along with Williams in the linebacker core, returning LB Mike Labor will for sure make his mark again this season. Labor finished not far behind Williams in the 2013 season, with 105 total tackles. He also recorded 4.5 sacks in 2013.
On Saturday at 1 p.m., West Chester opened their season at University of New Haven. New Haven is coming off an extremely successful season much like WCU, achieving a 10-1 record, with an 8-0 record in their respective conference. The season opener would clearly not be an easy task for the Rams.
As promised, McCartney started his season off as expected, on fire. Throwing for 262 yards and four touchdowns, McCartney took the reigns as the leader of this year’s Golden Rams team, leading West Chester to a 35-30 win.
Monk and Elliot combined on the ground for 93 yards, but the passing game is what fueled the offense. Brundidge, Mike Doty and Tim Brown each had receiving touchdowns for the Rams.
On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Mike Labor recorded 12 total tackles and a sack, while also recording three tackles for a loss. Williams also recorded 9 tackles and a forced fumble. Shabazz grabbed a huge interception late in the fourth quarter with the Chargers offense threatening to take the lead. A tipped pass by a Charger’s receiver left a ball floating through the air, where Shabazz dove for the ball and picked it off just before touching the field.
The stellar defensive showing by the Rams along with a high-powered air game was the key component to the West Chester win. If the Rams can continue on what we saw on both sides of the ball, look out. This West Chester team could be just as dangerous, if not more, then the 2013 team.
Next week, the Rams will hold their home opener against Mercyhurst University at noon. West Chester will hope for a similar look on offense, but do not be surprised to see Elliot and Monk explode for more action then game one.
Despite an impressive win against a strong opponent, it is a long season. In the words of Coach Zwaan, “We have to stay healthy and be focused. One game at a time and we can’t get too full of ourselves.” We hope to see the Rams continue to build on their impressive week-one win, one game at a time.
AJ Arcaini is a third-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at AA788494@wcupa.edu