By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — 2013 was a very good year for the West Chester University football team. The Golden Rams went 13-2 and advanced to the Division II National Semifinals.
Hopes are high that 2014 can be just as much, if not even more, fun.
“We look like we have a pretty good football team,” West Chester head coach Bill Zwaan tells KYW Newsradio. “We’ve got a lot of guys back from last year, so that experience helps us do a lot of different things. So we’re able to push the envelope a little bit more.”
West Chester is generating a lot of national buzz heading into the season. The Sporting News picked them 6th in its preseason poll, Lindy’s Sports slotted them 8th and the American Football Coaches’ Association ranks them tenth. In the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference preseason poll, West Chester was picked to win the Eastern Division. Of course, success, and the attention that comes along with it, means that every opponent will have the calendar circled when they match up with West Chester.
“We want to be circled,” senior center Derek Schatz tells KYW Newsradio. “Because we worked hard last year and we want to be the people that everyone’s gunning for and that’s not a bad position to be in. I think we’re ready to live up to that.”
The Golden Rams will be led on offense by quarterback Sean McCartney. The senior threw 34 touchdown passes last season as the trigger man for an offense that scored nearly 38 points a game last year.
“He really had a great spring, and right now he looks really good in camp,” Zwaan says.
“I love blocking for Sean,” Schatz says. “He makes it easy on us, he makes us look good I feel like. We just give him time and he does his thing back there.”
The Golden Rams don’t just have quality under center, they also have quantity.
“Andrew Derr, who’s (McCartney’s) back-up, played in a couple games last year and did a great job for us,” Zwaan says. “So we’ve guys two guys with experience and two guys who have made plays under pressure.”
The biggest hole for West Chester to fill is at running back. Rondell White put together a magical career for the Golden Rams, and last season as a senior he was arguably the best player in the country at the Division II level. He finished his West Chester career as the program’s all-time leading rusher and Zwaan talks about replacing his production.
“We’ve got three guys,” Zwaan says. “Brandon Monk played some last year and he is ready to go. Eddie Elliott got a lot of playing time, more at the slot receiver than at running back and then Jarel Elder, who we red-shirted last year. The three of those guys are outstanding running backs. None of them are Rondell, but they all have some things that Rondell does and they all catch the ball out of the backfield similar to him. So we’re not going to change much in what we do, and I think we’re going to get a lot of production out of those three guys. But it’s going to be more by committee then by one guy.”
On defense, the Golden Rams allowed 21.7 points a game last season and the unit was opportunistic, forcing 31 turnovers.
“We’re really strong in our back seven,” Zwaan says. “We’ve got two great linebackers (seniors Ronell Williams and Mike Labor) and then our secondary looks really deep, probably as deep as since I’ve been here. Our front, we need to find a couple guys there. We graduated, I think four guys, who played a lot of football for us. But we still have three guys who played some last year for us. And then we have a couple other guys who are going to be a little bit inexperienced, but they are pretty good football players.”
West Chester had the services the last four years of one of the best Division II kickers in the country. But Shawn Leo has graduated and spent the summer kicking for the Trenton Freedom of the Professional Indoor Football League. Zwaan talks about how he will be replaced.
“Rich Bruno, who has been our punter the last three years, will take over the kicking role,” Zwaan says. “Rich probably has a little bit stronger leg than Shawn, but Shawn’s accuracy was just through the roof. Rich had a great spring, he looks really good right now.”
Zwaan is ready to get things started.
“We’ve got the target on our back,” Zwaan says. “It’s a great place to be. We like the idea of us being in that position. We like the fact that people are coming after us and that means we’ve got to bring our ‘A’ game. But there’s no question that’s going to be a little bit tougher and our conference is really strong. But I think we’re up for the challenge.”
West Chester will open the 2014 season on the road on Saturday, September 6th, taking on the University of New Haven.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.