By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Mike Kelly’s first season as the head football coach of the Division III Widener Pride could not have gone much better.
Widener went 10-0 during the regular season in 2014, winning the Middle Atlantic Conference. They qualified for the NCAA Tournament and advanced all the way to the national quarterfinals before losing to Linfield. Their final record for the season was 12-1.
The Pride are the unanimous pick to win the conference again here in 2015 according to the MAC preseason poll and Kelly is excited about his second season in charge in Chester.
“Guys are progressing,” Kelly tells KYW Newsradio. “We’re not where we want to be yet but I think we’re making good progress and it’s just a really good group of guys to work with.”
Listen to the entire interview with Widener’s Mike Kelly
Widener averaged more than 37 points per game last season, but Kelly is taking nothing for granted.
“We’ve changed our offensive system a little bit,” Kelly said. “I think it fits our players even better than what we were doing last year and our guys are adapting to it well. When you’ve got your quarterback back that is 18-5 as a starter, that makes you feel pretty good.”
That quarterback is junior Seth Klein, who threw for 3,296 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. He was intercepted just seven times.
“I don’t use the word crafty very often,” Kelly said, “but he’s a really crafty player. He finds ways to turn negatives into positives and just has a really good demeanor about himself. Will stay within structure, but if things start to break down, he doesn’t panic and he’ll find alternative receivers.”
Widener did an outstanding job last year on defense causing turnovers. They intercepted 24 opponent passes and recovered 14 fumbles. Kelly admits the defense does have some big holes to fill.
“But I think, athletically, we’ll be equal to what we were last year, maybe even a little bit better in terms of just overall ability to run to the ball,” Kelly said. “I think our biggest challenge will be play experience. Last year, we had a lot of veteran guys playing, this year we have some younger guys that aren’t quite as seasoned. So wherever their learning curve needs to be, they have to accelerate it at this point and I think we can be competitive again.”
One of the players that is back on defense is junior safety Sean Titus, who led the team with nine interceptions in 2014. He returned two of those picks for scores. He’s confident his unit will be able to play at the same high level they maintained last season.
“I think that we can,” Titus said. “The pieces that are coming up, they got experience last year, they saw how we play. I think we’ll be on that level.”
Listen to the entire interview with Widener’s Sean Titus
One thing Kelly has no worries about is team chemistry.
“Everything we do here seems to be a collective effort and everybody pulls their own weight and we move in the same direction,” Kelly said. “It’s a pretty good deal.”
“I think (the team’s) a family,” Titus said. “I know some other kids that go to other schools and they love their schools, but I think we are actually a family. And I know that word gets overused, but you really do feel like we are brothers out here.”
Widener will open the season on Saturday, September 5th, at home against Rowan.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.