Aug. 6—Local fans of the Gators may not be familiar with teams in the Presidents' Athletic Conference as Allegheny College is set to return to the conference this season.
With the new conference comes ten teams the Gators will battle for a PAC title this fall.
Here is an outlook for each team in the conference with camp right around the corner for the 2022 football season.
The Gators are coming off a 3-7 season in the North Coast Athletic Conference. This season, the team is returning starters at most skill positions on offense and should improve on last year's 256 yards per game.
Jack Johnson is the returning starter at quarterback. The junior amassed 2,275 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. His favorite target, Declan O'Brien, is returning to lead the wide receivers. O'Brien caught 42 passes for 620 yards and six touchdowns last fall.
In the backfield returns senior Tre Worship. He accounted for 40 percent of the Gators rushing attempts, which translated to 458 yards and five touchdowns. Kyrie Miller also rushed for five touchdowns last season and averaged 4.3 yards per rush.
"There are some things we have to clean up. We need to run the ball better. We weren't able to do that a year ago," Allegheny head coach Rich Nagy said. "Part of that was the youth of our offensive line, but we are returning a group that is bigger and stronger so I think that part will be better. Really being a more balanced offense is the thing that will help us as a football team."
Defensively, the line will be anchored by returning all-conference player Chris Rubino. Rubino totaled 46 tackles last season and one sack.
"Last year, we were young. I think with proper offseason workouts like we had this spring season and summer and we'll be ready to go. Playing as a unit and tackling were our biggest things last year," Rubino said. "We were all over the field but we missed some tackles."
Other players to watch include Hudson Alread (DB), Azariah Beaugard (DB) and Jack Turner (OL).
Allegheny was tabbed to finish eighth in the conference in the PAC preseason poll. The Gators open the season on Sept. 3 at home against Union (N.Y.).
The Bethany College Bison feature a first-year head coach in Brandon Robinson. Robinson is tasked with a Bethany roster that went 1-9 last season.
The Bethany, West Virginia, program returns eight starters on both sides of the ball. One position they don't return a starter is quarterback.
"I'm excited to get to work with our guys," Robinson said. "Also, there's going to be some big position battles. I'm excited to see who really emerges in those battles and whose going to separate themselves and whose are going to be our core group we go into week one with."
Junior Marquise Robinson and sophomore Elijah Hernandez both saw snaps last season behind starter Dom Salinetro and will battle for the starting job.
Last season, the offense averaged 225 yards per game and 10.1 points per game. Defensively they allowed 39 points per game and nearly 400 yards.
Players to watch for the Bison include Jordan Aldridge (DE), Aaron Baird (OL), Rondell Lewis (LB), De'Vaughn McWhorter (WR), Brennon Smith (LB) and Colton Stoneman (RB).
The Bison were picked to finish tenth in the preseason poll.
Carnegie Mellon University
The Carnegie Mellon Tartans also feature a first-year head coach in Ryan Larsen. Larsen has the unique opportunity to take over a team that finished 8-2 overall and was a co-PAC champion last season.
The Tartans are riding a seven-game winning streak, which is third longest in Division III. The eight-time conference champions qualified for the Division III playoffs last season but had to withdraw from its first-round matchup with North Central.
"The foundation is there and is strong. Our job as coaches and players is to find those small ways to get better," Larsen said. "You are constantly changing. If we keep putting the work in our offseason programming the success will be there."
Carnegie Mellon is led by its dominant defense. The Tartans allowed 8.7 points per game last season and ranked second in the nation in scoring defense. They forced a league-best 31 turnovers and led the PAC with 35 sacks.
The Tartans were set to finish third in the preseason poll and tallied ten first-place votes. Carnegie Mellon will host Whitworth University at its Pittsburgh stadium on Sept. 3 for a home-opener.
Players to watch for include Kevin Arcia (DB), Robert Coury (LB), Thomas Coury (LB), Ben Coyne (DE), Kris Hughes (WR), and Tre Vasiliadis (RB).
Case Western Reserve
The Case Western Spartans, based out of Cleveland, Ohio, finished 6-4 a season ago and are poised to improve upon that mark. The team did not play in any contests in the spring of 2021 and a result had two classes with no college football experience heading into last fall.
"The first half of the year especially was tough on our campus. With our Covid policies there were a few games where it was touch and go if we would play. Impending doom was lurking," head coach Greg Debeljak said. "A sense of normalcy and a better attitude that we're going to play more of a season will help. We're looking forward to getting into a more normal situation."
19th-year Debeljak boasts a 125-51 record at the university and had a 38-game regular season winning streak from 2006-2010.
The team's most important returnee is quarterback Drew Saxton. Saxton has totaled 9,028 passing yards and 83 touchdowns as he heads into his senior season. He only needs 697 yards and five touchdowns to be the career record holder in both stats.
"It all starts with him. We have some young guys that got experience last year that'll be back in the mix," Debeljak said. "As always we're looking to score a lot of points and not turn the ball over. Those are the goals on offense."
Other players to watch are Nate Cikalo (LB), Lucas DeCaro (WR), Antonio Orsini (RB), Colin Schuster (DB) and Kaden Tong (DL).
Case Western was picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll. The Spartans begin the season with a big test against No. 10 Johns Hopkins University on Sept. 3 at home.
Geneva College is led by 30th-year head coach Geno DeMarco and his triple option offense. Last year's offense averaged 305 yards per game but lost all-conference quarterback Amos Luptak to graduation.
"To win in this league, it takes a full effort at every level. What we are doing right now is building for the future. This offense (triple-option) that we've put in, I knew it was going to take time to do this," DeMarco said. "Defensively we run something different than most people. We're a couple of wins away from being there. We're at that cusp, and I'm very excited about that. We've got a lot of guys back, and I love our system."
The Golden Tornadoes were picked to finish seventh in the preseason pill. Geneva finished 4-6 last season.
Players to watch on Geneva's roster include James Clark (DB), Tyler Lippiatt (RB), Andy Mellinger (OL), Nicolas Ottaviani (LB), Jared Ozias (TE) and Haddon Schlarbaum (DL).
Grove City College
The Grove City College Wolverines return eight starters on both sides of the ball from last year's 8-3 campaign but face a question mark at quarterback as its all-time leading passer Josh Ehst graduated.
Four offensive linemen return to anchor the offense while the Wolverines decide on a new signal caller.
Defensively, the team returns inside linebacker Curtis Freyermuth, a Cochranton High School alum, for his senior season. Freyermuth and Parker Kilgore combine for one of the best inside linebacker tandems in the conference and helped the defense allow 63 rushing yards per game.
Grove City was selected to finish fourth in the preseason poll. Wolverines to keep an eye on are Gabe Dunlap (DB), Ryan Fleming (LB), Scott Fraser (WR), Ryan Heckathorn (WR) and Vinny LePre (OL).
Head coach Andrew DiDonato leads a program that's won 25 games in the last three fall seasons, a conference-best mark.
The Wolverines open the season on Sept. 3 against Juniata at home.
Saint Vincent College
The Saint Vincent College Bearcats finished the 2021 season 5-6 and are predicted to land at sixth in the conference this season, per the preseason poll.
At the helm of the Bearcats is Aaron Smetanka, a former standout quarterback for St. Vincent and fourth-year head coach. He helped lead the team to its second postseason appearance a season ago since its rebirth in 2007.
Starting quarterback of the Bearcats is Brady Walker. Walker broke Smetanka's career passing yards and touchdowns records as a junior last season. Walker also had the benefit of learning from offensive coordinator Phil Hamilton, another former Bearcat quarterback.
"It's awesome to have coach Phil and Coach Smetanka. I can go in their office and they're like family to me. They give me pointers and I give them pointers sometimes too," Walker said. "It's how it works. I live in the coaches office and I look up to those two. It's a blessing and I couldn't ask for anything more."
Players to watch for the Bearcats are Nathan Bettwy (OL), C.J. Ciecierski (OL), Molayo Irefin (WR), Joanes Polynice (LB) and Jaden Pratt (DB).
Thiel College has a first-year head coach in Sam Bauman. The Tomcats finished 0-10 last season and are slated to finish last in the PAC in the preseason poll.
The Tomcats are searching for their first win since 2017, a season in which the team went 1-9.
Thiel averaged eight points per game and allowed an average of 46 points per game last year.
The Tomcats open the season on Sept. 3 at Montclair State University. Players to watch on the roster are Donnovan Blue (WR), Luke Faber (DE), Christian Good (OL), Randall Miller (DB), Chad Morningstar (DL) and Andre Rodgers (WR).
Washington & Jefferson
The Washington & Jefferson football team is a storied program with 26 PAC championships and 26 playoff appearances. The Presidents finished 8-3 last season and are led by Mike Sirianni, who enters his 20th season as head coach.
Sirianni is one of the NCAA's most successful head coaches. Among active head coaches, his .807 winning percentage ranks fourth, just above Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban. The Presidents are one of six Division III programs to win eight or more games in each season since 2012.
"That makes me proud. Some of the things we have done," Sirianni said. "We have been in the NCAA playoffs 11 times in the past 19 seasons. We have been humbled a little the past few seasons and we want to work to get back into the NCAA Playoffs."
The Presidents return six offensive starters and five defensive starters. Washington & Jefferson was selected to finish second in the preseason poll and collected seven first-place votes.
Players to watch are Drew Ehrlich (DB), Angelo Fratini (OL), Justin Huss (RB), Alex Keith (DL), Leon Middleton (OL) and Tanner Volpatti (LB).
Washington & Jefferson will open at home versus John Carroll.
The Waynesburg Hornets feature a first-year head coach in Cornelius Coleman. Coleman was all-conference defensive end and honorable mention all-american in his senior season at Waynesburg in 1999.
Coleman inherits a Hornets roster that finished the 2021 season 2-8. The offense averaged 15 points per game and the defense allowed 42 points per game.
"Our main goal is to be competitive week in and week out. We know going into every contest that there are a lot of great teams in the PAC," Coleman said. "However, our philosophy is to treat every opponent as a nameless opponent, meaning we can only take care of what we can take care of."
Waynesburg was pinned to finish ninth in the preseason poll. Players to watch for are Jesse Cain (DB), James Davis (DB), Justin Flack (RB), Nick Hall (RB), Tyler Raines (QB) and Dakota Romantino (WR).
The Westminster Titans are the favorites to win the PAC heading into the season. Co-champions a season ago, the Titans finished 8-3. The Titans earned 19 first-place selections in the poll.
Ninth-year head coach Scott Benzel has helped establish Westminster as Division III powerhouse. He's coached a school-record six D3football.com All-America selections during his tenure.
The Titans have a shot to win three PAC championships in-a-row this season.
"When we first started this process nine years ago, it has been a lot of hard work, a lot of support, a lot of guys have bought in and really helped us get to where we needed to be in terms of the program and our expectations," Benzel said. "As far as trying to do it for a third-straight time, we have to get better. Everyone in this room is going to do the same. For us, not to be complacent and take an honest assessment where we are at as a team and where we think we need to get to."
Westminster averaged 31 points per game last season and allowed 20. The Titans open the season against No. 15 Delaware Valley.
Players to watch include Ian Barr (LB), Joshua Byers (K/P), Gabriel Cleveland (OL), Cole Konieczka (QB), Brayden Thimons (DL) and Bryce Thomas (DB).
Alex Topor can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at .