Will this be Shepherd’s last year as a member of the West Virginia Conference? Shepherd and eight other conference schools have given notice they are planning to join a new, as-yet unformed conference that has a keen interest in football and establishing a cable television network to air the league’s games.
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With an experienced offensive line and over 43 points a game last season, the Rams had a 9-2 overall record. But both the losses were to conference teams (Concord and West Virginia Wesleyan) and there was no WVIAC championship and no bid to the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Concord was the conference champion and the only WVIAC team given a playoff bid.
If this is Shepherd’s final swing through a West Virginia Conference schedule, will it be able to find capable replacements for linemen Josh Spring, Carl McIntyre, and Steven Jackson — all multi-year starters?
Monte Cater will be in his 26th season at Shepherd. In Cater’s run of success at Shepherd there have been 12 conference championships. And every one of those title teams had a quality offensive line. If there is another championship in Shepherd’s future, it will be because quick-learning replacements have been found to block alongside returnees Jordan Dixon and Sean Hull.
If the Rams aren’t able to average 43 points a game this season there should be an experienced defense to take the lead.
Last season, Shepherd was first in the country in total defense when it allowed an average of 254 yards of total offense per game. Not only was Shepherd the nation’s leader in total defense but it also led the country in rushing defense. Shepherd’s 11 opponents could get only 64 yards per game against the Rams.
After leading the country in two important defensive categories, the Rams return a majority of the starters from a year ago.
Howard Jones was fifth in the country in sacks per game. He was third nationally in tackles for lost yardage per game. Jones will be a three-year starter. He was named to the All-Conference first team.
Corey Washington is an All-WVIAC defensive back and Mike Franklin will be a three-year starter at defensive tackle. Franklin is still only a junior. Robert Hayes was also a starter at defensive tackle and he’s back.
Returning linebackers that started last season are Leons Kabongo, Dom Dixon, and A.J. Parrish. Although listed as a senior after transferring to Shepherd last year, Nic Tolson might have another year of eligibility. If Tolson does play, Shepherd would have all its 2011 linebackers for another season.
Joining Washington in the secondary is D. J. Scott, and 2010 All-America defensive back Keon Robinson could also return after missing most of the 2011 season.
Gone from the high-scoring offense will be halfback Tommy Addison, receiver Nikkolai Norrell, receiver Neal Hardie, and placekicker Eric Dobratz. Dobratz was the conference’s leading kicking specialist.
Quarterback Bobby Cooper is a senior who started for the first time in 2011, and halfback Kenny Williams rushed for 84 yards a game as the Rams went 6-2 in conference games and defeated non-conference rivals Shippensburg, St. Joseph’s of Indiana, and Bowie State.
John Frick was the starting tight end while offensive lineman Hassam Ouri was an early-season starter. Wide receivers Robert Byrd, Larry Lowe and Justin Ford played extensively.
Important-to-winning seniors on the 2011 team were Elijah Davis from the defensive secondary, defensive tackle Jon Heavner, and safety Chris Patton. Davis led the WVIAC in interceptions per game.
Shepherd was only eighth in the league in punting and was not the feared punt return and kickoff return team it had been for many years. If Robinson plays again this season he could improve those two open-field areas considerably.
A road game at Shippensburg opens the season on September 1. The home opener is the next Saturday against American International (Massachusetts) of the Northeast-10 Conference.
The 2012 schedule has 10 games and eight of them are against WVIAC opponents.
This could be Shepherd’s last season as a member of the age-old WVIAC. And if nine schools break away from the conference it might well be the final season for the WVIAC.
Shepherd has a dozen conference championships in Cater’s coaching term. Should the large number of 2011 starters actually return to the defense, the coach’s 26th year might well be a fond farewell to a league that has yielded to Shepherd’s will in most of those football seasons.[/cleeng_content]