Rams celebrate past, look to future on gridiron

[cleeng_content id="375832381" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]SHEPHERDSTOWN – Even as Shepherd football turns its attention to the future, including official signing day next week, postseason accolades continue trickling in to celebrate the Rams’ unblemished run through the 2013 regular season and the players who made it happen.

C.J. Davis

C.J. Davis

Last week, freshman return specialist C.J. Davis, junior offensive lineman Isaiah Shelton and senior defensive lineman Robert Hayes were selected to the Don Hansen’s Division II Football Gazette All-American team after the three were instrumental in helping Shepherd to a 10-0 regular season record and Mountain East Conference championship.

The Rams secured the No. 1 seed in their region and first-round bye in the NCAA tournament after enjoying their fourth undefeated regular season in school history, and third with the current coaching staff.

Shepherd defeated Winston-Salem State in the second round before losing to West Chester in the quarterfinals. The Rams (11-1) were ranked No. 9 in the final Division II coaches’ poll following the season.

Isaiah Shelton

Isaiah Shelton

Davis, who also earned first-team All-American honors from the college sports information directors association, collected a second-team nod on the Football Gazette All-American team after his 24.9-yard average led Division II. Davis proved equally dangerous returning kickoffs, taking one kickoff back for a score while he also returned a pair of punts for touchdowns.

“Once we figured out who we had who could return those kicks like that, it’s just special,” said Shepherd head coach Monte Cater. “It’s nice to know he’s going to be with us for another three years.”

Shelton, a two-time all-conference offensive tackle, earned third-team All-American consideration after anchoring an offensive line that helped Shepherd rank second nationally in time of possession and paved the way for running backs Allen Cross and Jabre Lolley, who combined for more than 2,000 yards and 27 touchdowns.

“(Shelton) is really one of the athletic guys,” Cater said. “We don’t always get athletic offensive lineman here, but he’s athletic and he’s got great feet. He’s been very consistent. He doesn’t give up a lot of quarterback hurries, let alone quarterback sacks.”

Robert Hayes

Robert Hayes

Hayes collected an honorable mention All-American honor after helping lead a dominant Shepherd defense that ranked first nationally in rushing yards allowed (48.3 yards) per game. Hayes, who earned a grade point average of 3.44 as a fitness and exercise science major, also nabbed a first-team Academic Division II All-American honor as voted on by college sports information directors.

“He was our first, first-team academic All-American,” Cater said. “He had great season.”

In all, the Rams earned 19 all-Mountain East Conference honors including coach of the year (Cater), defensive player of the year (Hayes), offensive freshman of the year (Lolley) and defensive freshman of the year (linebacker Octavius Thomas). Six players earned All-Super Region I including Davis and Hayes, but also senior offensive lineman Jordan Dixon, senior free safety Corey Washington, senior defensive end Howard Jones and junior linebacker Levi Barber.

Also, defensive coordinator Josh Kline was selected coordinator of the year, both offense and defense, for all of Division II. Meantime, Jones was invited to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl earlier this month.

“We’re really happy with the number of players who have been allotted honors,” Cater said. “It’s a special time.”

As for next season, Cater said the Rams have an immediate need to establish depth along the defensive front, where Shepherd was so dominant last year but will lose all four starters as seniors.

“We’re also losing two offensive line starters and we’ll lose the other three guys next year,” Cater said. “So we’re giving line a lot of attention right now as far as recruiting is concerned. But you’re always looking for speed. You’re always looking for a quarterback in each class.

“Our running backs were young,” he added. “Our tight ends were young. A lot of our young receivers got to play because of the number of injuries with the older guys.”

Official signing day for high school recruits is Wednesday, Feb. 5. Cater said the Rams will return to practice in mid-March for spring drills before breaking for the summer.

“Offensively, they’re going to have to carry a little bit more of the load next year because I think we’re going to be a little younger in the front,” Cater said. “But three out of four linebackers are back. The secondary is back. It’s not like we’re not going to be very good next year, but I think a lot is going to depend on how productive the offense is and finding some help in the defensive line.”

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