Shepherd set to kick off fall practice Aug. 15
SHEPHERDSTOWN – Monte Cater doesn’t give too much credence to the prognostications put forth by glossy preseason college football magazines.
The longtime Shepherd University head coach feels as though they are more for the fans, and that their forecasts for the coming season are more so a reflection of previous success – or lack thereof – than an honest foreshadowing of future performance.
Nevertheless, Shepherd is ranked preseason No. 10 in NCAA Division II by national publication Lindy’s Sports, as well as No. 11 by Sporting News.
Last fall, the Rams won the inaugural Mountain East Conference championship after finishing the regular season 10-0 and earning a bye in the first round of the NCAA Division II college football playoffs.
Shepherd defeated Winston-Salem State 7-0 during their first postseason game before losing to West Chester 28-7 the following week in the quarterfinals.
It’s no secret that the Rams relied heavily on defense to win last fall, and that Shepherd finds itself facing considerable questions in 2014 after enduring significant graduation losses along an outstanding defensive front that led the nation in rushing defense.
However, the Rams figure to be loaded at the skill positions, including returning starting quarterback Jeff Ziemba, running backs Allen Cross and Jabre Lolley, and plenty of surrounding talent in the receiving corps.
Shepherd hasn’t had a losing season since 2003. The Rams have made the NCAA playoffs three times in the past four years.
In 27 seasons, Cater has compiled a 201-88-1 record as Shepherd’s all-time winningest head football coach.
“Unless you’ve had a chance to put three or four pretty good years together, (the magazine rankings) are pretty much based on what happened the year before,” Cater said. “Maybe some of it’s based on consistency, and if that’s the case it’s a very nice compliment.
“But the bottom line is very few of those people that rank you have a chance to really look at what graduated and what you have coming back,” he continued. “What people you’re going to play. But it’s nice to get ’em.”
The Mountain East Conference will release its preseason rankings after the league’s coaches vote prior to conference media day scheduled for next month in Bridgeport.
Shepherd was the only MEC school ranked in either of the preseason magazines’ top-25.
Cater said he expects the 11-school football conference to continue to improve. He also said there continues to be discussions about adding a 12th school that would play football, perhaps Wheeling Jesuit, which is already a member playing other sports, including men’s basketball.
“I’m trying to look at it and think who’s going to really struggle and I’m not seeing it,” Cater said. “It’s going to be a good league. It already is, but it’s going to get better.”
Adding a 12th team to the league would negate the ability of MEC schools to play nonconference games, if the teams were all required to play each other. Unlike the 12-game schedule in Division I, Division II schools are limited to 11 regular season games, plus the playoffs.
Shepherd is scheduled to open a travel-heavy season Sept. 6 at West Liberty State. The Rams have 10 opponents scheduled for this fall, all from the MEC. Among the road games are two trips to Charleston and two trips to Ohio.
“We’re going to travel more than any time that I’ve been at Shepherd,” Cater said. “We still have an open date. It’s been difficult to fill without having to go far away … or with a one-year deal.”
Shepherd players are set to report to campus to begin fall practice on Aug. 15. In the meantime, the coaching staff is hosting several high school football camps at their facilities in Shepherdstown.
“It’s going to be on us pretty quick,” Cater said.
In other Division II football news, the longtime host site for the national championship game in Florence, Ala., has been moved to Kansas City.
For 28 years, earning an opportunity to play in late December in northern Alabama was the goal for all Division II programs. The game shifts to Sporting Park in Kansas City for the next four years after the local sports commission and the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association won the bid as host venue through 2017.
Cater never coached in the national championship game, but he did serve for three years as a member of the national championship hosting committee.
“It was special and it was fun,” Cater said. “Man, (that site) had it down. It was non-stop for the kids. They really did a great job down there. I’m sure they’re convinced they’re going to be able to get it done there in Kansas City.”
Shepherd is offering reserved parking spaces for all home football games for the upcoming season.
Season reserved parking passes for spaces in Lot B, the gated area behind Scarborough Library, will be available for $50 (this includes any NCAA II postseason games). A limited number of spaces will be available on game days for $10 each.
All proceeds will directly benefit Shepherd athletics.
Renewal for reserved parking will take place July 28-Aug. 1. New orders will be accepted starting on Tuesday, Aug. 5.
To reserve your space for the 2014 season, please call 304-876-5527 or 304-876-5524.