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August 6, 2009

 

Preseason respect paid to Red Dragons

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

As the defending New Jersey Athletic Conference football champions, who ventured into the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Division III playoffs last season, SUNY Cortland earned plenty of respect nationwide.
So even though the Red Dragons will head into pre-season practice in two weeks looking to replace nine offensive and six defensive starters from that successful 11-2 squad, a pair of pre-season national polls still think pretty highly of Coach Dan MacNeill’s crew.
Cortland is ranked 10th in the USA Today Division III pol1, while D3football.com pre-season pollsters consider the Red Dragons the 11th best squad in the land — a pretty nice tribute to what this program has achieved in recent seasons under MacNeill’s watch.
Among those who know this team best, Cortland earned four first place votes in the NJAC Pre-Season Coaches Poll which placed them second behind Rowan.
Having beaten all nine conference foes a year ago, after having shared first place in the standings in the three seasons prior to that, certainly helped create this growing Cortland reputation. And heading into his 13th season coaching his alma mater, MacNeill appreciates the respect while remaining realistic.
“It’s nice to have that history, but our approach to what we do isn’t going to be any different then it was last year as we are coming in,” said MacNeill during a Wednesday media day chat with the league coaches. “I mean we’ve got to put our noses down, we’ve got to work hard and prove to everybody that we’re deserving of this respect.”
That is the goal of this year’s squad, which will feature former Cortland High quarterback Dan Pitcher taking over the offensive reins. A junior in eligibility after transferring in from Colgate last season, Pitcher, senior defensive linemen Lou Crispo and Bryan Wiley and senior offensive lineman Chris Van De Weert have been selected team captains for the coming campaign.
MacNeill knows with so many new faces in prominent roles Cortland certainly can’t rest on past laurels.
“ I think you can get kids lost, their heads in the clouds, and set themselves up for disappointment if you don’t keep them well-grounded,” is a task MacNeill faces. “We’re just trying to keep them grounded and again, we’re appreciative of the respect that the program has gained but we understand that it’s a game of football and you’ve got to block and you’ve got to tackle.”
The Red Dragons will open the season with three consecutive home games, which should be a plus. After Morrisville comes to town on Sept. 12, a crucial early-seasons showdown with Rowan on Sept. 19 and a Sept. 26 battle with an up-and-coming Kean squad will be big SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex attractions. So there won’t be a lot of time for an inexperienced team to develop.
An extra bonus from last year’s success was additional practice time in the post-season, however, which should help.
“We’ve often talked with other coaches about how you get an extra half a season and it’s true, I mean you look up and our season was over, and all of a sudden you’re right into spring ball,” said MacNeill of playing into the month of December after winning two NCAA playoff games. “There was a very short time between the NCAA tournament and spring practice, so I think we’ve enjoyed those repetitions with the younger guys who are coming back. Certainly being in that part of the season, you know with a nice euphoric feeling, that’s something these guys are carrying back and we now want to get back there, so it’s all good.”
Though pre-season polls don’t mean all that much in the long run, MacNeill is happy to be there.
“Our kids have to be able to step up, but I like knowing that you have a little respect from people around you. You’re not going to beat anybody, not that you have a mark on your back, but you’re not going to surprise anybody. But it’s good. It’s good to the extent that it has meaning. We certainly appreciate the respect that it represents,” he said.
Elsewhere around the league:
— In the coaching ranks, athletic director Jerry Boyes is getting back into the coaching business at Buffalo State. He had gone 89-62 over 15 seasons after building up the program from practically scratch after taking over in 1986. He replaces Paul Shaffner, who finished 1-9 with the Bengals last year.
“You know if it was last year at this time and someone asked, ‘Jerry, do you see yourself back coaching?’ I would have said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ But unfortunately, and I do say unfortunately because Paul’s a good man and just didn’t get it done, a change had to be made,” said Boyes. “I’m anxious to see if I know how to call a play anymore. I know that I really enjoyed the spring because I was out there with a group of young men you wanted to be successful, and who are willing to do the things that it takes to be successful. I don’t know if we have enough players on this squad right now that truly understand that. We’re about to embark on that process.”
After serving as the interim coach, Jerry Flora was offficial given the head coaching post at William Paterson. He led the Pioneers to a 4-6 record last year.
“I’m actually kind of glad that it’s over,” said Flora of getting rid of that interim tag. “It was good to get that first year under my belt. The transition was very easy for me, because I had worked here for seven seasons, I’d worked with a lot of people on campus, and I knew what we had and what our expectations were.”
— While Morrisville waits for a new stadium to be built, the Mustangs will play seven road games and three ‘home’ contests at nearby Colgate University. The new facility will be ready for the fall of 2010.
“Any time you’re playing 10 road games with a young team or even a veteran team, it’s going to pose a challenge,” said Dow. “You can say that we’re playing three games at home over at Colgate, but we’re still getting on a bus to go play a game so it doesn’t have a home feeling to it. It’s certainly not something you wish for, but when it’s all said and done, have a brand new stadium here with turf and lights and locker rooms under the stadium makes us very excited about the future.”
Rowan’s stadium is also being renovated, which is why the Profs will open the season with three straight road games including the crucial visit to Cortland.
“There’s no question that with three straight home games, in most years that would be a major concern. The nice part is that we have a veteran team coming back,” said Rowan coach Jay Accorsi.

NEW JERSEY ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Pre-Season Coaches Poll: 1. Rowan (5 first place votes), 2. CORTLAND (4), 3. Montclair State (1), 4. Kean, 5. Brockport, 6. The College of New Jersey, 7. William Paterson, 8. Western Connecticut, 9. Buffalo State, 10. Morrisville
Dark Horse selection: Kean

USA TODAY DIVISION III POLL
Pre-Season: 1. Mount Union (Oh.), 2. Wisconsin-Whitewater, 3. Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas), 4. Hardin-Simmons (Texas), 5. North Central (Ill), 6. Wisconson-Stevens Point, 7. Willamette (Oreg), 8.Wheaton (Ill), 9. Wartburg (Iowa), 10. Ithaca
11. Wesley (Del), 12. CORTLAND, 13. St John’s(Minn.), 14. Monmouth (Ill.), 15. Washington & Jefferson (Pa), 16. Hobart, 17. St. Tomas (Minn), 18. Case Western (Oh.), 19. DePauw (Ind), 20. Trinity (Tex)
21. Christopher Newport (Va), 22. Curry (Mass), 23. Redlands (Calif), 24. Salisbury (Md), 25. Delaware Valley (Pa)

D3FOOTBALL.COM POLL
Pre-Seasaon: 1. Mount Union (Oh.), 2. Wisconsin-Whitewater, 3. Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas), 4. North Centrqal Ill), 5. Hardin-Simmons (Texas), 6. Wheaton (Ill), 7. Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 8. Willamette (Ore), 9. Wesley (Del), 10. Ithaca
11. CORTLAND, 12. Monmouth (Ill), 13. St. John’s (Minn), 14. Washington & Jefferson (Pa), 15. Hobart, 16. Case Western (Oh), 17. Wartburg (Iowa), 18. Wabash (Ind), 19. Franklin (Ind), 20. Christopher Newport (Va)
21. Montclair State (NJ), 22. St.Thomas (Minn.), 23. Occidental (Calif), 24. Otterbein (Oh.), 24. DePauw (Ind)