Around local Division II and III football, there are several new coaches, plenty of returning stars, veterans back from playoff teams, and a rare matchup between big programs on Friday night.
Widener and Rowan, two of the area's preeminent Division III teams, open against each other Friday at Rowan. It's only the second meeting between the Profs and the Pride.
Widener, 6-4 last season, has a new coach in Mike Kelly, who spent recent years in professional football, much of it coaching in the Canadian Football League. Widener's top returning player is a Division III preseason all-American, junior receiver Anthony Davis, who had 91 catches in 2013. The Pride are picked to finish fourth in the Middle Atlantic Conference.
Rowan coach Jay Accorsi suggested that a game with Widener could develop into an annual matchup. "Maybe make it the battle of the Commodore Barry Bridge Cup or something like that," Accorsi said.
The Profs, picked to win the New Jersey Athletic Conference, have seven players who earned preseason all-American honors from various publications: defensive ends Chris Alvarez and Josh Popper, middle linebacker Darren Dungee, outside linebacker Tyler Jenkins, guard Joe Borden, running back Withler Marcelin, and offensive tackle George Meyers. Rowan also has an experienced quarterback in Bill McCarty, who took over midway through last season.
If things start getting lax at practice, Accorsi said, he says the word "Texas," reminding players how last season ended, with a 59-8 second-round NCAA loss at second-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor in Texas.
West Chester coach Bill Zwaan said he's been doing his share of yelling at practice lately, reminding his Rams what it took to reach last year's Division II national semifinals and win a school-record 13 games.
Although West Chester lost the running back Zwaan calls "the best player in the school's history" in Rondell White, the Rams are picked first in the PSAC East, with 14 starters back, including quarterback Sean McCartney. Center Derek Schatz anchors the line. The Rams open Saturday at New Haven.
Ursinus, picked third in the Centennial Conference after a 7-3 season, also has a Friday night opener, at the College of New Jersey. The Bears offense is led by senior quarterback Kevin Monahan, who took over last season. Look for freshman James Hickey to start at running back.
At Cheyney, former offensive coordinator Anthony Johnson takes over as interim head coach. The Wolves, picked eighth in the PSAC East, are led by linebacker Isaiah Fleming, who was fourth nationally in Division II in tackles.
Cheyney opens Thursday night with a rivalry game at Lincoln, which is headed by second-year coach Ramon Flanigan. The Lions are led by senior quarterback Doug Cook.
Delaware Valley also has a new coach, Duke Greco, who moves over from offensive coordinator, although the former Aggies quarterback will keep calling the plays. The Aggies, 7-4 in 2013, open Saturday at Montclair State. Del Val is led by three-time all-Middle Atlantic QB Aaron Wilmer.