Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The three-best teams in the Pioneer
Football League last season had senior quarterbacks, so the development of
newcomers at the sport's most important position is vital in this year's
Butler, following the lead of quarterback Matt Lancaster, earned the PFL's
first FCS playoff bid on a tiebreaker over Marist and quarterback Chuckie
Looney. San Diego and quarterback Mason Mills, the PFL's offensive player of
the year, would have made the playoff appearance if the Toreros had not been
ineligible for the league title.
Each program has a "Help Wanted" sign up this spring.
The PFL will drop to 11 teams with Mercer, last year's most surprising team,
moving into the Southern Conference.
Here's a look across the league with spring practices getting underway across
After Butler earned a share of each of the last two PFL titles, the Bulldogs
have lost 22 seniors, including Lancaster, running back Trae Heeter and
defensive end Jeremy Stephens. It might be a transition season for the
Drake, under new coach Rick Fox, wants to be a major player in the title race
again. Its six returning players who earned a form of All-PFL honors are the
most in the league.
While Marist looks for its next starting quarterback (maybe sophomore Ed
Achziger?), the Red Foxes also have to replace four starters on the offensive
line. They have several backups with game experience, but coach Jim Parady
will be doing some mixing and matching at positions until the line settles in.
It's year two for coach Roger Hughes and his Stetson program, which returned
to football with a 2-9 record last year. The Hatters immediately found a star
in safety Donald Payne, who has three seasons of eligibility remaining as
their chief building block.
New Valparaiso coach Dave Cecchini has arrived from Lehigh, where he was the
offensive coordinator, to try to lift a Crusaders program that is 4-51 over
the past five seasons. He's installing new systems on both sides of the ball.
Fifth-year senior Will Bardo will be at the controls of Dayton's offense for
the fourth season. He's as much a threat running the ball as he is passing it.
Despite losing an influential class of 20 seniors, San Diego has two terrific
playmakers in running back Kenn James and wide receiver Reggie Bell.
After being slowed by injury each of the last two seasons, Jacksonville
quarterback Kade Bell is ready again to team with standout wide receiver
The league was dominated by young punters last season, with only one senior
among the top eight in punting average. Drake's Cam Bohnert, who will be a
junior, was the All-PFL first-team selection, and San Diego's Ryan Belden, a
sophomore-to-be, made the second team.
The healthy return of running back Jake Hutson from a knee injury is critical
at Valparaiso. His work will be limited in the spring.
Davidson, one of only three winless teams in the FCS, must replace its all-
time passing leader, Jonathan Carkhuff. J.P. Douglass, a senior who
transferred in from Southern University one year ago, and sophomore John Cook
are battling for the position.
Second-year Campbell coach Mike Minter probably can't go wrong with either
sophomore running back Keith Goss or DeShawn Jones, who both played well as
freshmen. The Camels program appears to be on the rise.
Morehead State has a quarterback derby going with sophomore Austin Gahafer,
redshirt freshmen Jack Sherry and Mitch Gilles, and UT Martin transfer Tyler
Rice. Gahafer made 10 starts last season, but was inconsistent.
San Diego will try to replace the experienced Mills with a young signal
caller, either Keith Williams or Trey Wheeler.
Valparaiso is graduating starting quarterback Eric Hoffman, and senior Ben
Lehman will be pushed by Scott Staal and Trae Hoeske.
Drake should be able to run the ball effectively. T.J. James, the Bulldogs'
leading rusher in 2012, is back after missing last season, and Gary Scott Jr.,
Conley Wilkins and A.J. Washington combined on 1,159 yards in his absence.
Butler will be inexperienced in the skills positions. A strong offensive line
will aid running back Rico Watson as he takes on a bigger workload.
Marist lost PFL defensive player of the year Terrence Fede, but defensive end
Landon Moore, who had 6.5 sacks in a part-time role, is the next standout on
After sitting out last season following a transfer from Georgia State, Isaiah
Howard is expected to step in as a starting cornerback at Campbell.
Drake is counting on a big season, and an injury-free one, from sophomore
linebacker Taylor Coleman.
READY FOR IMPROVEMENT
Morehead State ranked last in the FCS in total defense and second-to-last in
scoring defense. Second-year coach Rob Tenyer's squad needs both stronger play
at linebacker and a better pass rush.
Situational football is so underrated. Stetson was one of the best in the FCS
in stopping opponents on third downs, but the Hatters were terrible in
converting their own third downs into first downs. Improvement offensively is
imperative this season.
Jacksonville ranked 114th nationally in stopping the run and loses three of
its four starters on the defensive line.
Dayton must cut down on its 23 turnovers. The Flyers' offense will be helped
if running back Connor Kacsor stays healthy for the entire season.
Valparaiso will try to limit the number of big plays surrendered by its
secondary. The Crusaders allowed 296 passing yards per game, which were fewer
than only two other FCS teams.
SPRING PRACTICE DATES
Butler: Feb. 26-March 29
Campbell: March 11-April 7
Davidson: March 11-April 12
Dayton: March 20-April 13
Drake: March 26-April 20
Jacksonville: Feb. 11-March 9
Marist: March 31-April 27
Morehead State: March 27 to April 19
San Diego: Feb. 8-March 6
Stetson: Feb. 15-March 19
Valparaiso: April 2-26
The Sports Network