The Slippery Rock University football team looks to bring a fast, athletic and competitive team to their Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference competition this season.
The preseason coach’s polls predicted the Rock to finish third in the PSAC West, behind Indiana University of Pa. and Mercyhurst University.
Head coach George Mihalik feels the placement fairly represents how the team finished last season and the potential they have for this season.
Mihalik noted that this team, overall, will not be the largest team in terms of size, but they will be highly competitive.
Their athleticism and competitive drive can be seen by observing SRU’s journey toward selecting a starter for one of the most important positions on the field, the quarterback.
Redshirt junior Jared Buck and senior Nigel Barksdale will battle for the starting quarterback position in the season opener against Northwood University on Saturday.
“A decision hasn’t been made yet,” Mihalik said. “They both started last year and they both won games. They each offer different strengths to the offense and the team.”
Injuries plagued the position last year, allowing both athletes to start in games and produce wins for the Rock.
Buck finished the 2012 season completing 84 of 137 passes for
In 2012, Barksdale finished completing 95 of 168 passes, throwing fourteen touchdowns, seven rushing touchdowns, and throwing nine interceptions.
New changes for the 2013 season include a decision for a later start from the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the addition of linebacker coach Eric Thatcher.
The regular season will start a week later than usual for all of Division II, which shortened the time for preseason camps.
Senior linebacker Quindell Dean doesn’t feel that the adjusted schedule will have any effect on the team’s performance.
“Most of us have been up at SRU working out anyway,” Dean said. “If anything, it’s helped us get focused faster.”
Mihalik isn’t concerned about the later start either.
As a coach, he said he’d love to have had more two-a-day practices but they will still have the same number of practices before the first game as every other year.
The schedule change is a move by the NCAA to give their fall athletes a longer summer break.
SRU’s other adjustment, the addition of Thatcher to their coaching staff, fits right in according to Mihalik.
“He’ll fit in really well with the staff and has a great rapport with his position players, as well as the rest of the team,” Mihalik said.
Thatcher was an assistant coach for the Buffalo Bills before joining the Rock’s staff.
Slippery Rock will lean on its veteran players to lead them through the season.
“All the defensive seniors have had a really strong camp and the returning players have done really well, same with the offense and special teams,” Mihalik said. “You expect your seniors to have the best season of their careers and I think they all will.”
The seniors, as well as several underclassmen, experienced the loss of former teammate Zach Sheridan in August.
The loss of Sheridan this past summer and Derek Durand the summer before has weighed heavily on the hearts of the players and coaches.
“It’s definitely been an emotional and trying time,” Mihalik said. “The players have, in their own way, dedicated their seasons to these guys.”
Last season, no one wore Durand’s number, 86, and this season no one will wear Sheridan’s number, 4.
Barksdale had previously worn number 4 but will wear number 1 for his senior year.
“I’m sure he would’ve liked to finish out his career here in the same number, but he completely understood and supported the decision,” Mihalik said.
The loss of Sheridan and Durand has brought the team closer than they’ve ever been, Dean said.
“The loss of our two brothers has had a really big effect on our veterans,” Dean said. “As brothers, Sheridan and Derek will never leave us and will always be remembered.”
The Green and White will travel to Michigan September 7 to face the Northwood University Timberwolves for their first game of the season.