Rock football not fazed by preseason ranking

Alex Mowrey

Junior transfer running back from Kent State Julian Durden carries the ball outside during practice. Durden appeared in three games with Kent State, and rushed five times for 43 yards in 2013. He also broke out for a 48 yard run last season.

Brian Hepfinger, Sports Editor
August 28, 2014

After having a winning record in the 2013 season, the Slippery Rock University football team is ready to continue that success.

The Rock was picked to finish third in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division Preseason Coaches Poll that was released in mid-August.

“This is the fourth consecutive year that we’ve been picked third, and two out of the last four years, we’ve won it,” head coach George Mihalik said.

SRU lost both of its PSAC championship games against Bloomsburg University and Winston-Salem State University last November. In both losses, the margin of victory was seven points or less. The Rock had an overall record of 9-5 with those two losses.The Green and White averaged 43.33 points per game last season. That can be attributed to quarterback Nigel Barksdale, who graduated and  threw 30 touchdowns with 3,736 passing yards last season.

The biggest question mark for SRU, now that Barksdale is gone, is the quarterback position. The team still hasn’t decided who the starting quarterback will be.  There are currently four quarterbacks on the roster, but it’s a competition at this point between  redshirt-sophomores Josh Weakland and Zack Newsock.

“They’re in a battle to determine the starting quarterback job,” Mihalik said. “We’re getting better at that, but we still have a lot to work on in our passing game.”

The Rock will replace its top two wide receivers who, like Barksdale, graduated in the spring. John Schademan and Ken Amos combined to score 20 touchdowns and had 2,311 receiving yards.

“When you graduate the offensive MVP of the year, it’s a big challenge to replace him,” Mihalik said. “We’ll probably decide late next week who our starting quarterback is.”

SRU will be looking to junior wide receiver Jaimire Dutrieuille, who caught five touchdowns and had 640 receiving yards last season. They will also lean on senior tight end Julian Harrell, who caught three touchdowns and had 250 receiving yards.

The Rock’s offense features three running backs that all see playing time, including redshirt senior Teddy Blakeman, redshirt junior Brett Crenshaw, and redshirt sophomore Shamar Greene. Last season, Blakeman led the team with 14 touchdowns and 498 rushing yards. Greene had four touchdowns and 727 rushing yards, while Crenshaw had six touchdowns and 327 rushing yards. Junior transfer running back Julian Durden could also see some playing time. SRU will have to lean on its three veteran running backs on offense until the quarterback situation is taken care of.

The Rock allowed opponents to score an average of 26 points per game last season. The defense will be led by senior linebacker Austin Miele, who had 90 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and one interception. Miele was named to the first Team All-PSAC Western Division. Eight out of last year’s 11 starters graduated. So, like on offense, SRU is waiting to see who will step up.

“We feel like with the guys we have, whether they’re transfer or underclassmen from last year, have really stepped up and done the job that they’re supposed to,” linebackers coach Domenick Razzano said. “Although it’s hard to replace seniors, especially because we had a very talented and veteran group last season, we feel like the guys we have right now are capable of starting where those guys were and eventually being better.”

Mihalik said that he and his team expect SRU’s student body to be very involved during the first game of the season.

“We’re counting on a big student presence that night to continue the great tradition of our student body as the 12th person in the stands,” Mihalik said. “They’re a big reason why for the sixth consecutive year we have the largest home attendance in the conference.”

SRU’s first game of the season is at home against Kutztown University on Saturday, Sept. 6.

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