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Name changed, but Shepherd's program still the same

August 22, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - The name has changed. So have some of the perceptions.

But the same old expectations remain intact for the Shepherd College, er, University football team.

Some time last spring, Shepherd made the switch from being a college to a university. The switch started to make the public look at the school upon the Potomac a little differently. But when it comes to football, anything but success is a failure, thanks to coach Monte Cater.

"A lot of perceptions change, which will make it different, but the football team will be looking for the same quality," Cater said Saturday at the Rams' annual media day.

Still, that will be a change for the Rams after last year.

Shepherd ended its final year as a college basically looking for an identity. Personnel changes, inexperience and inconsistency forced the Rams into a 4-6 record last season, their worst mark since 1995.

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The new identity brings a renewed sense of tradition to Shepherd in 2004.

"Our kids are excited about being the first team to be called Shepherd University," Cater said. "As a school, we are excited about our reputation academically, but we have a good reputation as a football program. Still, it's not going to be magic. It is still going to take a lot of work to prove that something's different besides the initials on our shorts."

Shepherd will have to go a long way to duplicate the 12 West Virginia Conference titles it won in Cater's first 17 years.

First, the Rams will have to settle on a quarterback, a process which wasn't finalized until late last season and hampered the Rams' chances for success.

Then, Shepherd will have to make the adjustments to having one proven running back, instead of the two-man tag-team style of ground game it enjoyed the last two years. Alex Herbert becomes the focal point of the ground attack following the graduation of running mate Travis Lynch.

And finally, Shepherd will have to recreate the formula for the "tough as nails" defense which was a cornerstone in all of its championship runs. The Rams' vertical hold slipped in 2003 as it allowed 30 points or more four times, the most by a Shepherd team since the ill-fated '95 season.

"We still have some question marks," Cater said. "We had a tough year last year. There were some things we have to take care of, but we got some of the questions answered."

The first answer is at quarterback as senior Leonard Ferguson, a converted receiver, edged out sophomore incumbent Dan Chlebowski of Greencastle, Pa., for the starting assignment.

Ferguson brings an added dimension to the Shepherd offense in his ability to run with the ball when needed. Chlebowski became Shepherd's starter in the third game last season and hit on 100 of 195 passed for 1,173 yards and nine touchdowns.

"We had some people who had never taken any snaps asked last year to step in and do the job," Cater said. "In the last game, we had the chance to get Leonard in there after he learned to run plays from the shotgun. He completed the three passes he threw and he proved he could run.

"Chlebowski lost a lot of time this fall with some hamstring problems. I had wondered where we would be right now if we would have had Leonard in as the starter from the start. It was a matter of weighing if he was more important to us being a receiver that caught 10 balls last year or at quarterback when he would have the ball more often. I really feel we made the right decision."

Still, Cater emphasized that Chlebowski will be getting more work as he heals, which will eventually give Shepherd two solid quarterbacks to choose from in games.

In the backfield, Herbert gets his first chance at being Shepherd's only feature back. The Urbana High School product was Mr. Inside to Lynch's Mr. Outside for the last two years and was named to the WVC First Team despite sharing the work.

"You get the very best from Alex every time he plays," Cater said. "If I had known he was just (nine) yards short of 1,000 last year, I would have done all I could to give him a chance to get it. You can see what the conference coaches think about him because they voted him to the WVC First Team and he was only running the ball half the time."

The Rams also made moves to bolster the defense and it started from the outside and moved in.

Senior Ron Frazier returned to an outside linebacker spot in Shepherd's 4-4 defense after spending the last two sesaons playing defensive back. The Rams will have Bobby Jarvis, who missed last season with an ankle injury, playing on the other side of the alignment, giving Shepherd speed to burn.

"Ron didn't play there last year and neither did Bobby, but they are both playmakers," Cater said. "We still need a pass rush and some other things, but when you run this kind of defense, the linebackers are key. Ron and Bobby give us two of the best outside linebackers we ever had."

Shepherd, which was picked to finish second behind West Virginia Wesleyan in the WVC standings, starts the season a week earlier than usual, opening Saturday at Virginia State. The Rams play at Shippensburg on Sept. 4 before returning home in week 3 to face Slippery Rock.

Like its name, even the schedule is something completely new for Shepherd University.

"We have to do things better and we have to be a more consistent football team," Cater said. "Wesleyan is the team to beat and will be until someone does it. We think we can be in the hunt, but we have to do the things we need to get better."

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