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Rams hope to keep dream alive

August 13, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - If you look closely at Shepherd University football coach Monte Cater, you might find little bruises all over his arms.

Those are the pinch marks left behind from Cater trying to make sure the Rams' 2005 season wasn't a dream.

"We were very excited about last year," Cater said. "When I have been going around and speaking to groups, I tell them 'If you haven't had a chance to go through something like that, I hope you get the chance to do it.' It was something I had never experienced in my 30 years of coaching."

Shepherd's 2005 season was a dream come true. They were 11-0 in the regular season, leading to a second straight West Virginia Conference title.

In fact, the Rams have won 16 straight WVC games, dating back to the 2003 season.

They trailed only once at halftime all season. They made it to the NCAA Division II playoffs, played their first postseason game at Ram Stadium, but lost 28-21 to C.W. Post.

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They were a veteran team that had the nation's leading pass interceptor (free safety Dan Peters) on defense, a record-setting scorer at running back (Dervon Wallace) and the school's top single-season kick scorer (Ricky Schmitt). The offensive line allowed one sack all season while the defense allowed fewer than 100 yards rushing and slightly more than 11 points per game.

No dream. It was reality. And the reality of it all is that 2005 is arguably the best season in Shepherd school history.

But even Cater knows that 2006 marks a time for the Rams to wake up and smell the coffee.

"Last year doesn't give us any points for this year," he said Saturday at Shepherd's annual media day.

No, it doesn't, but the circumstances surrounding the Rams are awfully familiar to 2005 and make it easy to draw the conclusion that Shepherd is poised for an encore of last season.

Shepherd has 15 starters returning, including 12 who received all-WVC honors last season.

Included on that list are Peters, Wallace and Schmitt. The Rams also have back senior quarterback Dan Chlebowski for his third year as starter, a stable of receivers, experience at tight end and fullback and a majority of its linebacking corps, led by Todd Edmondson and Bobby Jarvis.

That core is what Cater is counting on to keep Shepherd on track while admitting it might be the reason why the Rams remain ahead of the success curve.

"We have a lot of good players back," Cater said. "If they live up to their expectations, we'll see where we'll be. We have a great core back. Our guys have great leadership. They have all been there and seen what it takes. They all try to work on the things that we need for today.

"We didn't have a lot of money for recruiting this year because of all the seniors on this team. Yet, we had a good recruiting year. There are a lot of players who see where we are at and want to join it."

Peters returns after pulling in 12 interceptions in 2005. Wallace is back after running for 1,389 yards - despite not starting until the sixth game - while setting school and WVC records for points scored (162), touchdowns (27) and rushing touchdowns (26). And Schmitt scored 80 points, 50 coming on a school record for extra points. Chlebowski completed 62 percent of his passes (148 of 237) for 1,714 yards and 13 touchdowns.

And just when you think the Rams couldn't be more accomplished, along comes Bryan Wright.

Wright, who transferred from West Virginia last year, was saddled with leg injuries for most of the 2005 season. He is a power runner, who can add diversity to the Shepherd attack while complementing the speedy style of Wallace.

The pieces are there again for the Rams to have a great year.

Cater warns that the schedule will be rugged, like all coaches seem to do on media day. Shepherd opens on the road Aug. 26 at Millersville, then travels to Shippensburg. They play their home opener Sept. 16 against C.W. Post before heading into the WVC schedule.

Another factor could be how the Rams handle bad breaks. Shepherd didn't experience any setbacks in 2005, outside of trailing Fairmont at the half.

"The kids are committed to have a great year," Cater said. "If we go through adversity, it will show us what kind of team we have. Last year, when we had it, we made adjustments and moved forward. You have to have some adversity to find out who your leaders are."

But the aftereffects remain contagious to the Rams.

"When you get used to winning, you want more," Cater said. "When you win a championship, you want another. When you get to the playoffs, you want to go back again. We got our championship rings from last year last week. I'll say this, it's a reminder of last year, but it is also a motivation for this one."

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