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Rams reflect on past, focus on present for future

August 12, 2007|By BOB PARASILITI

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Football coaches are famous for worrying about three phases of football - offense, defense and special teams.

Shepherd University's Monte Cater is no different.

But heading into the 2007 season, Cater finds himself thinking about three phases of the Rams' program - past, present and future.

All three converged during Saturday's media day festivities as Shepherd prepares for its opener with Millersville on Aug. 25.

The past was remembering a core of key players who helped the Rams capture the last three West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles and two straight national playoff berths, while collecting 29 straight regular-season wins, including 23 straight WVIAC victories.

The present is a returning nucleus of players who have been selected by the WVIAC coaches to win a fourth straight title with another explosive offense and behind a stingy defense which allowed 7.3 points per game and recorded six shutouts last year.

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And the future comes from the 68 freshmen and 18 redshirt freshmen who push the Rams' roster to 130 players.

"The cupboard isn't bare," Cater said. "We have some of the canned goods missing, but it isn't bare. Today marks the beginning of the season for us. We have 130 players. ... We've never had more than 100 before.

"Some of it is because we have won the league the last couple of years. The numbers are very good and there are some very talented kids there who could be pushing for some time."

Which is a good-news, bad-news situation for the Rams. It's great to have young talent that is able to step in and play, but it leaves a queasy feeling because that means the more experienced players are missing from the roster.

The Rams will be starting an old, new quarterback this season in junior Tyler Lazear, who played in nine games last season and played the majority of Shepherd's two playoff games when starter Dan Chlebowski was injured.

On the defensive side, the Rams will be missing defensive lineman Nick Costello, linebacker Todd Edmondson and three out of four defensive backs, including free safety Dan Peters, who led the nation in interceptions two straight years.

Add to it the graduation of kicking specialist Ricky Schmitt, who is vying for a job with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, and the Rams are looking for kickers, too.

"I'm not sleeping very well at night," Cater said. "There are two places where I'm scared to death - the secondary and the kicking. There are people who are just not experienced where you want experience. I think we are OK, but we will have to learn some lessons to get that experience. I'm excited about our future, but the future is now."

Lazear takes control of an offense which has many of the pieces intact. He has four of five linemen returning, including preseason All-American Ryan Pope. He has the top running back in the WVIAC returning in Dervon Wallace, who has scored 45 touchdowns in is first two seasons. And he has a full complement of receivers and tight ends returning.

The difference will at quarterback. Chlebowski was semistationary and known for his accuracy, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. Lazear adds a new dimension for the Rams with his ability to pull down the ball, roll out and throw on the run.

"(Tyler) will be a dandy," Cater said. "He's been in there and knows what to do. Dan was in there and was able to move the chains to keep the offense moving downfield. Tyler has the arm strength to be able to throw on the run and will allow us to roll out. The problem is that we will have to find out who's our No. 2 quarterback quickly because when you run the option, you are putting the quarterback out there to be hit more."

Wallace might take some of the pressure - and the pain - away from Lazear, purely by his presence. The 5-foot-6, 177-pound running back will be the main target of every opponent after rushing for 2,689 yards in two seasons, and he is now the only truly experienced running back the Rams have.

"He's little, but he's exciting," Cater said. "I hold my breath every time he gets the ball. I'm not sure where he's going to go, but he can break things."

One freshman who could see time at running back is Jimmy Sutch, who graduated from St. James.

"What they always talk about here are running backs and the defense," Cater said. "I'm fine with that. We've been blessed with both for as long as I've been here."

On defense, Shepherd's high standards will be carried by its two captains - defensive end Mike Spiegelberg and linebacker Joey Hooks.

"When the kids picked their captains, they picked two good ones, good leaders," Cater said. "Speigleberg and Hooks have big hearts and go hard all the time. They play with their pads all the time."

With all the change, the question has to be how long Shepherd can keep its streaks alive. With the main architects - such as Chlebowski, Edmondson, Peters and Costello - no longer around, it will take the present and future players to keep the Rams on the roll.

"We've talked about those things," Cater said. "We have to stay hungry. We have the upper leadership to do that, but we don't know yet if it will affect the freshmen. We have to find out about this team. They have to face adversity. You don't want to lose to find out, especially since it's been awhile, but we have to see how they handle it."

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