Courtesy of the Pioneer Football League
ST. LOUIS â€“ Ten-time Pioneer Football League champion Dayton has been tapped as the preseason favorite in the leagueâ€™s preseason coachesâ€™ poll, receiving four of 10 possible first-place votes.
The leagueâ€™s coaches expect a repeat of the 2009 season which came down to the final three weeks before the championship was resolved â€“ Butler and Dayton sharing the crown. Dayton received 76 points while Butler was picked to finish second, receiving two first-place votes, with 69 points. Jacksonville received the four remaining first-place votes and finished third in the preseason poll with 68 points.
Behind those three teams were Drake (54 points), San Diego (52), Marist (45), Davidson (30), Campbell (25), Morehead State (22) and Valparaiso (nine).
Dayton has won two of its 10 league titles in the last three seasons, posting a 19-4 record in that span. Third-year head coach Rick Chamberlin will see 15 starters return, including The Sports Networkâ€™s Buchanan Award candidate James Vercammen, who was a first-team All-PFL selection after recording a league record 134 tackles last season. However, it is the Flyers offensive unit that returns the most experience with 10 starters returning, led by senior quarterback Steve Valentino, the PFLâ€™s â€œOffensive Player of the Yearâ€ last season in his first year at quarterback after receiving first-team All-PFL recognition at wide receiver the previous season. Valentino was named to The Sports Networkâ€™s Payton Award Watch List.
Butler earned a share of its second-ever PFL championship â€“ and first since 1994 â€“ with last seasonâ€™s run that included a victory against Central Connecticut State in the final Gridiron Classic. The Bulldogs return 17 starters from that team, including wide receiver Zach Watkins, running back Scott Gray and offensive lineman Donnie Gilmore who were each first-team All-PFL selections last season. Watkins returns after leading the PFL with a school-record 78 receptions last season. Meanwhile, Gray carried the ball 169 times last season for 868 yards and five touchdowns.
After winning its first PFL title in 2008, Jacksonville finished tied for third last season and has recorded a 13-3 mark in those two campaigns. The Dolphins return 15 starters â€“ the most in program history â€“ from last seasonâ€™s squad with 10 starters returning on the offensive side. Running back Rudell Small â€“ a two-time unanimous first-team All-PFL selection â€“ returns after posting 1,000-yard campaigns each of the last two seasons, including 1,074 yards last season. Also returning is quarterback Josh McGregor, who was a second-team All-PFL honoree last year after throwing for a school record 2,693 yards and 31 touchdowns.
Drake returns 14 starters from last seasonâ€™s team that finished tied with Jacksonville for third place. The Bulldogs defense accounts for eight of the teamâ€™s returning starters after finishing second in rushing defense, limiting opponents to 81.5 rushing yards per game. Leading the defensive unit will be 2009 first-team All-PFL selection Dain Taylor â€“ a 2010 preseason Sports Network All-America selection â€“ who led the team with 19.5 tackles for loss, including 10.5 quarterback sacks. The offense will be led by fullback Steve Platek, a two-time first-team All-PFL selection, and quarterback Michael Piatkowski who took over the reins last season as a freshman and passed for 2,139 yards and 14 touchdowns.
San Diego rounds out the top half of the leagueâ€™s preseason poll and will look to rebound from a sixth-place finish in 2009. The Toreros return 12 starters from last seasonâ€™s team â€“ five on offense and six on defense â€“ but the biggest intrigue will reside at quarterback where Sam Scudellari and Bo Stompro will compete for the position. Scudellari started six games, passing for 1,004 yards, before an injury sidelined him. Stompro took over for the final four games, passing for 824 yards.
Marist returns 11 starters from a team that posted a fifth-place finish in its first season of PFL play. Among the Red Foxesâ€™ three offensive returnees is wideout James LaMacchia, a unanimous 2009 first-team All-PFL selection, who recorded the programâ€™s first 1,000-yard receiving campaign.
Davidson returns 15 starters from 2009â€™s sixth-place campaign. Running back Kenny Mantuo returns after leading the team with 626 yards and five touchdowns on the ground last season. On the defensive side, linebacker Daniel Astrop returns after posting a team-best 68 tackles in 2009.
In its second season, Campbell showed progress with a pair of PFL victories and an eighth-place league finish. The Camels return 21 starters from that team which led the PFL with 2,087 yards rushing. The teamâ€™s three leading rushers, quarterback Daniel Polk (572 yards), running back C.J. Oates (567) and running back Carl Smith (463) will lead the teamâ€™s offensive attack.
Morehead State will have to replace a pair of key pieces on the defensive side of the ball as they look to rebound from a one-win PFL campaign last season. The Eagles lost linebacker Wes McDermott, the 2009 PFL â€œDefensive Player of the Year,â€ and defensive end Andrew Doan, the teamâ€™s sacks leader. Morehead State will return the bulk of its young offensive unit, led by quarterback Zach Lewis who played in seven of the teamâ€™s PFL contests last season.
Valparaiso will be under new leadership in 2010 as Dale Carlson assumes the reins. The Crusaders return 12 starters from last seasonâ€™s team, including offensive lineman Nate Blair and defensive lineman Nikko Carson who were each honorable mention All-PFL selections.
There are no changes to the league schedule in 2010, with each team playing an eight-game league slate â€“ teams will not play one of the league members on a two-year rotational basis. The 2010 Pioneer Football League schedule gets underway Thursday, Sept. 2 when Valparaiso travels to Western Illinois. Following Maristâ€™s Friday, Sept. 3, contest against Sacred Heart, the leagueâ€™s other eight members hit the field Saturday, Sept. 4. The 2010 PFL slate starts Sept. 18 when Davidson travels to Campbell and Morehead State travels to Dayton.