September 2, 2015

Rowan Football Opens 2015 Season At Widener On Saturday With A New Look

A WOLnews File Photo
GLASSBORO, NJ - The Rowan University football team heads into the 2015 season with a new look to the offense and a conference that changed dramatically during the offseason. Last year, the Profs claimed a share of their second straight New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) title and made their third consecutive appearance in the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament. Rowan had an overall record of 7-4 and a 6-1 mark in the NJAC.

Head coach Jay Accorsi heads into his 14th year at the helm and decided that with all the changes in the conference it was a good opportunity to shake things up a little bit. "We thought with all the new teams in the conference, it would be a good time to change what we were doing offensively and defensively so we switched some coaches and switched around players," Accorsi said. "We're finding more tight ends, fullbacks and bigger offensive linemen as the bigger schools are going to the spread no-huddle. It's harder to find those quick, longer, leaner type players that the spread offense employs. We felt this was a great opportunity to change to more of a power type offense."

The NJAC now has 10 teams, including newcomers Christopher Newport University, Frostburg State University, Salisbury University and Wesley College. Christopher Newport, Salisbury and Wesley are all playoff teams and will provide a challenge week in and week out in conference play.

"Our conference has always been very good," Accorsi commented. "I've said that the reason we have success and the reason other teams have had success in the playoffs is because of a tough schedule. You add Salisbury who has playoff experience and has been very good the past five to seven years. Wesley is a perennial power and Christopher Newport is a playoff caliber team. I think top to bottom we helped ourselves because it will be one of, if not the toughest Division III conferences in the country. Our hope is that we can get two teams in the playoffs and that's a legitimate thing for us to shoot for as a conference."

The Profs head into the campaign with a brand new quarterback as Dante Pinckney (so. Lawnside, NJ/Haddon Heights) won the job last spring and has continued to impress during training camp. "He's been excellent for us during training camp and last spring and we knew coming in that he was probably going to be the starting quarterback," Accorsi commented. "We changed the offense around so we are not relying on the quarterback to do everything, just a few things. With the running backs and offensive line that we have, we are not going to ask him to win games for us right away. At some point, towards the end of the season, he might have to help us win some games. For a younger player in the program, he's really grasped the opportunity and I think he understands that it's his moment and his time."

Pinckney will have a lot of help on offense as Withler Marcelin (sr. Ocean Twp., NJ/Ocean Twp.) returns as the starting running back. Dante Tobler (jr. New Milford, NJ/New Milford), Dior Hightower (jr. Sicklerville, NJ/Paul VI) and Jahsiem Rover (so. Willingboro, NJ/Burlington Twp.) will also see time in the backfield. Marcelin holds 16 program records and is on pace to break four more this season. He rushed for 1,447 yards on 270 carries and scored 11 touchdowns. Marcelin also caught 12 passes for 75 yards. He led the NJAC in rushing (144.7) and all-purpose yards (166.7), finished tied for fifth in scoring (6.6) and scoring touchdowns (6.6) and sixth in total offense (144.7). He was seventh in the nation in rushing yards per game, eighth in total rushing yards and 14th in all-purpose yards per game. Marcelin was selected as a All-America honorable mention and earned NJAC All-Conference, All-East Region and Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) South All-Star first team honors. He was the Philadelphia Inquirer Academic All-Area Performer of the Year. Marcelin was also a three-time NJAC Offensive Player of the Week and a two-time ECAC Offensive Player of the Week. He is a, Lindy's College Football and USA College Football Preseason All-American.

Tobler ran the ball 73 times for 213 yards and two touchdowns. He ranked 16th in the conference in rushing (26.6). Hightower played in one game last season, but his playing time will be expanded this season. Rover rushed for 243 yards on 61 carries and scored on touchdown. He was 15th in the conference in rushing (30.4).

"When you have a dynamic player like Withler, it makes it pretty easy", Accorsi said. There were a lot of games last year where we gave the ball to him almost every snap. Dante has done a great job and has developed. He is ready for a great opportunity. Dior has also done a great job and we have a lot of younger dynamic backs so we feel very comfortable there."

The offensive line has Zaire Pollard (sr. Camden, NJ/Woodrow Wilson), who missed 2014 with an injury, Steven Schwartz (sr. Galloway, NJ/Absegami) andDarryl Guilford (so. Atlantic City, NJ/Buena Reg.) are back. Joining them is newcomer Sean Henigin (fr. Bridgeton, NJ/Bridgeton). The final starting offensive line spot is still up for grabs. Schwartz was an All-Conference honorable mention and named a USA College Football Preseason All-America honorable mention. The team was second in the NJAC in rushing offense (179.8 ypg), tied for second in sacks against (15) and fourth in scoring offense (21.0 ppg) and total offense (289.7 ypg).

"Our offensive line is just large," Accorsi said. "They are huge and physical. We knew with players like Zaire and Steven that they would provide us with some experience. You mix them in with Darryl and our new player Sean. We are going to be physical up front."

The tight ends also play a key role in the success of the offense as Matt Hughes(sr. Allendale, NJ/Northern Highlands Reg.) and Paul Rucci (jr. Mullica Hill, NJ/Clearview Reg.) return to the lineup. Hughes played in 10 games with nine starts last season. He recorded nine receptions for 70 yards and returned three kicks for 12 yards. Rucci played in eight games and was primarily the long snapper and blocking tight end.

"The tight ends have done a great job with Matt and Paul and some new guys will be mixed in to solidify the offensive front and we feel really comfortable with where we are," Accorsi commented.

At wide receiver, Russ Forchion (sr. Clementon, NJ/Hammonton), Todd Guillaume(sr. Irvington, NJ/Immaculate Conception) and Cody Watts (sr. Hillsborough, NJ/Hillsborough) are back and transfer Jamel Smith (so. Pine Hill, NJ/New Egypt) is joining them. Forchion, a team captain, earned NJAC All-Conference honorable mention after making a team-high 49 catches for 483 yards and five touchdowns. He will also be a kick and punt returner. Forchion earned USA College Football Preseason All-America honorable mention honors. He ranked sixth in the conference in receptions (4.5), seventh in kick return average (21.5), 11th in receiving yards (43.9) and 12th in all-purpose yards (74.6). Guillaume played in 11 games and caught eight passes for 107 yards and one touchdown. Watts participated in fives games and made three catches for 34 yards. Smith was the 2012 Patriot League Rookie of the Year at Lafayette College. He will be a key returner as well. Smith tallied 38 receptions for 291 yards and two touchdowns. He returned 15 punts for 190 yards and five kicks for 117 yards.

"Our new offense is going to provide some more big play opportunities," Accorsi stated. "Maybe not as many as in the spread, but now if you are running the ball and pounding it inside and then the play-action pass gets the linebacker moving and you can lull a secondary to sleep. Jamel could be a special player for us as he has all the tools. You mix in Russ who had a great year for us and then Todd, Cody and some of our younger players. We are going to be able to go deep and surprise some people in that area."

The defense brings several players back from 2014. On the defensive line, Sean Borkowski (sr. Ridgefield Park, NJ/Ridgefield Park), Anthony Rizzolo (jr. Green Brook, NJ/Watchung Hills Reg.), Sebastian Ljoka (sr. Absecon, NJ/Holy Spirit),Josh Popper (sr. Egg Harbor Twp., NJ/Holy Spirit) and Kristian Lewis (jr. Union, NJ/Union) are vying for starting spots. Borkowski and Rizzolo were the starters with Ljoka playing in every game and Popper missing the season with an injury. Lewis saw action in 10 games and made 14 tackles and had one interception. Borkowski made seven tackles, including 1.5 tackles for a loss (6 yards). Rizzolo recorded 25 tackles, two for a loss (4 yards) and one interception. Ljoka had 20 tackles, 3.5 for a loss (13 yards) and 1.5 sacks (10 yards). In 2013, Popper was a NJAC All-Conference first team selection. He accumulated 65 tackles, 11.0 tackles for a loss (34 yards), 2.5 sacks (17 yards) and two interceptions.

Darren Dungee (sr. Morristown, NJ/Morristown) leads the linebacking corp. Dungee was the 2012 NJAC Defensive Rookie of the Year and a two-time NJAC All-Conference first team selection. He earned NJAC Defensive Player of the Week honors once. Dungee was also selected to the USA College Football Preseason All-America first team. Dungee had a team-high 86 tackles with six tackles for a loss (18 yards), 0.5 sacks (9 yards), one forced fumble and one blocked kick. He was eighth in the NJAC in tackles (7.8). John Barillo (jr. Ventnor, NJ/St. Augustine Prep), Will Grant (so. Winslow, NJ/Winslow Twp.), Chris Henchy(so. Egg Harbor City, NJ/Absegami) and Jeff Rodriguez (jr. Woodbridge, NJ/Woodbridge) will be in a rotation around Dungee. Barillo played in 11 games as a freshman with 39 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss (10 yards). He also recovered a fumble, recorded two quarterback hurries and two pass breakups. Barrillo was named NJAC Defensive Rookie of the Week once. Grant saw action in 10 games and made 10 tackles, while Henchy played in seven games. Rodriguez participated in 10 games and recorded four solo tackles. He was also the holder.

"I've always said that we have championship teams here because of our defense and this year is no exception," Accorsi said. "It starts with the guys in the middle up front. Sebastian and Kristian are key and having Josh come back. He is a dynamic end, which is something we have always had. Darren and Will at linebacker. Then you have some of the guys on the edge, Jeff, John and Chris and it is another great group in the front seven. I think we will be able to get after teams' offense."

Eddie Davis (sr. Camden, NJ/Camden), Jared Sanchez (jr. Hammonton, NJ/Hammonton) and Rashad Adams (sr. Perth Amboy, NJ/Perth Amboy Vo-Tech) all started last season in the defensive backfield. Davis was an All-Conference first team and ECAC South All-Star second team selection. He was named to the USA College Football Preseason All-America second team. Davis tallied 50 tackles, three tackles for a loss (11 yards), forced one fumble and had a fumble recovery. He set the University record for interceptions in consecutive games (3). Davis ranked third in the NJAC in interceptions and fifth in passes defended (0.91). Sanchez was named to the All-Conference second team and a USA College Football Preseason All-America honorable mention. He received NJAC Defensive Player of the Week recognition once. Sanchez had 35 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss (17 yards), one sack (13 yards), two fumble recoveries, three interceptions and seven pass breakups. In the NJAC, he ranked fourth in passes defended (1.00), tied for fourth in fumble recoveries (0.20) and tied for fifth in interceptions (0.30). A team captain, Adams also earned All-Conference second team honors. He received USA College Football Preseason All-America third team recognition. Adams accumulated 45 tackles, six tackles for a loss (18 yards), six pass breakups and recovered a fumble.

Also returning to the secondary are Bobby Barbieri (sr. Hammonton, NJ/Hammonton) and Kori Haggie (jr. Paterson, NJ/Passaic County Tech). Barbieri made 27 tackles in 10 games and had 3.5 tackles for a loss (11 yards) and two interceptions. Haggie saw action in 10 games and had 14 tackles, two interceptions and four pass breakups.

"Almost everybody is back in the secondary," Accorsi commented. "We feel really good about where we are and think we could play at an even higher level then we played last year, which is scary when you think about it. We have a great group of guys who I think can do an outstanding job for us defensively. And again, it's always been our defense here. Everybody likes to talk about the offense, but it's always been about our defense."

On special teams, the kicker, Tyler Knighton (so. Gibbstown, NJ/Paulsboro) and punter, Mark Diedrichsen (jr. Wayside, NJ/Ocean Twp.) are back. Knighton earned All-Conference first team and USA College Football Freshman All-Star honors. He earned NJAC and ECAC Special Teams Player of the Week honors once. Knighton was named a USA College Football Preseason All-America honorable mention. He made 12 field goals in 16 attempts and converted 25 extra points in 28 tries. Knighton set the University mark with four field goals and tied the program record with 15 points against William Paterson University (Oct. 11). He led the conference in field goal percentage (75.0), was second in field goals made (1.09) and fifth in point after attempts percentage (89.3). Diedrichsen registered 72 punts for 2,671 yards. He averaged 37.1 yards per punt, had four punts over 50 yards and placed 17 inside the 20-yard line. Diedrichsen also recorded 45 kickoffs for 2,531 yards with five touchbacks. He was fifth in the NJAC in punting.

"In the kicking game, I thought Tyler had a great year last season as a true freshman," Accorsi stated. "He won some games by kicking a lot of field goals for us early on. He's hitting the ball even better then he was. Mark had a good year. If he can get more consistent, then he can be a dominant punter for us in the conference. In the return game, we need to get some guys into space. We think we can build upon some of the great success we had last year. We spend a lot time emphasizing those areas, where I think a lot of teams do not."

Rowan plays one of the toughest schedules in the country and it begins on Saturday, Sept. 5 at Widener University with a 1 p.m. kickoff. "I love our out of conference game with Widener," Accorsi said. "They are right across the bridge and ranked nationally. My hope is to keep that game and make it a little bit of a rivalry type of game."

The conference schedule starts on Saturday, Sept. 19 at William Paterson University. Rowan hosts a pair of night games on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. against Montclair State University and on Friday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. versus The College of New Jersey. Homecoming is on Saturday, October 17 against Southern Virginia University at 2 p.m.