SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University football team comes into the 2010 season looking to rebound from a tough 2009. With a team that has come together on and off the field Head Coach Sherman Wood is excited about the upcoming season and getting back to what Salisbury football is all about.
"Meeting with my staff before the start of training camp, there's no secret that we're going to ride the offense and special teams," Wood said. "Our motto is 'back to basics'. We just did a little too much of everything last year. We learned our lesson and we're going back to basics. Salisbury football has always had a scrappy special teams, we've always been ball-control and exciting on offense and we've been scrapping on defense. We're looking to get back to those fundamentals and that philosophy."
The Sea Gulls open the season on Sept. 4 at Sea Gull Stadium when they host North Carolina Wesleyan College at 6 p.m., and they will look for their depth to lead the way.
"This year, we planned to be three or four deep at each position," Wood said. "We might be missing a little talent and experience, but we have better team chemistry."
With some experience at nearly every position, the offense will be the workhorse of the Salisbury football team in 2010. A squad that routinely ranks in the top 10 in offensive yardage, the Sea Gulls will rely on the offense to get back to their dominant ways.
The quarterback position will be one of the few that might see a new face as Sean Kelly continues to battle back from an injury suffered in Salisbury's ECAC Southwest Bowl contest last season. Sophomore Dan Griffin and senior Warren Anderson are the top two players on the depth chart to start the season at quarterback, with Griffin just ahead right now. A sophomore who sat out last year for personal reasons, he impressed as a freshman in 2008.
"Dan is really glad to be back, he's poised," Wood said. "He gets the job done, even if it's not always pretty. He gets the offense from one end of the field to the other. His leadership and his mental toughness, I want to say, is why he's ahead right now."
Anderson has posted nearly 500 rushing yards and six touchdowns in his three-year career, playing primarily as a slot, but he has the versatility to do almost anything, Wood said.
"I feel good about Warren as well, he can do a little bit of everything for us," Wood said. "Warren can play any position on offense but offensive line."
The players protecting the quarterback tandem are nearly set, with four of the five offensive linemen returning as starters from 2009. Juniors Tom Ashley, Alex Smith, Chris Hutton and sophomore Christian Emezie are set as starters on the offensive line, with a battle still going on to determine the starter at right tackle.
"Those guys are ready to go," Wood said. "They're really close. That's what I like about the whole group, everyone seems to be real close on and off the field. They're hungry."
Getting the bulk of the carries will be a stable of returning slots and superbacks led by junior captain Randal Smedley and senior captain Bryan Woolson. Woolson, a slot, ran for a team-high 523 yards in 2009 with a staggering 9.7 yards per carry average while Smedley, a super back, was second on the team with 499 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Smedley will be joined in the backfield by senior superback Nick Coates, while returning junior Tyler Curley will get time at slot.
"Those guys have been around for a while. Woolson has played since his freshman year. Smedley is just a tremendous leader. There is no surprise why the team voted them as captains. Coates kind of reminds of Ronnie Shockley back in the day," said Wood. Shockley, who was a bruising back, ran for nearly 1,000 yards from 2005 through 2007. "Coates wears that number two in practice and he is big and thick, he's a big guy. He's a load and with speed. You've got to feel good about those guys leading the way."
When playing a three-man front the defensive line is key, and despite losing standout Alex Bresner and American Football Coaches Association All-American Paul Cynewski from 2009, Wood is confident in the group that will battle in the trenches on the defensive side, starting with senior Riley Fritts. Last season Fritts made 25 tackles, eight of which went for a loss, and 3.5 sacks. If he remains healthy, Fritts could be one of the best linemen in the region in 2010. He'll be joined on the front line by senior Chris Ross and junior Sam Hopkins.
The linebacking corps may be the deepest area of the field, with five players at each spot.
"The inside linebacker position is the largest number of players that we've had," Wood said. "And you've got to start with sophomore Matt McMurdo. He's just a true football player, inside-and-out, he's vocal. You just get excited when you look at him. That's a football player."
The outside linebackers, who need to be versatile and athletic in the Salisbury scheme, have been outstanding in camp thus far, Wood said. Senior Justin Chura and junior Jamey McClendon will help bridge the gap to the secondary.
The secondary is one of the few areas that the coaching staff will be looking at closely as the season nears, as the ability to defend the deep ball has been a concern in years past. Starting cornerback Brandon Lemon, standing 6-foot-2, looks to have the size and the ability to defend those long passes.
"I'm just waiting to see him open up and explode," Wood said. "He's very athletic, he's smooth, he runs well, he has a great first step and when the ball is deep, that's been one of our areas to improve on, and he has that size."
Playing three defensive backs, the safety position is key and junior Ricky Cassidy will take the role of controlling the defense.
"He's the quarterback of the defense," Wood said. "He's vital and everyone else that plays that position and any other position in the secondary is vital."
The Sea Gulls will look to a fresh crop of faces to take over the key positions on special teams from the kickers to the returners. Freshman Matt Elsasser is currently at the top of the depth chart at the punter position while sophomore A.J. Rosenthal has shown that he worked hard in the off-season, Wood said, and has taken the top kicking spot.
The returners, while not having a great amount of game experience, are players that have been around the system and have seen time on the field in some capacity. Junior Jonathan Briscoe and Norwood will be the primary kick returners while Curley will be the top punt returner to start the season.