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NEC Football Getting Bigger and Better
NEW BRITAIN - As the Northeast Conference’s first football preseason Media Day went on Tuesday, there was one thing everyone could agree on. Every coach touted his own players, and each team’s case for why it will have a good season was presented. Much of it was “coachspeak", the art by which every coach spins things to make his team look as good as it can. The part about how good the Northeast Conference is going to be was not.
Some of the talk was about this year, but most was about the future. Starting in 2010 the NEC champion will get an automatic bid to the NCAA FCS National Championship tournament, though the NEC could get a team in during each of the next two seasons provided it meets certain conditions. Different coaches had different thoughts as to why it was occurring, but the consensus was that the NEC is on the way up.
“Week in and week out is going to almost be like a bowl game. That’s the quality of this conference,” Duquesne coach Jerry Schmitt said.
His team is new to the NEC this year, but knows exactly what it is getting into.
“Week in and week out anyone can win in this league,” he said. “I’ve talked to everyone in the Pittsburgh area about what an up-and-coming conference this is. The way that [Commisioner Brenda Weare] and her staff have done things, I’ve been so impressed with all the work they’re doing. I just rave to people about the conference.”
Monmouth coach Kevin Callahan has seen what the league has done over the past several years, and likes where things are headed.
“I think what you’ve seen from 1996 and entering 2008 is a complete transformation,” he said. “Everyone is scheduling tough non-conference games, and I think that was a key component in us getting that automatic bid… The level of play in the league has improved, you can see that. It’s brought it up to the point where it’s a toss up every week now.”
Callahan thinks that the fact that more and more teams have long-term coaches helps those players reach new levels.
“Anytime you have stable coaching staffs the quality of your program is going to improve,” he said.
Central coach Jeff McInerney is hoping to become a long-tenured NEC coach like Callahan and Albany’s Bob Ford, and he has already learned from them in his two seasons in New Britain.
“First of all we have great coaches in this league. The coaching in this league is tremendous,” he said. “You have a lot of guys with grey hair in this league. I get better from coaching against them.”
Now in its 13th season, the NEC is getting better on its own while becoming more comfortable in its new surroundings. In order to be considered among the better FCS conferences the NEC had to schedule better opposition, and has done just that. Wins like Central’s over Georgia Southern two years ago only boost the league’s stature further.
“All of those things not only enhance the reputation of the league but help with recruiting as well,” Callahan said.
That’s where the league still has the most catching up to do in the world of FCS football. The NEC allows up to 32 scholarships right now, and that number will go up at a rate of two per season until it hits 40.
That’s a long way from the top schools that have more than 50, but it’s a start.
“Not that 40 makes it a level playing field but we’re getting closer,” Ford said. “Most of us are struggling to get to 30… Gradually coaches are going to be offering more full rides. Once you start offering full rides you’re going to be getting a little different kind of kid.”
McInerney sees the NEC’s growth rate spurting again once the influx of scholarships is complete.
“The more money we get the more chance we’ll have to bring the league to something special,” he said. “That’s huge.”
Bryant, still not at full NEC membership but playing in the league this year, is the farthest from that number.
The Bulldogs were a Division II non-scholarship school last year, and don’t plan on changing the type of player they bring to Rhode Island.
“Our pan is to get to next December and then really study where we are and what we need,” Bryant coach Marty Fine said. “We could have stayed in that nice little DII league and won a lot of games. We’re not going to change the way we’ve recruited to be honest. We look for kids with way over a 3.0 [GPA] and above 1100 on the SATs… We won’t have a full scholarship to offer for 10 or 12 years and by then I’ll be retired on a golf course somewhere if I’m lucky.”
While they weren’t singing the NEC’s praises, the coaches picked their expected order of finish for the year. Albany was first, which Ford said meant the coaches “might be smoking” despite the fact that the Great Danes just came off the first perfect NEC campaign since 2001.
Monmouth was second, with Central right behind. Next were Wagner, Duquesne and Robert Morris, with Sacred Heart and St. Francis (PA) rounding out the poll.
New Britain’s Nick Colagiovanni made the all-conference team at wideout, while Ernie Greywacz was a defensive line choice and Mike Bailey made the team as a member of the secondary, though he is expected to be a linebacker this year.
Josue Paul was picked for his special teams exploits and Anthony Pineiro was named one of the five linemen on the team.
“Preseason all-conference is nice and fun to talk about, but it doesn’t matter much until you’re on the team at the end,” McInerney said.
By the end of the year, someone will have traversed a new, tougher, NEC.
NEC football getting bigger and better
By Matt Straub, The New Britain Herald (CT)