Aug. 31, 2006
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -
The 2006 season is finally upon us as the JU Dolphins host Gardner-Webb at D.B. Milne Field on Saturday, Sept. 2, at 12:30 p.m. The two programs, which will face each other for the first time in football, are members of Atlantic Sun Conference and have faced each other in 10 other NCAA sports since the Bulldogs joined the conference in 2002.
The game will be broadcast live on ESPN 1460 (WZNZ) with Barry Milligan returning for a second tour of duty as "The Voice of the Dolphins." The contest can also be heard live on www.judolphins.com as part of the JU Sports Network.
Jacksonville University Dolphins
JU is entering its ninth season of intercollegiate football at the NCAA Division I-AA non- scholarship level and has a 31-48 (.392) record in 79 games. The Dolphins are 19-22 all-time at Milne Field, 11-25 on the road and 1-1 at neutral sites.
After competing as an independent for the first three years of the program, JU is in its sixth season as a member of the Pioneer Football League.
Former Dolphin players who have reached the professional ranks include Micah Ross, a wide receiver/special teams player (Jacksonville Jaguars, San Diego Chargers, Carolina Panthers) and Linj Shell, a defensive back with the Cologne Centurions (Philadelphia Eagles) of NFL Europe.
Head Coach Steve Gilbert
Head coach Steve Gilbert is in his ninth season at Jacksonville, his 10 year overall. The 49- year-old Freehold, N.J. native, hired in February of 1997, has built the program from the ground up. He has posted a 31-48 (.392) mark at JU, including a 21- 21 mark against similar non-scholarship programs and nine wins against scholarship teams.
Gilbert, who was named the 1996 NCAA Division III Coach of the Year after leading Ursinus College to its first-ever NCAA playoff berth, led the Dolphins to their first winning season in 2001 (6-5) and the PFL South Division Championship with a perfect 3-0 mark in divisional play. Gilbert has a career record of 72-96 (.429) in 17 seasons as a collegiate head coach.
D.B. Milne Field
The Dolphins are 19-22 (.463) all-time at D.B. Milne Field in six-plus seasons of football. In 2003, JU started 3-0 at home for the first time ever and finished the season with a program-best four home wins. The Dolphins' record was a standing-room- only crowd of 4,890 in the inaugural game against Davidson on Sept. 12, 1998.
JU Selected Fifth in New PFL Poll
JU was selected to finish fifth in the restructured Pioneer Football League in the preseason coaches' poll.
The PFL, which featured a north and south division the past five seasons, will revert back to a single division comprising eight teams in 2006. Due to the loss of a league championship game, the PFL regular-season winner will face the winner of the Northeast Conference in the inaugural Gridiron Classic.
Defending champion San Diego was predicted to finish first with five first-place votes (45 points) and Dayton earned two first-place votes for a total of 43 points. Drake rounded out the top three with 37 points and three-time defending South champion Morehead State was picked fourth with 32 points.
JU, which received one first-place vote, ranked fifth with 26 points ahead of Davidson (17), Valparaiso (15) and Butler (9).
JU in the Pioneer Football League
The Dolphins were 8-7 (.533) all-time in Pioneer Football League Divisional play, dating back to the 2001 season when JU went a perfect 3-0 in the South Division en route to the PFL South championship in its first year in the league.
The Dolphins are 2-9 all-time against opponents from the former North Division (1-0 vs. Butler, 0-5 vs. Drake, 0-2 vs. Dayton, 0-1 vs. San Diego, 1-1 vs. Valparaiso) and 12-9 (.571) all-time against the former PFL South teams (6-2 vs. Austin Peay, 5-3 vs. Davidson, 1-4 vs. Morehead State).
Horton Moves to the Head of the Class
The incumbent starter heading into the 2006 season, junior Chris Horton will look to pick up where he left off at the end of last season in which he took over the starting role in the final three games.
During that time, Horton led the Dolphins to a 2-1 record and helped secure the second best record in program history.
A threat on the ground as well as the through the air, Horton rushed for a career-high 92 yards and a touchdown in a win over Davidson. He also threw for a career-high three touchdowns in the win over North Greenville and tallied a career-best 307 passing yards at Webber International.
With his assertion as the starting quarterback, the Dolphin offense has a jump on the 2006 season as opposed to a three quarterback rotation in 2005.
In what has typically been a one-man show in past JU offenses, the 2006 running game will feature an ensemble cast of characters.
Lining up first to greet his audience will be senior Jerry Brant. A starter in all but one game as a sophomore, Brant led the squad with 802 yards rushing and scored six touchdowns. Last year, Brant led the squad with 434 yards and one touchdown in five games but was hindered due to a separated shoulder. Brant is always a threat to score on every attempt and will look to regain his form in 2006. He needs only 365 yards to surpass Jon Underhill for third place in the JU career record book.
Looking to increase his role is senior Bryan Gamble. After waiting for two years, Gamble got a small taste of the spotlight after rushing for 178 yards and two touchdowns in seven games. A gritty runner between the tackles, Gamble will bring a work- horse attitude to the position this season.
Another face to the equation is sophomore Cecil Coltrane. After averaging 8.3 yards per carry in two games last season, Coltrane will bring a package of speed and power to the show in 2006.
As we make our way to the trenches, you will find the heart and soul of the Dolphins' defensive attack in 2006. Senior nose guard Ryan Young and junior defensive tackle Kiel Pierce have been a one- two punch on the defensive front for two years and now they are about to take things to the next level.
With a defense that got younger in a hurry, the duo will be faced with the largest role of their tenure: create havoc at the point of attack. In order to give the linebackers freedom to make tackles, the duo must keep the offensive line occupied. For the best results in the secondary, the duo must create pressure in the pocket. A tall order for most, but don't tell them that.
In 2005, the twosome combined for 64 tackles, seven tackles for loss and a sack and helped pave the way for linebacker Brandon Torre to set the program record for tackles. Young ranked third on the squad with 40 tackles (20 solo) and registered at least five tackles in 5-of-8 contests. Pierce finished with 24 tackles (13 solos) and one sack.
JU in the National Rankings
After completing one of the strongest seasons in program history last year, JU has found its way into the national rankings in 2006.
The Dolphins are currently ranked 11th in the College Sports Report.com Top-20 poll, 12th in Don Hansen's Top-12 poll and are receiving votes in The Sports Network Top-10 Poll.
JU has been nationally ranked in 45 of the last 51 weeks since entering the polls at the start of the 2001 season. JU had spent 15 straight weeks in the Sports Network I-AA Mid-Major Top-10 Poll, reaching as high as No. 2 on Oct. 1, 2001. The Dolphins briefly entered the Sports Network Top 10 in 2003 with a No. 9 ranking on Sept. 29 following a 3-1 start. The Division I-AA Mid-Major polls includes the 22 programs of the MAAC, NEC and Pioneer Football League, which play at a non-scholarship or limited scholarship level.
Replacing a Legend
One of the major holes to be filled for the Dolphins in 2006 is the one left by all-time leading tackler Brandon Torre in the linebacker corps. Torre, who finished with 277 career tackles, was a mainstay on the strong side and a fierce competitor despite his lack of outstanding athletic ability.
To help in the transition, a group of fresh faces have been assembled to give the defense a "group effort". Leading the group in 2006 will be junior Joey Rumph. A starter on the weakside last season, Rumph ranked fourth on the squad with 39 tackles (22 unassisted) and was third with 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
Filling in for Torre on the strong side will be sophomore Winston Ward. A member of the squad for three years, Ward appeared in the first three games last season before suffering a knee injury. In three games, he had five tackles (four unassisted), a tackle for loss, a sack and a pass break up.
Starting in the middle will be freshman Allen Fennell. Despite his lack of experience, Fennell's athleticism and natural instincts have pushed him to the head of the class. Fennell, who sat out last season as a freshman, finished with four tackles and also intercepted a pass during the first scrimmage of preseason camp.
Big Shoes to Fill
Bense, who was arguably the best player on the defense, finished his Dolphin career ranked second in the JU career record book with 17.5 sacks.
Moving into his starting end spot will be junior Sean Heverin. Heverin made a big impact in his first start against Webber International by tallying a career-high six tackles (five solo). He has also made an immediate impact in the preseason by recording a team-high five tackles and two sacks in the final scrimmage on Aug. 25.
Opoku, one of the most gifted athletes to don a JU uniform, earned first team all-PFL honors after ranking second on the team with 53 tackles and leading the squad with two interceptions and five breakups. He also recorded an interception in the Magnolia Gridiron All-Star Classic and was invited to the Jacksonville Jaguars' mini-camp in May.
Freshman Jason Wood moves into the strong safety slot after moving over from running back during the preseason. Wood, who hails from Port Charlotte High School, has made several plays during camp. Sophomore David Onorato, who has also been impressive during camp, will also see time at the position after sitting out as a redshirt last season.
How About Replacing an All-American?
Probably the biggest shoes, and leg, to replace will be those left by All-America kicker Ryan Feely.
Feely earned first team all-conference honors for the second straight year after ranking sixth in the nation with 42.8 yards per punt. He also took care of place kicking duties and led the squad with 46 points after connecting on 25-of-27 extra points and 7-of-11 field goals.
The competition to replace Feely began with four true freshmen during preseason camp. The man who emerged from the rubble and will assume both duties is Donovan Curry.
A three-year letterwinner as a kicker at Eastside High School in Gainesville, Curry also played four years of soccer for the Rams.
New Additions to the Staff
After announcing the promotion of fourth- year coach Luther Price from wide receivers to defensive backs, special teams and recruiting coordinator this summer, second-year coach Thomas Wagers moves from tight ends to quarterbacks and third-year offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Andy McLeod will incorporate tight ends.
Ferguson begins his first season with the Dolphin coaching staff after serving the past season as a coaching intern with the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the 2005 season with the Jags, Ferguson assisted the strength and conditioning coach in all areas, including drill work with the offensive line and running backs as the team finished 12-4 on the year.
Prior to Jacksonville, he served as an offensive assistant and strength coach with the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe from 2001-03. During that time he worked with tight ends and running backs, including Baltimore Ravens' starting tailback Jason Brooking, Pepe Person and NFL Europe Player of the Year Jamal Robertson.
Before moving to NFL Europe, Ferguson was a part-time assistant strength coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2000-01.
He has also worked in pre-season training camps for the Jacksonville Jaguars (2003-04), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1999 & 2002) and the New York/New Jersey Hitman of the XFL (2001) and had short stints as a strength coach with the University of South Florida and the New York Yankees in 2002.
Hughes enters his first season at JU after serving as an assistant coach at Division II Glenville State (W.V.) College last season. In his one year with the Pioneers, he handled the running backs and special teams units while also coaching the offensive scout team and serving as video coordinator as the squad finished 9-2 on the season.
Prior to Glenville State, Hughes was an assistant coach at Auburn High School in Riner, Va. in 2004. His duties included working with the quarterbacks and special teams units.
As a player, he was a walk-on at Virginia Tech from 2000-04 as a wide receiver, quarterback, cornerback and on special teams. From 2001-02, hew was a member of the Hokies' squad that beat Clemson and lost to Florida State at Alltel Stadium for the Gator Bowl.
Hills, who is currently an Anti-Terrorism and Force Protection Officer in the U.S. Navy, joins the Dolphin staff after coaching kickers, punters and snappers for Naval from 2002-03.
A graduate of Navy in 2002, he earned first team all-Independent accolades and was invited to the 2001 Blue-Gray All-Star Football Classic as a kicker after leading all Division I-A schools with a 94 percent field-goal percentage.
Rich Named Pre-Season All-American
Dolphin senior offensive lineman Pat Rich was tabbed second team I-AA Mid-Major Preseason All-America by Don Hansen's Football Gazette.
Rich, who was named team captain in the spring, earned honorable mention Division I-AA Mid- Major All-America accolades by CollegeSportsReport.com at the end of the 2004 season.
A two-time first team all-Pioneer Football League selection, Rich has developed into the anchor of the Dolphin line since playing in all 11 games as a true freshman in 2003. During that season, the Dolphins produced a school-record 4,463 yards of total offense, 2,103 rushing yards and running back Emmett Hunter rushed for a program-record 1,467 yards en route to All-America honors. As a sophomore, Rich had a key role in the Dolphins' success in the rushing attack as JU ran for 180.8 yards per game, fourth-best in the PFL. Last season, the Dolphins set the program record for total offense (585 yards) against Butler as well as the second highest total offensive output (578 yards) and the second highest rushing total (371) against North Greenville.
Strength of Schedule
The Dolphins' 2006 schedule features one of the toughest schedules in program history, including only four games being played at D.B. Milne Field.
Gardner-Webb, a scholarship program from the Big South, will be the home opener for the Dolphins on Sept. 2. JU will embark on a four-game road trip which begins with another scholarship program, Southeastern Louisiana, on Sept. 24.
The squad will open Pioneer Football League play with three road games against Butler (Sept. 23), Valparaiso (Sept. 30) and Davidson (Oct. 7), before returning home against PFL power Dayton on Oct. 14.
The Dolphins head back to the road for two weeks beginning with three-time PFL South Champion Morehead State (Oct. 21) and North Greenville (Oct. 28).
Jacksonville closes out its home slate on Nov. 4 against defending PFL champion San Diego before ending the year against Drake (Nov. 11).
The Dolphins have nine wins all-time against scholarship opponents, including seven in the last four seasons. JU's last win was against Webber International in 2004.