JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -
If the championship season of 2001 was was a breakthrough year for the Dolphins, then 2002 was JU's first rebuilding campaign in the short five-year history of the program. Last year's squad was young and inexperienced, which led to inconsistent play at times, but never yielded a lack of effort or enthusiasm. Despite winning just three games in 2002, the Dolphins never waivered in their will to win and continued to improve each week. "We as a coaching staff never saw the team get down last year," said head coach Steve Gilbert, who led the Dolphins to the 2001 Pioneer Football League South Division title. "We competed each week and were a better team at the end of the season. The experience we gained should pay off for us this year."
Looking To Regain The Title
JU's goal is simple: Win the Pioneer Football League South Division title and return to the PFL Championship game. All three of last season's wins came against scholarship opponents, giving the young Dolphins a great deal of confidence. However, JU went 0-3 in league play. "We have proven to ourselves that we can compete with anyone on our schedule if we come to play and eliminate mistakes," said Gilbert, who has had the Dolphins nationally ranked 19 of the last 25 weeks. "We won't be overwhelmed by anyone we play - scholarship or non-scholarship." The Dolphins have two of three PFL games at home this season, much like 2001 when JU went 3-0 in league play. Gilbert's biggest concern is getting a young team to understand what it takes to win. "It's an educational process. You have to win before you can learn how to expect to win," said Gilbert. "We need to win early in the season in order to gain confidence. We also need to rely on our seniors, who have experienced winning a championship, to help bring the team together."
Last season's question mark is this year's strength as the Dolphins return three experienced quarterbacks, including sophomore sensation Mike Sturgill (6-2, 210), who threw for a school-record 1,876 yards and 11 touchdowns during his first season at JU, while starting all 10 games. Sturgill, who completed a school-record 57 percent of his passes, improved as the season progressed despite showing his youth a times by throwing 13 interceptions. Backing up Sturgill will be sophomore Kevin Haggerty (6-1, 200) and junior Kyle Hicks (6-0, 175), both of whom were effective last season in relief situations. Haggerty showed poise in three games off the bench, completing 7-of-14 passes for 44 yards, while the mobile Hicks played in two contests early in the year, when he threw for 105 yards on just six completions. Hicks' biggest moment was when he came off the bench to hit Jon Turner for a 59-yard bomb against Presbyterian.
Another strength for JU is the running back tandem of senior Emmett Hunter (6-1, 216) and sophomore Chad Davis (5-6, 160), who combined for 937 yards and eight touchdowns last season. The bruising Hunter led the team in rushing with 485 yards after starting all 10 games, but it was the explosive play of Davis which made JU's offense so dangerous. Davis (104 att., 452 yds., 5 TD) developed into one of the top all-purpose backs in the PFL, averaging 116.4 all-purpose yards per game, including a team-best 56.5 yards rushing per contest. Davis also caught 17 passes out of the backfield for 178 yards, while scoring a team-high seven touchdowns, despite playing in just eight games. Redshirt freshman Jerry Brant (5-7, 175) is cut from the same mold as Davis, while freshman Matt Scarpetti (5-11, 195) has the skills to provide solid back-up play. For the third-straight season, the fullback position is wide open with sophomores Stephen Battle (5-11, 242), David McMorris (6-0, 206) and converted defensive lineman Stephen Garris (6-1, 235) all vying for the starting job.
The Dolphins will miss the consistency of All-American Jon Turner (60 rec., 890 yds., 6 TD), who set nearly every JU receiving record last season, but there are plenty of options for the emergence of JU's next impact receiver. The Dolphins are small with three regulars under six-feet tall, but they are all quick and can make plays in the open field. Senior Travis Lewis (29 rec., 364 yds.) returns after a breakout junior season, while the speed and quickness of Charles Harper (5-6, 145) and Julio Santiago (5-6, 150) should provide JU with deep threats and help the Dolphins spread the field. Converted tight end Eldin Ferguson (6-1, 205) has the size and skills to become JU's possession receiver, while freshman William Angstadt (6-2, 185) could make an immediate impact after earning All-Dade County honors at Westminster Christian last season.
JU is once again deep at tight end, despite the graduation of Andrew Bianchi, who earned PFL All-Conference honors last season. Senior Jimmy Willman (6-4, 240) finally gets his opportunity to start, and will be counted on to provide leadership on the offensive side of the ball. He worked tirelessy in the spring and summer to improve his size and strength, and has great hands, but it's his blocking the Dolphins will need most. Junior Justin Knowles (6-1, 225) returns to tight end after playing defensive line last year, while sophomore Anthony Campanella (6-2, 208) had a great spring and should contribute after serving solely as JU's long snapper during his freshman season.
Kevin Womble's early graduation leaves the Dolphins with just two returning starters up front, but senior tackle Matt Meyer (6-5, 295) is ready to anchor the line after starting 21 consecutive games. The left tackle should be junior Ed Templeton (6-5, 301), who has worked relentlessly in the off-season to prepare for the opportunity to start. Senior center Chris Mills (6-2, 301) will direct the offensive line. He has played in 38 games at JU, mostly at guard, but had a productive spring after making the transition back to center, where he played in high school and occasionally as a freshman. The guards will be sophomores Matt Cheeseman (6-2, 280) and Josue Sanchez (6-2, 268), both of whom played sparingly off the bench as freshmen.The Dolphins will look to several newcomers to provide immediate depth, including freshman twins Pat and Greg Monteau (6-0, 185), as well as freshman Pat Rich (6-3, 270).
The strength lies in numbers for the defensive line, which featured as many as 10 players in the regular rotation last season. JU will once again be undersized, but will use its quickness and mobility to apply pressure in multiple ways. Senior Paul Pierson (6-1, 246) and sophomore Matt Kappelman (6-2, 255) return on the inside for the Dolphins, who managed just 13 sacks in 2002. Pierson has played in 26 straight games, while Kappelman played in the final eight games as a redshirt freshman. At defensive end, juniors Josh Tomlinson (6-0, 235) and Jason Bense (6-4, 246), senior Derek Roberts (5-11, 235) and sophomore Peyton Keeling (6-0, 200) all return after playing on a regular basis in last year. Keeling and Bense had productive first seasons, while Tomlinson came on strong during his sophomore campaign, starting the final five games. Roberts has been a mainstay for the past three seasons, playing in 30-of-32 games. With a 10-man rotation once-again a good possibility, look for freshmen Ryan Young (6-0, 255) and Brennan Foley (6-0, 247) to make an early contribution.
The Dolphin linebackers were not flashy last season, but they were steady, and that should remain the case despite an influx of athletic newcomers. Senior Oliver Barnes (6-0, 235) will move to middle linebacker after playing mostly on the defensive line his first three years. Sophomore Zell Robinson (6-0, 210) came out of nowhere midway through last season and will add some much-needed depth in the middle. Junior Tim Hasse (6-1, 210) returns as the Dolphins' most experienced linebacker after starting all 10 games in 2002. Hasse was fourth on the team with 48 tackles and has provided steady play in all 21 games since ariving at JU. The weakside linebacker will be Brandon Torre (5-10, 195), who had 40 tackles in eight games as a redshirt freshman, while junior Omar Platt (6-0, 200) has the athleticism and speed to earn playing time on the weak side after missing the last two seasons fulfilling eligibility requirements.
The secondary was last year's strength, but could become this year's question mark. The Dolphins must replace three starters who accounted for 155 tackles and four interceptions in 2002. Senior free safety Charlton Williams (5-9, 175) will carry the load after a breakout junior season in which he led the team with 69 tackles and three interceptions in just nine games. Joining Williams in the back is strong safety Emile Duvernois (5-11, 167), who has earned the right start after playing in 25 games as a back-up. Senior Bobby Kelly (5-11, 175) returns at cornerback after missing nearly two seasons with a knee injury, while sophomore Curtis Mays (5-8, 154) is ready to play after two years of eligibility problems. Newcomers Leighton Henderson (5-9, 173) and Sean Casey (5-9, 170) have the speed to provide instant depth.
JU sported one of the top special teams units in the PFL last season. The Dolphins blocked 10 kicks and ranked first in the league in punt returns (13.7 yds./return). This year should be much of the same with the return of sophomore place kicker Ross Shmunes (13-13 PAT, 5-7 FGA) and kick returners Chad Davis, Travis Lewis, Julio Santiago and Charles Harper. Davis averaged 18.8 yards per kickoff return last season, while Lewis, Santiago and Harper all have the quickness and speed to be dangerous on both kickoff and punt returns. The big question for JU is at punter, with the graduation of four-year starter Brett Keener. Redshirt freshman Troy Frank will battle newcomers Ryan Long and Michael O'Neill.