Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

July 28, 2012

Mountain Lions tabbed for second in WVIAC

PRINCETON — A year after winning its first West Virginia State Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title since 1990 and qualifying for the NCAA Division II playoffs for the first time in program history, the Concord University football team has been picked to finish second in the WIVIAC in 2012, as announced in the preseason coaches’ poll released Saturday by the league office.

The Mountain Lions received three first-place votes and a total of 71 points. Shepherd was picked to win the conference after earning six first-place votes and 79 points.

This marks the highest that Concord has been predicted to finish in the conference since being tabbed to win the WVIAC in 1991. The Mountain Lions have come a long way since finishing 0-11 in 2008.

How big of a turnaround has Concord made since its winless season? Out of the 69 schools to finish with a losing record that season, Concord has had the sixth-best turnaround with 21 wins over the last three seasons.

Only Colorado State-Pueblo (27), Kutztown (24), Bemidji State (23), West Alabama (23) and Humboldt State (22) have more wins since their respective losing seasons in 2008.

Reigning WVIAC Coach of the Year Garin Justice will welcome back 15 starters from last year’s history-making team that finished the year with a 7-4 overall record and a 7-1 mark in the WVIAC.

Leading the offense will be senior quarterback Zack Grossi, who threw for 2,541 yards and 17 touchdowns on his way to earning second team All-WVIAC honors a season ago.

Grossi, who enters the year with 6,541 career passing yards, has thrown for the third-most yards of any WVIAC quarterback in the last three seasons and already ranks 15th in WVIAC history in passing yards.

Grossi will have several familiar targets to throw to this year as sophomore Ryan Stewart, senior Randall Hawkins and sophomore Darrick Williams return for another campaign after combining for 103 receptions, 1,544 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2011.

Perhaps most importantly, four of the five offensive linemen (C.J. Tuillo, Cody Smith, Mitch Hairston and Darius Carper) that started CU’s playoff game against Kutztown (Pa.) return to provide protection for Grossi and open up holes for a running game that will feature a new primary running back for the first time in four seasons after the graduation of Brian Kennedy.

The Concord defense, which ranked fourth in the WVIAC in total defense last season, will be anchored by four All-WVIAC athletes from a season ago in senior defensive lineman Josh Miller, junior cornerback Riyahd Richardson, junior linebacker Jake Lilly and junior defensive lineman Silas Agyeman.

Last season Richardson had four interceptions and 12 pass break-ups while Lilly led the conference in tackles with 115 (60 solo, 55 assisted). Miller and Agyeman both recorded six sacks a year ago with Miller also forcing a fumble.

Earlier in the summer, Richardson, Lilly and Smith were named to the Beyond Sports College Network’s 2012 Preseason All-American Team.

Senior punter Brad Cox, who averaged 38.0 yards per punt while landing 13 kicks inside the 20-yard line, also returns.

In addition to non-conference games vs. Lenoir-Rhyne (Sept. 1) and Winston-Salem State (Sept. 8) to begin the season, Concord will also host WVIAC rivals Charleston (Sept. 15), Glenville State (Oct. 6), Fairmont State (Oct. 27) and West Liberty (Oct. 3) at Callaghan Stadium.

The Mountain Lions will hit the road to take on West Virginia State (Sept. 22), Shepherd (Sept. 29), Seton Hill (Oct. 13), Liberty (Oct. 20) and West Virginia Wesleyan (Nov. 10).

Kickoff for Concord’s season-opener vs. Lenoir-Rhyne is slated for 7 p.m.

Note: Concord is one of just three teams in the WVIAC to have won at least 21 games over the past three seasons. The Mountain Lions are 21–12 since 2009, second only to Shepherd (27–8) and tied with West Virginia Wesleyan (21-11).

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