Interesting. That's how Frostburg State head coach Rubin Stevenson describes the 2004 football season, and the word is fitting.
While a combined 16 starters return on offense and defense, five new coaches, one of the toughest schedules in the country and the addition of two new members to the Atlantic Central Football Conference add to the challenge of the Bobcats' winning a third straight ACFC title.
"Half of our coaching staff is new, so it's going to be an adjustment for the players," said Stevenson, who has guided FSU to a 19-20 overall record in four seasons.
"SUNY Brockport and Buffalo State are two excellent programs who have joined the ACFC, which helps make it a great conference, but it also makes repeating as champs that much more difficult."
On offense, the Bobcats return seven starters but must overcome the losses of record-setting quarterback Grant Burrough and All-American tight end Roy Olson.
Burrough set every school passing record during his three years as the starter and earned numerous post-season honors, including ACFC Offensive Player of the Year honors each of the last two years.
Olson caught 70 passes for 1,234 yards and 12 touchdowns in his two seasons with the Bobcats and earned back-to-back All-America accolades.
The battle to replace Burrough will be between red-shirt sophomore Jimmy Ward (Poolesville, Md./Poolesville), junior Brad Henry (Germantown, Md./Northwest) and sophomore Bobby Alkire (Lonaconing, Md./Westmar).
Ward is a strong-armed lefty who red-shirted last season. In 2002, he completed 1-of-4 passes for three yards in a 48-14 win at Oberlin.
Henry, a former defensive back, saw action on the junior varsity squad last season, while Alkire completed 3-of-4 passes for 27 yards in three games last year.
"Replacing a three-year starter in Grant will definitely be a challenge," said Stevenson. "It'll be a battle throughout camp."
The Bobcats will look to a rushing game stocked with talented backs to keep the pressure off their new signal caller.
Senior Mike Kitchen (Lebanon, Pa./Lebanon) will likely be the focal point. Last season, the powerful 5-11, 205-pound runner worked his way into the starting lineup in week three and went on to carry 172 times for 694 yards and four touchdowns.
He earned first-team All-ACFC and honorable mention All-ECAC honors for his performance.
After carrying just 62 times for 213 yards in FSU's first five games, Kitchen broke lose for 481 yards and three scores in the last four games of the year.
He showed his ability to dominate a game, running 37 times for 209 yards and a touchdown in a 35-33 loss to Westminster and carrying 33 times for a hard-fought 81 yards and a score in a 15-14 win over Salisbury in the Regents Cup Game.
Kitchen is also a solid receiving threat out of the backfield, grabbing 20 passes for 135 yards last year.
"Mike didn't play college football in 2002 and he needed some time to get back into it," said Stevenson. "He hit his stride late last season, and we'll be looking for him to continue his growth in 2004."
The Bobcats also have a capable runner in sophomore Antoine Lewis (Baltimore, Md./City College). Lewis saw action in six games last season but got just five carries out of the backfield. He displayed his explosiveness in other areas, returning five kickoffs for 77 yards and adding a 34-yard reception.
Several players will battle at the fullback position throughout camp.
The offensive line should again be talented with the return of four starters.
Senior Jared Toler (Sterling, Va./Broad Run) enters his fourth year as the starting left tackle and has earned first-team All-ACFC honors each of the past two seasons. Toler has started every one of FSU's 29 games in his career.
The Bobcats should receive a boost from the return of junior center Jason Palmer (Abingdon, Md./Francis Scott Key), who started the first five games last year before suffering a season-ending leg injury. Palmer was a second-team All-ACFC selection despite missing the final four contests.
Sophomores Pete Wilson (Street, Md./North Harford) and Frank Boka, Jr. (Leonardtown, Md./Leonardtown) gained valuable experience last season after being thrown into starting roles at right tackle and left guard, respectively. Wilson started all nine games, while Boka started the last six.
Junior Dave Kenderdine (West Lawn, Pa./Wilson), who started the first three games at left guard last year, and several newcomers will compete for the right guard spot, replacing the graduated Jason Cutsail, a three-time All-ACFC selection.
"The offensive line is a very talented and physical group," said Stevenson. "We've got a lot of experience up front, but the big question will be our depth."
A group of players will have the task of replacing Olson at tight end. Senior Connor Heath (Paducah, Ken./Loudoun Valley (Va.)), a 6-5, 220-pound target with great hands, and several others will battle for the spot.
"We'll sorely miss Roy, and the tight end position will be watched very closely during the preseason," said Stevenson.
Whoever wins the starting quarterback derby will have a talented group of receivers with which to work.
Senior Adam J. Snyder (Scottdale, Pa./South Moreland) earned first-team All-ACFC honors last season after catching a team-high 33 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns.
He snared a career-high nine passes for 77 yards and a score versus Widener and has 100 receptions for 1,117 yards and nine touchdowns in his career.
"Adam's the leader of the receiving corps, has perhaps the best hands on the team and plays well above his size," said Stevenson of the 5-8, 160-pound speedster.
Seniors Anthony Long (Purcellville, Va./Loudoun Valley) and Chaz Smith (Rockville, Md./Rockville), junior Gil Bolden (Middleburg, Va./Loudoun Valley) and red-shirt freshmen Fred Howze (Upper Marlboro, Md./From the Heart Catholic) and Brad Johnson (Upper Marlboro, Md./Bowie) will compete at the other spot.
Long brings excellent experience but has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, catching just 46 passes for 785 yards and five touchdowns in three seasons.
Bolden has just seven receptions for 61 yards in two seasons but showed his potential with three catches for 36 yards against Salisbury, including a 21-yard grab on fourth-and-11 that set up FSU's game-winning touchdown.
"I expect a lot out of our receivers," said Stevenson. "We didn't reach our full potential in this area last season, and they're going to have to be dominant for us to have success this year."
Senior Nick Quisgard (Baltimore, Md./John Carroll) returns to handle the placekicking and punting duties. Last season, he earned first-team All-ACFC kicking honors for the third straight year after hitting 7-of-9 field goals, 10-of-11 extra points and leading the Bobcats in scoring with 31 points.
Quisgard set a school record with four field goals (34, 36, 28, 22) against Wesley, with his last kick coming in overtime to lift FSU to a thrilling 42-39 victory. He also handled all of the punting duties, averaging 34.8 yards and placing eight of his 44 punts inside in the 20.
Punt and kickoff return duties will be determined among a host of players during pre-season camp.
The defensive unit should be strong and experienced with the return of nine starters.
Senior defensive end Kevin Culbert (Purcellville, Va./Loudoun Valley), a pre-season All-America selection by Don Hansen's Football Gazette (first team), Lindy's Magazine (second team) and D3football.com (second team), leads an excellent group up front.
The 6-5, 235-pound Culbert looks to build upon a junior season in which he led the Bobcats with 80 tackles, 47 solo tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 10.0 sacks and two forced fumbles in ,2003. He added three pass breakups, a forced fumble, a blocked kick and a safety.
Culbert earned College Sports Information Directors of America Division III All-America honorable mention, third-team Football Gazette All-America, first-team All-ECAC, first-team Football Gazette All-South Region, first-team All-ACFC and ACFC Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors for his outstanding season.
"Kevin has all the tools and is certainly deserving of all of his honors," said Stevenson. "He always performs at a high level and is a great role model for his teammates."
Sophomore Justin Bressler (Hollywood, Md./Leonardtown) returns at nose tackle, where he split time last season. He started four games and made eight tackles.
Sophomore Ryan Cutsail (Middletown, Md./Middletown) played in all nine games as a freshman, starting the final eight at defensive end, and earned second-team All-ACFC honors after making 28 tackles.
Senior Melvin Bond, Jr. (Baltimore, Md./City College), who had two tackles against Maryville, and junior Mike Davis (Chesapeake City, Bohemia Manor), who recorded three stops versus Salisbury, will push for time.
Three of last season's four starting linebackers return to what should be the core of the Bobcat defense.
Juniors Chris Lentz (Ashburn, Va./Broad Run and Adam L. Snyder (Jessup, Md./Howard) will man the inside.
Lentz has started every one of FSU's 20 games in his career and was a second-team All-ACFC selection last season after making 77 tackles, including 42 solo and seven for loss.
Snyder started the first three games last year before suffering a season-ending injury. He recorded 11 tackles, including a career-high seven in the opener versus Apprentice, and added his first career interception against Montclair State.
Sophomore Lathon Romaine (Chantilly, Va./Lake Braddock), who made four tackles in three games, will add depth to the middle.
Senior James Clash (Baltimore, Md./City College) is back on the outside after starting all nine games and making 53 tackles, including four for loss and two sacks, last season. He led the Bobcats with three interceptions and was named to the All-ACFC second team.
Senior Steve Handshoe (Abingdon, Md./Bel Air) and sophomore Dan Nice (Mount Joy, Pa./Hempfield) will battle for the other outside spot, filling the void left by the graduation of two-time all-conference pick Andy Wilson.
Handshoe is a hard-working player who has seen time on special teams each of the last three years, while Nice made seven tackles in four games last year.
The secondary will be led by cornerbacks Turon Kendrick (Baltimore, Md./Parkville) and Vincent Thomas (Upper Marlboro, Md./C.H. Flowers).
Kendrick, a junior, took home first-team All-ACFC honors after recording 22 tackles, two interceptions, four pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
Thomas, a second-team all-conference honoree as a freshman last year, started the final seven games of the season and made 32 tackles, including 21 solo stops. He also returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown against Maryville.
Senior Josh Smith (Upper Marlboro, Md./Largo), junior Earin Saunders (Laurel, Md./Long Reach), sophomore Mike Gray (Baltimore, Md./City College) and freshman Johan Owens (Baltimore, Md./City College) will provide depth.
Junior Josh Morris (Freeland, Md./Hereford), who made 47 tackles last season, returns at one of the safety spots, while junior Jon Menz (Sykesville, Md./Glenelg) and seniors Dan Ruppert (Stafford, Va./Brooke Point) and Ken Lavely (Middletown, Md./Middletown) will battle at the other position.
The Bobcats, who had the 13th toughest schedule in the nation last year, will again face a difficult slate that includes three teams that earned berths to the NCAA Division III playoffs in 2003.
FSU opens with ACFC opponent Apprentice in the first of five games at Bobcat Stadium before heading to Montclair State, which advanced to the second round of the NCAA playoffs last year.
The Bobcats then return home to face SUNY Brockport, another NCAA playoff squad, and then hit the road to take on ACFC newcomer Buffalo State, which made seven NCAA playoff appearances in the 90's.
Conference rival Wesley then pays a visit to Frostburg before the Bobcats look to exact some revenge at Widener, which handed FSU a 26-19 overtime loss on Homecoming last season.
The Bobcats then host Maryville for Homecoming before welcoming a strong Westminster squad the following week.
FSU travels to face Waynesburg, which made the NCAA playoffs in 2003, and then caps the year with the Sixth Annual Regents Cup Game against arch rival Salisbury at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium.
"This should be a challenging season, especially with all of the changes in our coaching staff and the conference," Stevenson said. "It'll definitely be a demanding preseason, and our guys will need to gel for us to have success."
For further information on this release, contact:
Office of Sports Information
Frostburg State University
101 Braddock Road
Frostburg, MD 21532-2303