The 103rd season of University of Dayton football begins Saturday when the Flyers host Robert Morris. Game time at Welcome Stadium is 1:00 p.m. ET.
Rick Chamberlin is back for his third season as UD’s head coach and returns 15 starters (10 offense, three defense, two specialists), from the team that went 9-2 and won a share of the 2009 Pioneer Football League title.
Among the returnees are defensive back James Vercammen and quarterback Steve Valentino. Vercammen, who plays the hybrid safety/linebacker position known as Flyer, is a preseason All-American and a member of the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List. Valentino is one of 20 players on the Walter Payton Award Watch List.
The Buchanan Award goes to the top defensive player in FCS football, while the Payton Award goes to the top player. Both honors are awarded by The Sports Network. This is the first time in program history a UD player appears on either watch list.
Vercammen was third in FCS football last season in tackles with a PFL record 134. Valentino was the 2009 Pioneer Football League Offensive Player of the Year and is the only player in league history to be named First Team All-PFL at two different positions (WR in 2008, QB in 2009).
Chamberlin has guided UD to nine wins in his first two seasons, going 9-3 in 2008 and 9-2 last year.
ALL CAPTAINS ALL PFL
The Flyers will be led by captains Tyler Friedrich, Joe Reis and Steve Valentino. All three are redshirt seniors, members of two PFL championship teams in their careers and were named First Team All-PFL in 2009. Friedrich is an offensive guard from Dublin, Ohio. A versatile player who has also played tight end and tackle in his career, Friedrich started all 11 games last season. Ries is a linebacker from Cincinnati. As a junior, he was second on the team in tackles (70), and led in interceptions (3) and fumbles forced (2). Valentino is just the fourth two-time captain in school history. The Solon, Ohio native moved from wideout to quarterback after the season opener, and led the Flyers to their 10th PFL title in 15 years.
SCOUTING THE COLONIALS
Robert Morris was 5-6 in 2009 last year and returns 19 starters (from the team that dropped its first six games in 2009, but rebounded to win its last five behind now sophomore quarterback Jeff Sinclair. Senior running back Myles Russ enters 2010 with 2,908 yards to his credit. Coach Joe Walton’s defense will once again be led by senior linebacker Alex DiMichele who had 109 hits last season. RMU is the preseason second-place pick in the Northeast Conference. The NEC once was a non-scholarship football conference like the PFL, but has added scholarships to the point that its champion now has an automatic berth in the NCAA FCS playoffs.
Dayton leads the series with Robert Morris 10-2, and has won the last seven meetings. Last year’s 21-14 win on Joe Walton Field was the starting debut of Steve Valentino. Injuries in the season opener decimated what was left of the Flyer QB corps, forcing Valentino to start at quarterback. His day began on a sour note, when his third pass of the day was batted into the air at the line of scrimmage and intercepted deep in RMU territory. But his day ended with a critical third-and-10 run around left end for a first down that clinched UD’s 21-14 win.
THE EYES OF THE NATION
The Flyer football program received more national attention this summer than perhaps ever, when quarterback Steve Valentino and Flyer James Vercammen were named to the Walter Payton Award and Buck Buchanan Award Watch Lists. UD is also receiving votes (as is Robert Morris) in the 2010 Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS poll.
GOOD NEWS WORTH REPEATING
The Flyers enter the season with the second best winning percentage (.791, 87-23) in FCS football since 2000 AND have produced the most football Academic All-Americans (19) at any level of competition in the decade.
MORE GOOD NEWS
The Flyers are predicted to win their 11th Pioneer Football League championship in the annual PFL coaches’ poll that was announced on August 9. Dayton received 76 points while Butler was picked to finish second, receiving two first-place votes, with 69 points. Jacksonville received the four remaining first-place votes and finished third in the preseason poll with 68 points. Behind those three teams were Drake (54 points), San Diego (52), Marist (45), Davidson (30), Campbell (25), Morehead State (22) and Valparaiso (9). Nine points were awarded for a first-place vote, with one point less for each succeeding place. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team. Dayton has won the PFL two of the last three years, tying Butler in 2009.
UD has not been shut out in a school-record 375 straight games, the best such active string in all of college football. The last team to shut out the Flyers was Marshall, 9-0, on Oct. 16, 1976. That is also the all-time FCS record.
ALL-PFL PERFORMERS RETURN
Dayton returns five 2009 First Team All-PFL performers – OG Tyler Friedrich, LB Joe Ries, QB Steve Valentino, F James Vercammen and DE Brandon Wingeier. In addition, UD also returns WR Justin Watkins (second team) and C Justin Griffis (honorable mention).
FIRST TIME STARTERS
The Flyers are replacing eight starters on defense and one on offense, but two of those replacements (DT’s Zach Weber and Mike Morante) have previous starting experience. The seven first-time starters for the Flyers for the 2010 opener against Robert Morris are slot receiver Tyler Hujik, defensive end Devon Langhorst, linebacker Bryan Bailin, cornerbacks Matt Pfleger and Kyle Sebetic and safeties A.J. Kaltenbach and Eric Robbe.
LONG TIME STARTERS
Joe Ries, Brandon Wingeier and Steve Valentino each enter the 2010 season with 23 starts under their belts (although 13 of Valentino’s starts were at receiver). Seven other Flyers also have double-digit starts. Justin Watkins has 18, Tyler Friedrich and Eric Studt each have 15, James Vercammen has 14, Dan Fornek and Justin Griffis each have 11 and Dan Prindle has 10
Senior quarterback Steve Valentino is the first Dayton player to be named to the Walter Payton Award Watch List. The Payton Award goes to the player of the year in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision and is presented by the Sports Network. A First Team All-PFL wide receiver in 2008, he became Dayton’s starting quarterback in the 2009 season’s second week due to injuries. He promptly led the Flyers to seven consecutive victories and finished the regular season with a league-best 281.6 yards total offense and led all quarterbacks in rushing, averaging 65.6 yards per game to rank fourth among the league’s rushers. Valentino also ranked second among the league’s quarterbacks in passing yardage (216.0 ypg) and pass efficiency rating (139.8). He completed 170 of 286 passes (.590). Just the fourth Flyer to be a two-time football captain, he is the first position player in PFL history to be named first-team all-league at two different positions.
BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND
An interesting fact about reigning PFL Offensive Player of the Year Steve Valentino returning to quarterback for the Flyers in 2010is this is the first time since he has began organized football that he is a starting quarterback two years in a row. He started at quarterback as a senior at Solon High School, and then redshirted and was a third-string QB in his first two years at UD. He moved to receiver in 2008, and then came to the rescue and returned to QB last year.
STILL AT QB, STILL A CAPTAIN, BUT...
There are a lot of attributes attached to Steve Valentino (captain, Payton candidate, PFL Player of the Year, etc.) but he no longer holds the title of “Fastest Player on the Team.” That honor now goes to freshman cornerback Gary Hunter, who ran a 4.32 in the preseason. Valentino runs a 4.44.
Senior James Vercammen was named to the Sports Network’s Preseason All-America First Team in July. Playing the hybrid safety/linebacker position know as “Flyer,” he is the only player from the PFL on the first team and one of four from the league on any of the Sports Network preseason teams. Vercammen is also the only player from the PFL who has been named to the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List. The Buchanan Award is given to FCS football’s best defensive player. Vercammen is the first UD player to be named to the Buchanan Watch List. As a redshirt junior, Vercammen’s 134 tackles set a new single-season record in the PFL and was third in the FCS. His season earned him a spot on the Sports Network’s Football Championship Subdivision All-American Second Team and All-PFL First Team. He posted eight games of double-digit tackles, including a 19-tackle, 1.5 tackle for loss and one pass breakup game against conference foe San Diego.
QUALITY VS. QUANTITY
Dayton only returns three starters from last year’s defense that led the PFL in scoring defense (13.6) and total defense (242.5), but they were the three most productive Dayton players on that side of the ball. Flyer James Vercammen led the PFL and was third in the nation in tackles (134). Linebacker Joe Ries was second on the team in tackles (70), and led in interceptions (3) and fumbles forced (2). Defensive end Brandon Wingeier led the team in sacks (6.5) and fumbles recovered (2).
SPEAKING OF WINGEIER
Brandon Wingeier is a two-time ESPN The Magazine First Team Academic All-American. A mechanical engineering major, he has started 23 straight games for the Flyers. Last year he led UD in sacks (6.5). He also had 39 tackles, 11.5 hits in the backfield, two fumbles recovered, two QB hurries, a fumble forced, a pass batted down and an interception he returned 57 yards for a touchdown.
QUALITY & QUANTITY
UD returns 10 of 11 starters on offense (and that does not include center Blake Saul who started all 12 games in 2008 and was limited with a back injury in 2009). Every player who scored is back, as are 13 of the players who caught a pass, and the team’s top four rushers.
THE GOOD HANDS PEOPLE
Last season’s top receiver, Justin Watkins, returns after finishing second in the PFL in receiving yardage per game (84.3) and first in yards per catch (19.7). Watkins also led UD in receptions (47) and TD catches (7). Five returnees had at least 10 passes in 2009 – Nick Collins (27 for 358 yards), Justin Millio (22 for 203), Anthony Papp (19 for 213) and Luke Bellman (14 for 279). Although he was hurt last year, Millio caught a UD single-season record 67 passes in 2008.
Last season, UD led FCS football in pass efficiency defense (96.71) and was second in pass defense yardage (140.1), third in total defense (242.6.10), first in (128.20) and fifth in scoring defense (13.6). UD also led the PFL in first downs allowed (11.8), opponent third down conversions (25.2%), lowest penalty yardage assessed (36.9) and time of possession (33:13 per game).
SHUTTING OUT DISTRACTIONS
Three PFL teams’ last shutout was by the Dayton defense. Naturally one is Davidson, who UD beat last year 17-0 on Oct. 17 (five games ago). The other two are Butler (25 games ago, 61-0 in 2007) and San Diego (112 games ago, 41-0 in 1999).
TUESDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
The Flyers are continuing “Tuesday Night Lights,” the free program where pee wee football teams take the field for a practice with the University of Dayton football team, for the third straight year. Every Tuesday from Sept. 7 to Oct. 26, teams that sign up in advance get a pre-practice talk from Flyer head coach Rick Chamberlin, take the field to warm up with the UD football team, and then observe practice until they go home at 8:30 p.m.
The Flyers became the 11th NCAA FCS team (and the first west of the Alleghenies) to win at least 600 games in its football history when UD beat Davidson on October 18, 2008. Here are the 14 members of the club, heading into the 2010 season. Yale (857), Harvard (805), Penn (804), Princeton (784), Fordham (743), Lafayette (648), Dartmouth (645), Delaware (637), Lehigh (629), Cornell (618), Dayton (612), North Dakota State (604) Northern Iowa (603) and North Dakota (601). Of the 600 Club members, Dayton has played the fewest seasons (102, nine fewer than Fordham’s 110).
MORE THAN HIS FAIR SHARE
UD head coach Rick Chamberlin has been a part of 312 of UD’s 612 wins – 26 as a player, 268 as an assistant coach, and 18 as a head coach.
The Flyers’ 68-19 PFL record is the best in the history of the league. UD has won 10 league championships (including ties) in the 17 years the PFL has existed. The rest of the league has 12 combined.
The UD Flyers moved to Welcome Stadium in 1974. The word “Welcome” implies hospitality, but UD has been anything but hospitable to its opponents at home, where it is 193-40-2 (.825). The “Welcome” is not a greeting, but an honor to the late Percival Welcome, longtime AD for the Dayton Public Schools.
UD was undefeated on the road in 2009 (5-0).
The Flyers outscored their opponents 89-16 in the third quarter last year.
When Jon Gruden coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the Super Bowl championship in 2003, he became the second UD grad to coach a Super Bowl winner. Former UD co-captain and 1993 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Chuck Noll won four Super Bowls (IX, X, XII & XIV) as coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Noll started at center and linebacker for the Flyers and graduated from the University in 1953. Gruden played quarterback at Dayton and earned his degree in 1986. UD became only the third school to have two alumni coach Super Bowl winners. The others are San Jose State, with grads Bill Walsh (XIV, XIX, XXIII) and Dick Vermeil (XXXIV), and Arkansas with grads Jimmy Johnson (XXVII, XXVIII) and Barry Switzer (XXX). Gruden is the second-youngest coach to win a Super Bowl (supplanted by Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin in 2009), and Noll is the fifth-youngest. As a matter of fact, UD has ties to 18 Super Bowl rings. In addition to Noll’s four and Gruden’s one, five former members of Dayton coaching staffs own a total of 14 Super Bowl rings between them. They are the late Len Fontes (New York Giants, Super Bowl XXI), Jon’s father Jim Gruden (San Francisco 49ers, Super Bowls XXII & XXIV), John McVay (49ers, XVI, XIX, XXII, & XXIV), current Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore (Steelers, XIII & XIV, Colts XLI) and George Perles (Steelers, IX, X, XII & XIV). McVay was the Flyers’ head coach from 1965-72, and Fontes, Gruden, Moore and Perles were on his staff.
The Flyers go on the road for the first time in 2010, traveling to Pittsburgh to visit Duquesne. Game time is 12 noon ET. Robert Morris is at Sacred Heart.