Football looks for a fresh start with new coach

Alex Pepke, Sports Editor

The Gannon University football team is looking for a bounce-back year during the upcoming season. Instead of playing in its usual fall season, Gannon will take the field during the spring semester due to the suspension of all fall sports by the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC).

The Knights are coming off a year where they went 2-9 overall and 1-6 in PSAC West play. While the record was not where they would like it to be, they played some tough teams and lost a few games that could’ve gone either way.

Gannon played four teams that would go on to compete in the NCAA Division II playoffs, and the Knights lost three close games by a combined total of six points. Two losses came by one point each – 18-17 to Edinboro and 28-27 to Lock Haven in the season’s final game.

Jay Bullock was the leader of the defense that forced 22 turnovers last season, and he was named to the All-PSAC West second team for the second consecutive season. The Knights will also return defensive back Tre McNeil, who led the team with 77 tackles and three fumble recoveries, which led the PSAC.

On offense, Gannon was led by senior quarterback Jimmy Keefe, who threw for 1,547 yards and 13 touchdowns despite battling injuries throughout the season. He will be without his favorite target, Joey Cox, who graduated this past year.

Keefe, who was intercepted eight times last year, will return for the Knights this year being fifth all-time in passing yards (3,682) and passing touchdowns (28) in Gannon history.

Running back Melvin Blanks will look to shoulder more of the load on the ground this year as his running mate from last year, Zevin Holley, graduated.

The Knights will enter the 2021 season under a new head coach as well, as former coach Brad Rzyczycki stepped down from his role after eight seasons with Gannon. He started a new role in the school’s athletics administration office.

The new head coach for Gannon is Erik Raeburn, who served as the offensive coordinator for the Knights last season. Prior to coming to Gannon, Raeburn was the head coach at Division I Savannah State for three seasons, where he went a combined 8-23 from 2016-18.

Before moving to Savannah State, Raeburn enjoyed plenty of success at the Division III level, first leading Coe to a 63-25 record in eight seasons and then moving on to guide Wabash to a 78-13 mark, including 54-6 in the North Coast Athletic Conference.

Raeburn also took home a North Coast Athletic Conference coach of the year award in 2011.

Dustin Miller will be taking over as offensive cooridinator this season and Adam Gonzaga will be the defensive cooridinator.

The PSAC, known for some of the best NCAA Division II football in the country, will not be an easy conference to compete in.

Assuming the Knights play every team in their division, they will have to face Indiana University of Pennsylvania, California University of Pennsylvania and Slippery Rock, the defending PSAC champion.

After 2-9 records each of the past two seasons, the Gannon must improve as a whole to get back into playoff contention.

Gannon’s last winning season was in 2015 when the Knights went 6-5, and they will no doubt be looking to get back to winning ways once the season does get underway.

The football schedule has not been released by the PSAC or by Gannon yet, but it is expected to be made available soon.