Taking the next steps

The Gannon University football team will begin its 2011 season with the hopes of building on back-to-back 6-5 finishes in each of the last two years.

And the Knights should have a favorable chance at doing just that.

Fifth-year head coach Jim Kiernan will head up a squad returning 13 starters as well as 38 letter winners from a team that finished third in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division with a 4-3 record.

The high point for the 2010 club was undoubtedly its thrilling 14-10 win over cross-city rival and PSAC champion Mercyhurst College. The win was capped by redshirt senior Jason Ladouceur’s first catch of the season – a 73-yard touchdown reception with just more than two minutes remaining in regulation. It was Gannon’s first over the Lakers since 2005, and could be a sign of things to come.

The Knights also earned impressive wins over high-profile programs such as Shippensburg, Indiana (Pa.) and Slippery Rock universities.

However, if Gannon is going to repeat its success, it will have to find viable successors for its top offensive threats.

Quarterback and field general Zach Boedicker graduated after he accounted for more than three-fourths of the Knights’ offense. Boedicker threw for nearly 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns, and added almost another 600 yards and seven scores on the ground.

Boedicker’s right-hand man, Tyler Batts, also made his departure after graduation. He led the team in rushing while providing a safe check down option for Boedicker. The jack-of-all-trades finished the season with 763 rushing yards to go along with a team-high 32 catches for 279 yards receiving.

Also gone due to graduation is receiving deep threat Geoff Hicks, who averaged over 21 yards-per-reception while leading the team in yards (456) and touchdowns (4).

Despite the question marks on the offensive end, the Knights’ defense should pick up where it left off a season ago, as it brings back its veteran core.

Preseason All-American tackle Randy Colling will anchor the defensive line after leading the team with eight sacks in 2010, while cornerback Chris Cook will try to lock down the secondary. Cook led the team with four interceptions en route to spot on the All-PSAC Western second team.

The Knights will kick of their season with a non-conference lid-lifter Sept. 1 at Lake Erie College, before returning home for the home opener against Shippensburg on Sept. 10.

Gannon will have key matchups at home against Edinboro University Sept. 24 and Slippery Rock Nov. 5.

The Knights will also hit the road for a critical stretch in October, when they play four of five games away from Gannon University Field. Gannon will open up the month by traveling across town to Mercyhurst, before heading to IUP Oct. 22.

A key to Gannon’s success in 2011 will also be its ability to close out close games. Three of the Knights’ five losses were by less than seven points, with their last two comprised of a total of four points.

JOE CUNEO

[email protected]