Knights off and running

Less than a week into camp, little seems able to hold down the spirits of members of the Gannon University football team.

Even if the Knights aren’t able to do the same with lunch.

Systems, speed and the stomach flu have all been topics of conversation at Gannon’s preseason camp, which started Aug. 10 and will run up to the start of classes, when the Knights begin a normal practice routine.

Former defensive coordinator Brad Rzyczycki has traded in his assistant coaching responsibilities for top billing on Gannon’s staff following previous coach Jim Kiernan’s resignation in early March.

Thus far, Rzyczycki’s camp has earned favorable early reviews from his players.

“Everyone wants to come out and play,” senior linebacker Luke Rankie said. “Nobody wants to take a play off or slack around like they have in past years.”

“It’s like football all over again,” senior defensive lineman Matt Jones said. “It’s way more fun than it used to be. People actually want to come out every night and go hard, people are happy off the field and, in general, a more family sense.”

That is, most are happy off the field.

Early in the week, more than 20 players missed practice due to a 24-hour stomach virus, with some making trips to the hospital, Rzyczycki said.

“Right now, it seems to be beating us up,” Rzyczycki said. “We have to get ready to face Lake Erie and it feels right now like we’re 0-1.”

Gannon’s opener against Lake Erie College at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, will showcase Rzyczycki’s debut as well as the Knights’ new offensive system, led by offensive coordinator Josh Hoeg. Gannon fell to the non-conference Storm, 13-10, in the season opener a last year en route to a 4-7 overall record and 3-4 mark in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference’s Western Division.

Following a season that was marred by inconsistent play and turmoil off the field — three former coaches were arrested and Kiernan’s resignation followed — the Knights are ready to turn the page from last year.

“I think it’s just a different feel now under Coach Rzyczycki,” Rankie said. “Everyone’s hitting the ground running and if we hit an obstacle, we take care of it as a team.”

One of the issues still unanswered is the question of who will be under center.

Ty Watson, Gabe Hernandez, Liam Nadler and last season’s starter Daniel Tapscott are all vying for the starting quarterback job, a position Rzyczycki said he has no time-table in naming.

“If it happens after next practice, it happens next practice, but if it happens an hour before Lake Erie, it happens before Lake Erie. But all four are battling for the position right now,” Rzyczycki said.

Junior Jansen Jones and sophomore Alex Papson are also waging a competition at running back after splitting carries in 2011. Wide receiver also figures to be another position for the taking after Gannon graduated three of its top four receiving threats in Lawrence Coleman, Jerry Smith and Evan Twombly. Senior Jonathon Jones is Gannon’s leading returning receiver, having caught 28 passes for 285 yards.

On the defensive side, seniors Ian Jeffers and Will Giles will anchor a unit that allowed 25.2 points per game in 2011. The defense will also look to fill the massive void on the line left by All-American lineman Randy Colling, who participated in the Jets’ mini-camp this spring.

Following the opener against Lake Erie, Gannon hits a stretch in which it will play four of its next five games on the road, which includes matchups against powerhouses Slippery Rock and Edinboro universities. Gannon will also look to make it three wins in a row when they host cross-town rival Mercyhurst University Oct. 6.

 

JOE CUNEO

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