PARKERSBURG - When the second season of the Mountain East Conference gets underway for football, all the other teams will be out to knock off defending league champ Shepherd.
Earlier this month, the Rams were picked to repeat as the top program in the MEC. That comes after veteran head coach Monte Cater's squad came within one victory of reaching the Division II national semifinals last fall.
Shepherd, which returns 12 starters, not only welcomes back signal-caller Jeff Ziemba and the tailback duo of Allen Cross and Jabre Lolley, who was the 2013 conference offensive freshman of the year, but the Rams also feature All-American return specialist C.J. Davis. Davis was the lone MEC player to garner first team preseason all-America honors by BeyondSportsNetwork.
However, the Rams also sport a pair of third team preseason all-American picks by BSN thanks to fullback Jonathan Hammer and offensive lineman Isaiah Shelton. The only other MEC programs to land players on the preseason all-America list were Concord safety Davon Marion (second team) and Urbana linebacker D'Gary Wallace (third team).
Coming off an impressive 8-3 campaign, Concord is expected to be the second toughest MEC squad and the Mountain Lions have a plethora of returners with 11 starters back on offense and seven on defense.
Former Wirt County all-stater Dalton Brindo returns for his sophomore year after making eight starts and playing in 10 games as a tight end. He had eight catches for 120 yards, but also finished 2 for 2 with 99 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns on trick tight end aerials. His biggest play was a 63-yard TD pass against Shepherd.
Charleston, winners of four of its last six contests a year ago, was picked third in the MEC and just ahead of Glenville State. The Golden Eagles, who had one first place vote compared to Shepherd's nine and Concord's three, boast seven returners on defense, led by first team all-MEC honorees Isaiah Gibson at cornerback and Demetrius Reddick on the defensive line.
The G-men of head coach David Hutchison return talented junior tailback Rahmann Lee, who has nearly 2,800 career rushing yards. Although GSC also has leading tackler James Johnson and sack man Gary Henderson back, the squad from Gilmer County has to replace seven starters on defense.
Rounding out the preseason poll from fifth through 11th were West Virginia Wesleyan, Urbana, Notre Dame and West Liberty, which were tied for seventh, along with Fairmont State, Virginia-Wise and W.Va. State in spots nine through 11.
Also of note, ex-Williamstown all-state lineman Avery Goff returns for his sophomore campaign at West Liberty University. The former Yellowjacket, now a 6-foot-3, 285-pounder, made two starts for the Hilltoppers at right tackle as a true freshman and saw action in a half-dozen contests.