13th year (82-45, all at CNU)
He emerged from the Allegheny foothills in northern Pennsylvania, a Winchester rifle for hunting season over his left shoulder and a football in his right arm — carried high and tight, the way his papa taught him. He ventured south into Colonial territory and stayed when he learned he didn't have to wear tri-corner hats or use looms. He cut his coaching teeth at William and Mary, a place where they had no business winning football games but did so anyway. Fueled by testosterone and subs from Paul's Deli, he learned about sacrifice and commitment until he was ready to strike out on his own. The ex-politician-turned-academic rainmaker hired him to start the program at CNU. All he's done there is win nearly two of every three games he's coached and 82.5 percent of the games in a conference that's wanted his big shiny program gone yesterday. Winning playoff games hasn't been easy, but what is? Besides, he'd rather do it the right way and sleep soundly than shelve his principles and dread the phone ringing. Don't tell him he can't get it done his way. The Winchester is always close at hand. Birdshot leaves a mark.
Jr. | 5-10 | 175 | QB
Running back-turned-QB produced when he was inserted as starter midway through the season. Passed for 800 yards and nine TD, rushed for 578 yards and 11 TD. Improved accuracy (49.5 pct) will make him that much more effective.
Sr. | 5-8 | 185 | LB
Team leader and top returning tackler with 104 total stops (10.5 TFL), just seven shy of single-season record held by current coordinator Justin Wood. Jamestown High product is smart, studious player rarely out of position.
Soph. | 5-5 | 160 | RB
USA South Offensive Rookie of the Year didn't play until fourth game last season, but rushed for 773 yards and averaged 5.1 per carry. Had 200 yards total offense in debut, win versus Maryville. Became primary ballcarrier as season progressed.
Sept. 7 | at Salisbury | 6 p.m.
The Seagulls are ranked 16th in the D3football.com preseason poll and led by All-America DB Andre Carter. Salisbury ran past CNU 40-16 last season on the way to its third straight NCAA appearance.
Sept. 14 | Hampden-Sydney | 7 p.m.
The Captains' lost weekend in last year's meeting. The trip was bad and the game was worse, a 42-20 blowout, as H-S quarterback Nash Nance channeled Peyton Manning, throwing for 339 yards and 5 TD.
Sept. 21 | Shenandoah | 7 p.m.
CNU has won eight in a row over its former USA South rival, including last year's 20-7 decision in Winchester. The Captains held Shenandoah to 193 yards and forced six turnovers.
Oct. 5 | at Methodist | 1 p.m.
The Monarchs defeated CNU in a back-and-forth affair in last year's regular-season finale, 30-29, their first win at Pomoco Stadium. Methodist was picked to finish fifth in the USA South preseason poll.
Oct. 12 | N.C. Wesleyan | 7 p.m.
The Captains have won the past three games in the series, including a 17-10 win last year in Rocky Mount. Wesleyan has a new coach, Jeff Filkovski, who spent the previous five years at Marietta (Ohio).
Oct. 19 | Maryville | 7 p.m.
The Scots were picked to finish fourth in the conference. CNU won the past three in the series and seven of eight. Freshman Paul Dukes amassed 200 yards of total offense in last year's 45-31 win.
Oct. 26 | at Greensboro | 7 p.m.
CNU has won all 12 meetings in the series, but the last two were tight. The Captains won 22-16 last year, stopping the Pride on downs and with an interception on its final two drives.
Nov. 2 | at LaGrange | 6 p.m.
Newcomer LaGrange won 20-6 last year, capitalizing on a dismal CNU performance. The Captains permitted two 100-yard rushers, amassed just 212 yards and converted 1 of 11 on third down.
Nov. 9 | Averett | 7 p.m.
The Captains have won 10 of 12 in the series, but the Cougars won the last game at CNU, in 2010. Averett was picked to finish last. Justin Williams scored his only 2 TD of the season in last year's win.
Nov. 16 | at Ferrum | 1 p.m.
Often championship and playoff implications when the two meet, though CNU is 11-1 in the series. The Panthers were picked third this season. Marcus Morrast accounted for all five TD in the 38-31 win last season.
USA SOUTH CORNER
The Captains were picked to repeat as champs, but only narrowly ahead of new member Huntingdon and Ferrum. Huntingdon, located in Montgomery, Ala., beat two teams that defeated CNU last season — Hampden-Sydney and LaGrange — and was competitive against D-III power Wesley. CNU misses Huntingdon this season in the schedule rotation, and the title could come down to tiebreakers. The entire conference is on the uptick, with new coaches, better recruiting and improved facilities. The Captains move to the Capital Athletic Conference in everything else, but remain in the USA South for football until the CAC can cobble together enough football programs for a league.
The Captains return a relatively modest 13 starters, but played a ton of guys last season and have 43 players who saw action in the NCAA playoff loss to Mount Union. On offense, CNU has two experienced quarterbacks, several backs led by Dukes and Storm Parker, productive receivers (Rudy Rudolph chief among them) and seven linemen who played extensively, led by Greg Maloid and Justin Manuel. There's quality experience sprinkled throughout the defense, with Moog and Tyler Portell at linebacker, defensive linemen Shaun Copening and Kendal Rivers and safety Chad Cieslewicz. Mason Studer ably handled the kicking duties last season. The Captains figure to carry 135 players, so experience is critical to start to build team chemistry among such a large group and provide examples for newcomers and younger players.
CNU was outscored by 57 points and outgained by 870 yards last season, an average of 80 yards per game. Granted, those numbers were skewed a bit by three losses: Mount Union (72-14), Salisbury (40-16) and Hampden-Sydney (42-20). Still, even in conference play, there were several spotty performances. The Captains coughed up a fourth-quarter lead, at home, to Methodist in the regular-season finale, a loss that resulted in a dismal playoff seed and sent them to get dump-trucked by Mount Union. They allowed two 100-yard rushers in a desultory home loss to LaGrange, a game in which the offense accomplished little, as well. The Captains built their foundation on defense and running the ball when they started the program. They aren't getting the same caliber of athletes they did in the early years, for several reasons, but if they're going to be an elite program and take the next step — playoff wins — they must improve on 5.1 yards per rush allowed and 40-percent third-down conversions by opponents.
Yeah, it's a broken record (or a skipping CD, or just the refrain from Daft Punk's "Get Lucky"), but the Captains want to break out of their rut. Granted, a ton of programs would kill for a "rut" of 10 NCAA appearances in 12 years. But Kelchner and the program aren't satisfied with simply making the NCAA field; they aim to advance. CNU hasn't won a playoff game since 2004, when the current players were in elementary and middle school. How to do so? Better players, better coaching, a bit more luck — though a program with CNU's facilities and fortune asking for more luck comes across as a mite greedy. Kelchner won't abandon his practice of scheduling difficult non-conference games to goose the win total. An extra win or two per year might earn a more favorable NCAA draw and launch a playoff run, but it would deny the players the chance to test themselves as often as possible. It's a difficult balancing act, one that drives Kelchner every year.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun