In its third season in the rugged Atlantic 10 Conference, the Towson football team gained some more ground. To hit the pay dirt of championship and playoff contention, it must keep moving forward.
Coach Gordy Combs says the program is equipped to do just that.
"I think we have enough guys now to replace the ones we lose through graduation and loss of eligibility," Combs said. "We just need to take one more step."
The Tigers finished 4-4 in the conference after winning three nonleague games. Strangely, they were 4-0 on the road and 0-4 at home. But they didn't fare well against the upper crust, absorbing one-sided defeats against division winners Massachusetts and James Madison and a good Maine team, all at Johnny Unitas Stadium.
They will lose 14 seniors who dressed for the finale from the last class recruited for the Patriot League. Now, they will have all A-10 recruits, next season reaching the full complement of 63 scholarships allowed in Division I-AA. The year after that - Combs redshirts most of the incoming freshmen - they will be on a level field with the league powers.
"The thing is we'll all be practicing against quality people every day," he said.
The offense loses two top-notch receivers, Andrae Brown (Milford Mill) and Eric Yancey, but that is a position where Towson is stocked with talent. The cornerstone of the offensive line, Jermon Bushrod, is also departing, but quarterback Sean Schaefer is back for two more years, and that is enough to allay any worries about that unit.
On defense, the biggest losses will be along the front wall, which loses Carlos Allen, George Mitchell and Marcus Edwards. That area will need help.
"We might add a JuCo player or transfer here and there," Combs said. "But if we bring in those kinds of players we want them to play right away. We need to get better in the defensive line."
The schedule will not change dramatically. Towson will play the same league rivals it did this season, along with Morgan State. New are Central Connecticut at home and Colgate on the road. The Tigers' foray into Division I-A territory will not begin until 2008, when they visit Navy.
Although Johns Hopkins and Salisbury didn't win conference titles, they did well garnering all-league selections.
The Blue Jays (5-5) had six players chosen for seven first-team Centennial Conference spots, five of whom were unanimous. That was the second highest total in school history.
On offense, wide receiver Anthony Triplin (Gilman), No. 2 on the Blue Jays' all-time reception list, and offensive lineman Paul Markowski were honored. Defensive end Brian Cook, linebacker Matt Hagel and cornerback Chris Chauvin made the defensive team, and Ben Scott was named as place-kicker and punter. All are seniors.
Scott, from Pittsburgh, will play for the American Football Coaches Association's Division III all-star team that will meet the Mexican national team in the 2006 Aztec Bowl on Dec. 16 in Aguascalientes, Mexico. He averaged 41.6 yards per punt this season and finished his career with 43 field goals, third in Division III history.
Salisbury, which finished strong to gain a winning record (6-5) for the fifth straight season, had 10 players named to various Atlantic Central Conference teams, with two players picking up three first-team spots.
Senior Byron Westbrook was the primary recipient, gaining a first-team nod in the defensive backfield and one as a return man on the special teams. Linebacker Billy Leinemann, the co-captain with Westbrook, was also on the first team.
Coach Frank Olszewski expects opponents to have Towson circled on their men's soccer schedules before next season begins.
"You're sort of a target," said Olszewski after the Tigers completed the most successful year in their modern history (15-2-3). "It's more difficult to get back to where we were than to get there at first. That's the challenge for us now."
Towson earned a No. 15 seeding in the Division I tournament and made it to the third round before losing at No. 2 Wake Forest last Sunday, 2-1.
Olszewski will lose half of his brilliant goalkeeping tandem, Greg Flaherty; the two mainstays of the defense, Nigel Marples and Andrew Marshall (Centennial); the team's three-year scoring leader, Sebastian Haensel; and midfielder Sean Cunningham. Towson will, however, retain the remainder of the roster and should be a factor in the 2007 Colonial Athletic Association race again.
"We'll bring in seven or eight new guys," Olszewski said. "We've got the makings of another decent team. They just have to build on the legacy these seniors started."
Two Salisbury players were named to the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Division III All-America first team. Megan Powell of Elkton scored 26 goals and had 11 assists and was honored along with Danielle Twilley, a junior and defensive stalwart for Salisbury. ... Morgan State's Ramona Riley-Bozier was selected the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference volleyball Coach of the Year.