The 2011 Northeast Conference Football Preseason Teleconference was held Wednesday morning, revealing senior Chris Mandas (Mission Viejo, CA) as a member of the NEC Preseason All-Conference team. The Coaches Preseason Poll was also released as the Pioneers have been slated to finish eighth in the Northeast Conference in 2011. The 2010 NEC Co-Champion Central Connecticut State Blue Devils occupy the top spot of the poll and received five of a possible eight first-place votes to become the league's preseason favorite. Duquesne received two first-place nods and sit in second in the poll, one spot ahead of 2010 Co-Champion Robert Morris, which received one first-place vote after representing the NEC in the NCAA Tournament last season.
The middle portion of this year's poll includes Albany ranked fourth and Bryant in the fifth spot. The Bulldogs also garnered the final first-place vote in just its third year of play in the Northeast Conference. Rounding out the 2011 NEC Coaches Preseason Poll was Monmouth in sixth, Wagner in seventh, and Saint Francis (PA) in ninth behind the Pioneers.
"Hopefully some of those close games we lost last season we can turn around and get them in the left hand column this year," commented head coach Paul Gorham on this morning's conference call.
Sacred Heart finished the 2010 campaign with a 4-7 record, which included non-conference victories over Georgetown and Marist. SHU posted a 2-6 mark in Northeast Conference action by knocking off Monmouth on the road by one point and notching a double-digit home victory against Wagner on the final day of the season.
The Pioneers return a plethora of talent on the defensive side of the ball in 2011, including Mandas who begins his final collegiate season as a NEC Preseason All-Conference selection. The senior linebacker led Sacred Heart with 88 tackles and 52 solo tackles in 2011. Mandas broke into the backfield to make 10 tackles for a loss, force one fumble, and secure three sacks a season ago. He also hauled in his first career interception September 10 against Robert Morris. "Chris has a great knack for the ball," commented Gorham. "He has done a great job for us and continues to work hard every day in practice."
SHU should be very solid up front on the offensive side of the ball as the squad brings back seven of eight offensive linemen and their starting tight end from 2011. This sets the stage for increased production from redshirt sophomore Gregory Ibe, (Queens, NY) who rushed for 460 yards and two touchdowns last season while averaging a team high 5.7 yards per carry. "We have the ability to run the ball," said Gorham. "That should help us ease the pressure on our quarterback as we develop our identity as a team."
The Pioneers will play their first three games of 2011 in the friendly confines of Campus Field, beginning with the season kick-off under the lights September 3 at 7:00 pm against Marist.