This is the Dukes' second year in the Northeast Conference and second season that the Dukes, who granted only need-based financial aid for football playing student-athletes as a member of the defunct Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Football League from 1994-2007, have granted scholarships in the sport of football.
Duquesne, which adopted an athletics-based aid model in February of 2008, now has two scholarship recruiting classes in the fold.
Last year, 25 freshmen saw action with 19 starting at least once. In all, 56 of the 85 players on the season-ending roster were freshmen and sophomores. For 2009, Schmitt and his staff have added a 24-man recruiting class. Schmitt is hoping to continue to mold the young talent into a cohesive, competitive unit.
Here are Coach Schmitt's thoughts as the team opens fall camp:
Goals and impressions at the outset of camp:
"One of the goals we had in the spring was to simplify our mental approach to the game, so we can execute more consistently. We think we got a good start on doing that and we'll continue to work on it this fall.
On playing so many young players last season:
Now that we have a better feel of what it takes to compete in the Northeast Conference, our preparation will be geared toward being ready to play week-in and week-out for 60 minutes. The mental preparation of playing 60 minutes is important based on some of the things that happened to us in the fourth quarter last year.
This was the first year strength and conditioning coach John Welday really had the players for the entire summer. He had their attention mentally in order to convey what we have to do to get back to competing for conference championships. Our guys worked hard in the offseason, which is what they need to do because there are a lot of physical teams in the NEC.
We know that from top to bottom the NEC is a very competitive conference. We have to be prepared each and every week both physically and mentally. The overall quality of play, the depth of the teams and the level competitiveness throughout the season is much different than it was when we played in the MAAC."
"I remember at one point looking at the depth chart and seeing 14 or 15 players who were in their first season as starters. Even though the majority of those players were redshirt and true freshmen, some of those guys were upperclassmen. Guys like Connor Dixon, Cleo Williams and Tyler Scruggs - who had some experience - hadn't started since high school. In college football, no matter what your age, assuming a starting role is quite an adjustment.
On the return of key players quarterback Connor Dixon (shoulder), second team All-NEC tight end Sean Bunevich (knee) and first team All-NEC linebacker Nathan Totino (knee) who all missed spring ball while rehabbing from off-season surgery:
We expect all the players who started for the first time last season to be much more comfortable with the college game this fall.
Last year, we were searching for players to step up and be leaders throughout the season. I think the starting experience gained last season will help some players emerge into leadership roles this season."
"Nathan, Sean and Connor are all healthy and have been cleared to play. I am not at all worried about them. Obviously we'll ease them into full-speed competition as camp gets going. All three are extremely hard workers who worked extremely hard at getting back in the offseason. Their preparation was off the charts - even for them."
Breaking down the offense:
"We have five linemen with starting experience returning. With that said, there will still be plenty of competition. I think the depth of our offensive line has improved greatly over the past two years. The competition will do nothing but increase our productivity - regardless of who emerges as our starters.
Looking at the defensive side of the ball:
At running back, Cleo Williams now has one year of experience as a starter. He had a quality year last season, but we're expecting more from him this year. He will be pushed by Larry McCoy, Brian Smoot and Bill Bair. We feel good about our depth there.
The same goes for quarterback, where we have three quality players. Connor Dixon and Kevin Rombach are the obvious guys who will be competing for the majority of snaps, but Sean Patterson is a young player who also has a lot of talent.
We have a good mix of experience at receiver in Michael Rasky and Dave Williams, who transferred in after two years at Michigan State, and young talent in players like Akeem Moore and Isaac Spragg. In addition, Brooks Roorback, who had a good freshman year, Joe Cangilla and Jay Spinks - who all took meaningful snaps for us last year - are back.
We are also very pleased with our depth at tight end. We have Sean Bunevich, who was a second team all-NEC player last season, back. Brian Layhue, who stepped in for Sean late last season after Sean got hurt, did an excellent job for us. We knew he could block, but he also caught a couple of touchdown passes and ran some good routes. Adam Gill, a transfer from Lafayette, is also an excellent blocker with great hands. He'll add to the depth at that position."
"[First-year defensive coordinator] Ollie Phillips and [first-year defensive backs coach] Dick Hopkins are both very experienced coaches who will be working with a young group that gained a lot of valuable experience last season. I think that will help as they install their style of defense. We should be a little more flexible especially with our fronts this season. It should also help us with our team speed.
On the 2009 Schedule and trip to Louisiana to face Nicholls State in week two:
Up front, Mike Passodelis was an impressive freshman for us and we're looking for big things from him in combination with the veterans we have in Thaimu Bangura and Mykol Gardiner. Tyler Scruggs also made some big plays for us. He's just a really good football player.
Like our offensive line, we're happy with our depth on the defensive side. Aldon Sutton started a few games last season. Josh Lott will compete this year as a redshirt freshman and Ashton Burno started a number of games for us as a true freshman as well. The level of competition will be high which should increase our quality of play.
Nathan Totino is a fixture at one of the linebacker spots. Anthony Rhoades, who came in as a heralded transfer last season, is a really talented player who was hampered by injuries last year. We're expecting some big things out of him if he can stay healthy. Willie Milhouse will play an outside linebacker-type role this year. We have a number of younger guys who will be competing as back-ups.
In the secondary, Aaron Fitzpatrick, who started all last year, is back. Guys like Randall Norton and Dionte Wade are experienced. Bill Poletti has started a number of games for us over the past three years and Wade Powell, another veteran, is back. When you take all of that experience fighting for jobs and add in two junior college transfers who we think are very talented in Justin Melhado and Devin Duggan and we are very comfortable with the depth back there."
"Our schedule starts tough and finishes tough. We are looking forward to going to Nicholls State. It is an outstanding opportunity for us. To make a trip to another part of the country and play our style of football matched against a quality program from another strong FCS conference will enhance our development as a football team."
Note: Duquesne's men's basketball team opens the 2009-10 schedule with its first-ever meeting versus Nicholls State (Southland Conference) on Friday, November 13, 2009, at the Palumbo Center. (DC)