Rowan returns 17 from title team

By CELESTE E. WHITTAKER, Courier-Post Staff

PRINCETON--Rowan football coach Jay Accorsi had a pretty good one-liner in his address to New Jersey Athletic Conference coaches and players Tuesday afternoon at the Hyatt Regency at the conference's football media day.

After telling the players to "enjoy the moments" and "enjoy today," he joked, "Good luck to everybody, except the week you play us."

NJAC teams didn't have much luck when they played Rowan last season. The Profs, who won their third conference championship in four years, went 11-2 overall and 5-1 in the conference.

And with senior quarterback Mike Orihel back after missing eight games last season due to a wrist injury, the Profs should be headed for another successful season. Last year, they advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Championship tournament for the second straight year.

Seven out of the eight league head coaches predicted that Rowan will finish first in the conference, followed by SUNY-Cortland and Montclair State.

Rowan, which returns 17 starters, is ranked No. 2 in the nation in Division III in Street & Smith's preseason poll and is ranked No. 3 by both USA Today Sports Weekly and Lindy's Football Magazine in their respective preseason polls.

"We should be pretty good," said Accorsi, who enters his fifth season at Rowan with a 38-9 record. "When you have a senior quarterback that's been an all-conference player -- that is the type of leader that Mike Orihel is -- you're going to be very successful. You're going to be picked very high, no matter where you are. We have a lot of depth. We return nine of 11 on defense, eight of 11 on offense. I have a smile on my face. I'm very happy where we are. Really excited to start the season."

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Orihel essentially shattered his right wrist in a game at SUNY-Cortland last season on Oct. 15.

"I pretty much blew up my wrist," he said. "It just became mush. I broke it in four spots. I had two torn ligaments. I have three screws in there now. I had five pins. I had to go through two different surgeries."

Orihel had the wrist operated on by Dr. Randall Culp of the University of Pennsylvania. Culp is considered to be one of the region's top doctors in the field of hand surgery.

"(Culp's) assistant came out and said, "He's never going to throw a football again,' " Orihel recalled. "My father said, "You don't know Michael.' Dr. Culp came out and he said, "It's going to be great.' He worked on (New York Jets quarterback) Chad Pennington. He's a great, great doctor. I owe my whole right wrist to him."

Orihel claims he's actually better than before.

"I'm actually over 100 percent," said Orihel, who completed 119 of 176 passes for 1,533 yards and nine touchdowns in five games last season. "I got cleared three months ago for being 100 percent, then I went back for my third follow up and they said my right one is actually stronger than my left and that I'm less susceptible to get injured in my right one than my left. It's actually a lot stronger. I'm actually throwing the ball better now. It's going to be a good year, exciting.

"I only got to play five games last year. I'm excited for camp. I think I'm the only person in the United States of America that's excited to go to camp this year. I can't wait to put my pads back on and start playing."

The Profs are optimistic despite losing five of their top receivers, including Phil Silva (Vineland) and Sakeen Wright (Glassboro), who were seniors last year. But veterans Dustin Katcher, Jim Migliore and Chris Niland are among those that will be counted on to step up in the receiving corps.

Starting running back Ulysses Encarnacion, who suffered a knee injury in the playoffs, is the projected starter. He rushed for 835 yards and eight touchdowns in 2005. Junior Jesse Eisenhart (Clearview Regional) will be the starting tight end, filling in for Brian Jenkins, who was lost to graduation.

Offense is always important -- of course you can't win without putting points on the board -- but Accorsi thinks defense will be the strength of his team this season.

"It always seems like we piece together a defense that's pretty good and plays well at the end of the year," Accorsi said. "I think sometimes you forget. We've been successful, but it's been primarily because of the defense. We've always had a great defense."

Three of the four starters on the defensive line are back, including Clearview graduate Keith Heimerl, who had 63 tackles and 11.5 sacks last season. Local players Zach Garren (Paulsboro) and Robert Niszczak (Washington Township) are returning starting linebackers. Niszczak suffered a knee injury in the playoffs last season, but is expected to be healthy by the season's start.

Garren, the 2005 NJAC Rookie of the Year, had 97 tackles and four interceptions last season.

The secondary is intact from last season, including defensive backs Eric Bailey (Schalick) and Brandon Tolbert (Pleasantville). Jabrill Joseph and Dawaine Whetstone (Pleasantville) return at cornerback.

"We have a lot of confidence in our defense," said Bailey, who had 65 tackles and four interceptions last season. "We have a lot of returning starters. A lot of guys that didn't start, but had a lot of playing time. We have nothing but the highest expectations from them. We've just got to take it game by game every week, try not to get ahead of ourselves and look too far down the road. Then we can take it to the next level, where we want to be."

The NJAC welcomes Buffalo State College into the conference this season, boosting the conference to eight teams. Reach Celeste E. Whittaker at cwhittaker@courierpostonline.com

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Date Published: Wednesday, August 9, 2006 - 10:06
Source URL: Courier-Post