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NJAC Coaches exclude Lions from post-season party

November 20, 2009

When it comes to football, the ultimate team sport, there’s just no room for ‘I’. A team’s win/loss column proves a more telling statistic than even the most padded individual categories. And, frankly, collective success matters more to players than any gaudy final tally of yards, TDs or complex ratings.

But there is a lone exception, exclusive to a brief, single moment. Immediately after, focus shifts away from ‘me’ and back to ‘we.’

The occasion coincides with a time during which most reflect on the season that was, again, through the selfless perspective of their program’s success (or lack thereof). Still, if there’s any leeway for absorbing outside attention—rather than deflecting in usual smile-and-nod fashion—it’s when the powers that be dish out coveted post-season awards.

Unfortunately for several TCNJ performers, the decision to gloat (or how much) isn’t theirs.

Snubbed from a majority of the New Jersey Athletic Conference’s end-of-season picks for its top performers, a few notable Lions didn’t get daps for which they could have hoped. Maybe expected.

Possibly deserved.

In total, of the 87 student-athletes named, only four suited up for TCNJ in 2009. In contrast, Kean University had twice as many—on the league’s squad of first-teamers.

A credible argument against those picks would be tough, seeing as the Cougs’ decorated four-year starter (and All-NJAC performer) Jared Chunn (Kean) proved mutually beneficial to the rest of the unit, bringing home his second-consecutive Offensive Player of the Year award.

Kean University was arguably the most physically imposing team in the trenches, evidenced by its three hog-mallies honored, two of whom dominated box defenders and paved the way for the conference’s only 1,000-yard rusher and his 7 TDs (OL Shabazz Green, Kareem Johnson, DT Darryl Jackson). Only SUNY-Cortland rivaled in prominence of its unsung heroes (3), among them the NJAC Defensive Player of the Year in DE Bryan Wiley (OL Chris Van de Wheert, DE Evan Wyler).

It was a tight squeeze, crowded by a montage of Rowan, SUNY-Cortland and Montclair State’s most outstanding. But one Lion managed to make the cut of the NJAC elite.

After sending footballs screaming off his right foot for 10 unrelenting weeks, Marc Zucconi represented a quarter of the league’s best third-dimension. Place kicker Marco Capozzoli (Montclair State) edged the Louisville-transfer out of its top specialist spot (1st-team K). But Zucconi’s 41.93 average on punting duties ranked No. 3 in D3—good enough for All-NJAC punter (HM in ’08).

Ensuring balanced representation throughout, the Lions’ reliable—though deceptively electrifying—possession wideout Colin Weber fell into the conference’s second-team ranks.

Quietly leading the NJAC in grabs and yardage for a healthy portion of the regular season, Weber’s production waned only when TCNJ’s depth-chart thinned. Persevering through the sting of TCNJ’s homecoming loss to eventual league champ Montclair State, the sure-handed senior held his ground among the Top 3 most prolific receivers (Weber-2nd in yds/gm, 3rd in rec/gm)—the last time the NCAA’s former No. 1 scoring offense competed in its entirety (RBs Donoloski, Misura; QB James; OL Mecca, Mason, Serrao all missed time).

His eligibility expired, Weber walks away from collegiate competition after finishing as the conference’s No. 5 yard-getter (582 rec. yds). But his other numbers immerse him in a conversation for one of the four the All-NJAC receiver corps slots.

Weber was the league’s fourth-most frequent touchdown recipient (7 rec. TDs), three more than first-teamer Felipe Diaz (Brockport). He was also more efficient with fewer opportunities, ranking higher in yards per catch than all but one of the Top 5 wideouts—another Golden Eagle in Matt Newman (Weber-16.6 yds/rec.).

Collective success of the Golden Eagle offense is irrevocable, which boasted the league’s second-team quarterback in Jake Graci, as well as honorable mention in slot receiver Hector Rosas.

But was its proficiency skewed?

Plenty a credit to its conference-worst defense—a glaring exception being first-team LB Nathan Bull—no NJAC attack saw more offensive snaps than The College at Brockport (819 plays). It wasn’t even close (Rowan-678 plays, 2nd-most).

To lead the synchronous movements for Weber and his honorable mention QB Chris James, the Lion offense may have well played two fewer games than their conference rivals, wrapping up the season with 150 fewer snaps. James blew away the rest of the pack in completion percentage (60.4%), and his 142.3 efficiency rating led created a 10-point disparity over its No. 2 (min. 200 att.). The only player with a more polished resume in either belonged to his understudy, and sophomore Jay Donoghue’s 61.4% accuracy rating (min. 2 starts).

Rowan’s pick-your-poison play-maker QB Frank Wilczynski elevated coaches’ blood pressure with his nearly 800 yards on the ground, and receded hairlines by finishing just shy of the 1,500 aerial yard-mark. His first-team selection was no surprise, so predictable that he, in a sense, might have been a snub for the league’s Offensive Player of the Year.

But the nation’s former No. 2 in pass efficiency couldn’t crack the NJAC’s second team? Doubtful. Graci broke records and likely malfunctioned scoreboards, but his 18 picks are one more than the conference’s Top 4 QBs combined (James-8, Cortland’s Alex Smith- 4, Wilczynski-5).

Conservative tactician? Not so much. D3 football’s Jay Cutler? Kinda sorta.

Regarding James, the only more baffling matter is which victimized TCNJ’s four-year starter in the voting more: conference coaches or an ankle injury that kept him sidelined for his final 10 quarters of competition (missed 2 gms).

The jury might be hung on James, but it’s reached a unanimous verdict on his backfield. The Lions’ balanced (and bruised) tailback tandem of Justin Donoloski and Chase Misura likely would have ousted other conference RBs—had both been healthy down the stretch.

Scratched for their final three games of ’09, the group missed chances to validate their early-season brilliance against two defenses among the league’s premier flight (Rowan, SUNY-Cortland), not to mention another salivating, stat-padding outing against one of its cupcakes (Western Connecticut St.).

No back in the conference averaged more yards per carry than Donoloski (6.7 yds/rush, Wilczynski-8.7 yds/rush), a par he maintained for a brief first quarter of action against Montclair State—the nation’s No. 4 unit against the run. Fellow sophomore Marcus McKinney (William Paterson) reached pay dirt 11 times in ’09 and his per-game average yard total ranked third in the NJAC. But he crawled a 3.7 yards per carry—its second-fewest, only to Jeff Bliss (Montclair State) who picked up a dawdling 2.8 on his rushing touches. That duo of methodical drudgery filled the league’s second-team backfield, spots to be had for either Donoloski or Misura—maybe both.

Now, let me offer a preemptive warning that, yes, this graf raises an eyebrow at the lack of homage the list paid to TCNJ defenders, which was justified for a few.

DE Craig Meyer snagged a much-merited honorable mention bid, but two of his teammates were nowhere to be found on coaches’ ballots, and thus, this list.

No two players at the position recorded more tackles than centerfield FS Matt Kreider and ball-jarring SS Shawn Brown—neither of whom were recognized for their 85 (39 solo) and 69 (38 solo) respective tackles.

Their one pick a piece didn’t touch first-team selection Jamahl Williams (Kean) and his season’s five. But Brown forced as many fumbles (1) and brought two turnovers to the house for the Lions D (FUM rec., blkd punt), statistically outperforming its other first-team rep, Mario McLean (Montclair State)— a wideout on his roster. Both Brown and Kreider shared a similar edge over second-teamers Doug Dudek (William Paterson) and Jesse Shekner (Montclair State), although Shekner comprised a stout eleventh of MSU’s Top-10 defense among D3 competitors.

But the biggest slip-up of all involved Eddie Weiser (Buffalo State). No, the beef doesn’t stem from his selection as NJAC Rookie of the Year. Instead, it’s that his Top 10 conference tackle total and lone glimmer of promise for his Bungles’ abysmal D didn’t get him honors elsewhere–neither first nor second team.

OK. He’s still a freshman. But not even a consolation nomination as an honorable mention?

Come now.

I get it. It’s hard to reward a group whose second-half of 2009 had a doughnut for a win-column total. But, for once and only once, this isn’t about the team and what it couldn’t do. The matter is already addressed, something to the tune of Montclair State’s first Stagg Bowl tournament appearance in a decade, and the ECAC Bowl berth for which Kean University must be ecstatic (if nothing else, proud). It’s a shame that TCNJ’s blinding brilliance faded down the stretch, but it’s worse that NJAC coaches failed to tribute their accomplishments, and recognize their potential.

Talent that a crippled a few, and could’ve brought several others to their knees.

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