November 9, 2011

Derek Sheely's legacy

More news about: Frostburg State
Derek Sheely was remembered at Frostburg State's senior day this past weekend. His parents have made sure his legacy will continue much longer.
Frostburg State athletics photo

For the last two and a half months, Ken and Kristen Sheely have been living out a parent's worst nightmare.

Their oldest child, Derek, a senior fullback on the Frostburg State football team, collapsed at a practice Monday, Aug. 22. Six days later, he was dead. In less than one week, the Sheelys' excitement over the Bobcats' season opener had transformed into the unimaginable torture of losing a child.

In the face of this tragedy, the Sheelys have shown strength that most hope never to need to find. Ken puts on a brave face in conversations, but you can hear it in his voice -- he longs to see his son, to watch just one more football game with him, to love him and hug him like only a father can.

And the sobering reality is, he can't. It's that reality that tests the Sheelys' reserve on a daily basis, and it's a reality that will weigh on them through the approaching holidays.

"Everybody looks forward to the holiday seasons," Ken said. "Well, it's going to be really tough for us this year. It's hard for us to look forward to it. There's going to be that missing plate, the missing face at Christmas and New Years."

One shining light that has simultaneously helped preserve Derek's legacy, and get Ken and Kristen through the tragedy of losing him, has been the Derek Sheely Foundation. The Sheelys created the non-profit organization in October with the goal of "increasing awareness and research of traumatic brain injuries (TBI). It supports advancements in education, prevention, and treatment for all causes of TBI with a focus on youth sports."

The foundation has a website that is in the final stages of development, as well as a Facebook page that provides information. Ken said a 4.0-mile run in Derek's honor will be held in his hometown of Germantown, Md., in June 2012. The 4.0 miles are a nod to Derek's jersey number, No. 40.

Ken said a few personal donations have been made to the foundation already. Once the website is up and running, it will include an online donation feature.

"Our real goal is to try and help prevent other children and other families from suffering from devastating effects of severe traumatic brain injuries," Ken said.

Ken said Derek, who died of what was determined to be severe head trauma, will be used as a case study by the foundation to determine if any warning signs or other lessons can be learned. The goal is to both simultaneously learn as much as possible and educate others about the risks and warning signs.

"The more you research this, the more you find out it's the younger kids that are very susceptible and it doesn't have to be football," Ken said. "There's a lot of these injuries in soccer. Cycling is a big one. Even just kids falling in the playground as toddlers."

The Centers for Disease Control, according to Ken, estimate that there are as many as 3.8 million sports and recreational concussions in the United States every year. That breaks down to one every eight seconds. And most of them occur without that person losing consciousness, which ultimately leads to further damage.

"We're kind of in a culture where we tell people to brush it off and go back in," Ken said. "That's one thing if you have a twisted ankle. ... It's completely, completely different with a brain injury. As soon as you feel those warning signs, as soon as you think you might have a concussion, you really need to immediately seek attention."

On the morning of Aug. 22, Derek displayed symptoms of a potential head injury and was attended to by members of the Frostburg State athletic training staff. But shortly thereafter, Derek collapsed and had to be airlifted to a nearby hospital. Though it's too late for Derek, Ken wants to help other parents and children become aware of possible warning signs, like eye strain or dehydration. In the next-guy-up culture that football inevitably breeds, players will often pass off such symptoms to continue playing. That's the worst thing you can do, Ken said.

Ken hopes the foundation, in conjunction with similar non-profit organizations in the field of brain injuries, can help change that, while at the same time remember the kind of person Derek was. Like how he was an honors student and two-time academic all-conference honoree. Or like how he was literally loaning friends money out of his pockets to help them pay their bills.

Selflessness defined Derek, and it's precisely why, with his parents expecting no more than 200, 700 friends and students showed up to Derek's funeral service on Sept. 1.

"We want to have this foundation represent his legacy and the things that he stood for," Ken said.

Derek was honored this past Saturday, along with the rest of Frostburg State's senior class, on Senior Day. Derek's name now sits with those of former head coach Mike McGlinchey and assistant coach Lawren Williams on the rock of honor just off of Bobcat Field. It's fitting that Derek's name now adorns the very rock that about which he once proclaimed, in a roommate's class video project, "If you're not going to give 100 percent, then keep your hands off the rock."

Ken praised the support of the Frostburg State community, from students and coaches to professors and even the school president, Jonathan Gibralter. At the same time, he expressed disappointment with the NCAA, which has not even extended a letter of condolences to Ken, Kristen and their daughter Keyton.

"I had just assumed that any time a student-athlete in any sport passes away during a game or a practice in an NCAA-sanctioned thing, that they would at least do a ... review of film or medical records or helmets or whatever it may be, just to see if there was something that could be gleaned from that to prevent somebody else," Ken said.

"It makes me stop and think, 'If athletes' safety is not the core role of the NCAA, then I'm really concerned about what the NCAA is doing with all these billions of dollars that they make off of these athletes, whether they're Division I football stars playing in the BCS Championship, or whether they're a Division III soccer player or cross country runner or something.' As a parent, it really scares me how little the NCAA, in our case, has done. I can only speak for our case, but it's really frightening."

Ken said he isn't looking for someone to blame. He just wants the NCAA to care as much as he does.

But even this new foundation -- the one that carries his son's name -- won't be enough to quell the feelings of despair and helplessness. Ken, like Derek always did, just wants to help others.

"There isn't going to be a day that goes by for the rest of my life that I don't miss Derek and wonder what could have been and what kind of life and kids he would have had," Ken said. "He would have been a great father and a great coach."

Salisbury clinches Empire 8 title, NCAA berth

Salisbury entered this season -- its first in an automatic qualifier conference -- with a goal of winning the Empire 8 title and the playoff bid that came with it. After this past Saturday's 41-21 win over St. John Fisher, that goal officially became reality.

Salisbury, ranked No. 10 in this week's D3football.com Top 25 poll and No. 3 in the first regional rankings released last week, became the first East Region team to clinch a playoff berth. Though the loss to Wesley two weeks ago took Salisbury out of the running for a No. 1 seed, Salisbury still remains in line for at least one home game.

The Sea Gulls showed against the Cardinals why they have the potential for a deep playoff run. Randal Smedley rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns, including a 41-yard backbreaker in the fourth quarter to seal the Sea Gulls' win. Smedley led the ground attack, but five other players carried the ball at least three times -- three of which scored touchdowns.

Defensively, Salisbury held quarterback Ryan Kramer, one of the Empire 8's most lethal offensive weapons, in check by his standards. Jamey McClendon led the way with 17 tackles and one sack. The Salisbury defense has tormented opposing quarterbacks all season long, and that shouldn't change in the playoffs.

St. John Fisher is likely out of the playoff race, though if it defeats Hartwick and finishes 8-2, it will be in the mix. The Cardinals' schedule just doesn't look as strong now as it did at the beginning of the season, mainly due to disappointing seasons from Alfred and Ithaca.

NJAC, MAC titles up for grabs in final week

Salisbury knows its fate. But what will happen in the NJAC and MAC? Fittingly, we'll have to wait until the final week of the regular season to find out.

Montclair State hosts Kean and Delaware Valley hosts Widener in matchups that feature the top two teams in each conference. The winner of each game earns automatic bids to the playoffs, while the losers will have to hope for one of the six Pool C bids.

Montclair State needed overtime to knock off Rowan 37-31 Saturday, while Kean blanked William Paterson 45-0. Montclair State's Chris D'Andrea rushed for 110 yards and two scores, including the game-winning 1-yard plunge in the first overtime. Montclair State needed an 18-yard field goal from Tom Wilczynski on the last play of regulation to send the game into overtime.

In overtime, Rowan went three-and-out and missed on a 39-yard field goal that hit the left upright. On Montclair State's third play, D'Andrea broke free for a 24-yard run down to the 1. On the next play, he ended the game.

Montclair State quarterback Drew Cathey had some ups (318 yards, three touchdowns) and downs (three interceptions, one fumble lost) but made enough plays to help his team win. Cathey was forced into a starting role after Tom Fischer was lost for the season a few weeks ago.

Kean, which has played in six games decided by eight points or fewer this season, scored its most comfortable win of the year with a 45-point shutout of William Paterson. Tom D'Ambrisi connected with Chris Suozzo on touchdown passes of 21 and 39 yards in the first quarter, and the Cougars never looked back. And with the way Kean's defense played, the 14 points were more than enough. Kean allowed just 98 total yards of offense and forced two turnovers in a dominant showing.

Montclair State has won five of the last eight meetings against Kean dating back to 2003, but those eight matchups have been decided by an average of 7.8 points per game. Expect another classic this weekend.

Delaware Valley moved another step closer to its first 10-0 season since notching back-to-back seasons in 2004-05 with its 28-21 win over Lycoming. The Aggies' defense forced four turnovers -- including one of the game's final kickoff after scoring the go-ahead touchdown -- and tallied five sacks in a superb effort.

Quarterback Aaron Wilmer broke a late 21-21 tie with an eight-yard touchdown with just 13 seconds remaining to put Delaware Valley up for good. Wilmer also connected with Lewis Vincent on a 16-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and a key 50-yard scoring strike in the fourth quarter.

The final two minutes or so of this game were full of action. Lycoming's Zach Klinger capped a 12-play, 68-yard drive with a one-yard rushing touchdown that tied the game with just over one minute remaining. But a short kickoff allowed Delaware Valley to start their drive at their own 46-yard line. From there, Wilmer led the Aggies into the end zone in six plays.

Widener was idle this past weekend which, at least in theory, should give them an extra week to prepare and rest for their critical matchup. Delaware Valley and Widener have split the last four meetings, with Widener winning 28-27 last season. Like the NJAC battle, all signs point to this one being just as entertaining.

Hobart or Union -- who takes the Liberty League?

For the majority of the season, Hobart has looked like it would cruise to a Liberty League title. But looks aren't everything. That's why they play the games.

RPI did Union a huge favor by knocking off Hobart 29-28 Saturday, setting the stage for a Hobart must-win against Rochester. Union, which plays Empire 8 and soon-to-be Liberty League foe Springfield to close out the regular season, will win the Liberty League if Hobart loses. Hobart will win the conference if it defeats Rochester. Simple as that.

Hobart had a 21-0 lead over RPI in the first half but slowly let it slip away. By halftime the Statesmen only led 28-17. In the second half, RPI quarterback Mike Hermann threw his third touchdown and put RPI ahead on an 11-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. RPI failed the two-point conversion attempt, so Hobart needed only a field goal in the final 2:42 of regulation to remain unbeaten. But the Engineers' defense held, forcing a turnover on downs with Hobart at the RPI 36-yard line. Hobart opted to go for it on fourth-and-10 rather than attempt a 53-yard field goal, an understandable decision.

Union, led by Drew Connolly's 238 passing yards and three touchdown, defeated Merchant Marine 33-14 to keep the pressure on Hobart. Union earned at least a share of the conference crown, but won't pick up the automatic playoff bid unless Hobart loses.

Union also piled up 227 rushing yards in a well-balanced offensive attack. T.J. Franzese finished with a career-best 117 yards, while Darnel Thomas added 86 yards. Union has now won five of its last six games after a nine-game losing streak that dated back to the 2010 season.

Top 25 roundup: Salisbury joins top 10

Salisbury, coming off its Empire 8-clinching win over St. John Fisher, rose from No. 11 to No. 10 in this week's D3football.com Top 25 poll. Delaware Valley (No. 12 to No. 11) also jumped one spot.

NJAC contenders Kean (No. 16 to No. 14) and Montclair State (No. 17 to No. 15) rose two spots each, while Hobart dropped from No. 24 out of the top 25 after suffering its first loss of the season.

Cortland State, Widener, Hobart and St. John Fisher each received votes.

Quick hits

Dan Pitcher tied a school record with five touchdown passes as Cortland State beat Brockport State 64-43 in the highest-scoring game in Cortland history. Pitcher, who also added a pair of rushing touchdowns, now owns the Cortland season (26) and career (49) passing touchdowns records. Pitcher also has at least one touchdown in 11 straight games, a mark that ties his own school record. Dylan Umbra rushed for 128 yards and three touchdowns for Brockport. ... .T.J. Kilcarr passed for 211 yards and two touchdowns as Alfred held off Ithaca 21-19. The loss guarantees Ithaca's first non-winning season since 1970. Jarrett Naiden rushed for a career-high 141 yards for Ithaca. ... Mike Davis rushed for 164 yards and a touchdown in Springfield's 40-14 win over Utica, the Pride's final conference game as a member of the Empire 8. Mark Safer added 92 yards and two touchdowns, while quarterback Josh Carter rushed for three scores. ... Colt Zarilla passed for 277 yards and four touchdowns -- including three to Tim Picerno -- to lead Lebanon Valley past Wilkes 42-35. Ben Guiles added 208 yards and a score on the ground. ... Dean Kennedy connected with Thomas Hayes on an 82-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to lift Rochester to a 16-13 win over St. Lawrence. Rochester's Tony Ortega (13 tackles, two sacks) and St. Lawrence's Trevor Saunders (six tackles, two interceptions) had standout showings in the defensive battle. ... Joe Falco rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown as TCNJ defeated Western Connecticut 47-10 to finish the season unbeaten at home. James Donoghue passed for 148 yards and three scores and added another 102 yards and touchdown rushing for the Lions. Curtis Walker caught nine passes for 145 yards and a touchdown for Western Connecticut. ... T.J. Luddy completed 17of his 19 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns in Albright's 57-21 win over Stevenson. Luddy set new Albright and MAC records for completion percentage in a single game. Josan Holmes rushed for 114 yards and two scores for Albright, which finishes the season 6-4 overall. ... J.D. Hook rushed for 208 yards and one touchdown and Anthony Young caught 12 passes for 116 yards in Frostburg State's 35-28 win over Hartwick. Hartwick quarterback Dan Brainard threw for 275 yards and three scores in the loss. ... Jordan Boser had four tackles, two sacks and an interception as Buffalo State topped Morrisville State 58-31 in its season finale. Rich Pete rushed for 115 yards and three scores in the win, the 100th of head coach Jerry Boyes' career. ... Sean Norton rushed for 99 yards and a pair of touchdowns as FDU-Florham defeated King's 17-3 for its first win of the season. Steve Hoverson tallied two of FDU's five sacks.

Looking ahead

The NJAC title is on the line when Kean (8-1, 7-1) visits Montclair State (8-1, 7-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday. For these two teams, the goal is simple -- win and clinch an automatic berth. The losing team could still qualify as a two-loss Pool C team, but that's always a dicey proposition.

Likewise, the MAC crown is up for grabs when Widener (8-1, 6-1) visits Delaware Valley (9-0, 7-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday. Delaware Valley would likely garner a Pool C bid if it lost this one, but it doesn't want to risk it.

The formula is simple for Hobart as well -- win and get in. When Hobart (6-1, 4-1) faces Rochester (4-4, 3-2) on the road at noon Saturday, it will control its own destiny. Rochester is playing for a winning season, no small feat after a tough stretch to open the season.

Throw out the records when Cortland State (7-2, 7-2) visits Ithaca (4-5, 2-5) at noon Saturday in the annual Cortaca Jug battle. Cortland must win and hope for some serious help to secure a Pool C bid. Ithaca is trying to avoid its first losing season since 1969.

Other games of note: Springfield (6-3, 4-3) at Union (5-4, 5-1), noon, Saturday; FDU-Florham (1-8, 1-6) at Lycoming (7-2, 5-2), 1 p.m., Saturday; St. John Fisher (7-2, 5-1) at Hartwick (2-7, 0-6), 3 p.m., Saturday.

Contact me

I'm always happy to hear from you, whether its questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com. You can also follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell), and be sure to get involved in the discussions on the Around the East thread on the message board.

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Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is an associate news editor for ESPN.com and a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has contributed freelance work to ESPN Rise and has been a regular contributor to D3football.com since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing. A native of Hyde Park, N.Y., Andrew currently resides in New Britain. 

2006-10 columnist: Adam Samrov 

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