October 10, 2012

Staying on the sidelines

Tank Daniels' professional football experience includes a Super Bowl ring earned with the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
William Paterson athletics photo

Tank Daniels had to resist every primal urge in his mind and body.

He saw it all happen perfectly, just as he imagined it. He watched senior German Decenta jump up and intercept the ball at its highest point, just like he told him to. He watched Decenta find a lane and cut up field. And he watched the other 10 defensive players pave a way for Decenta to the end zone. Touchdown, William Paterson.

"I wanted to run down the field with them all," Daniels admits.

Daniels, a former NFL linebacker in his first year as an assistant secondary coach with the Pioneers, makes up one half of the Pioneers' ex-NFL player coaching duo. Shaun Williams, a former safety and first-round pick of the New York Giants, coaches the defensive backs and serves as the passing defensive coordinator. Daniels works primarily with the "bandits," the hybrid strong safety-outside linebacker players in William Paterson's 3-3 defense.

Both Williams and Daniels report to defensive coordinator Chadd Braine and head coach Jerry Flora, but their experience and knowledge of the game has undoubtedly had an impact on the Pioneers' defensive backs. Through five games, William Paterson ranks 11th in the country in passing defense (125.4 yards per game). 

"The biggest thing that they bring is the fact that they've played on the highest level," Flora said.

Williams, who started for the Giants in their Super Bowl XXXV loss to the Baltimore Ravens, spent eight seasons with the Giants and one with the Carolina Panthers. Daniels, who went undrafted in 2006, bounced around the league, first with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2006 and then with the Giants from 2007-08. Daniels has a Super Bowl ring from the Giants' 17-14 win over New England in Super Bowl XLII. Daniels also had short stints with the Eagles (again), the UFL's Hartford Colonials and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Once their playing days were over, both Williams and Daniels found their way to William Paterson. Williams, now in his fourth year with the staff, was referred by former Giants teammate and fullback Charles Way, the Giants' director of player development and a close friend of Flora's. Daniels lives near William Paterson and, after meeting with another local coach, reached out to Flora.

The Pioneers' fifth-year head coach was eager to add additional NFL experience to his staff while, at the same time, give another former experience in coaching.

"We want them to understand the whole scheme of things, because at the end of the day, there may be an opportunity some day for them to be head coaches," Flora said. "So I always want them to learn every single thing that goes into football."

Williams, 36, and Daniels, 30, never crossed paths in the NFL -- Daniels' first season came the season after Williams' last -- but the two have formed a close bond as coaches. Williams will occasionally remind Daniels he isn't the one putting on the pads anymore. Daniels, when given the chance, enjoys flaunting his ring.

"Yeah, we played on Super Bowl teams but I'm the one that has the win," Daniels said. "Believe me, I throw that in his face every time I get the chance to."

Shaun Williams started at free safety for the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV and has taken to coaching after not having considered it previously.
William Paterson athletics photo

Since Williams' arrival in the 2009 season, the Pioneers have never allowed more than 135 yards passing per game. The Pioneers ranked sixth in the country in passing defense last season, and third in 2010. Certainly Braine, the defensive coordinator who oversees the entire unit deserves credit, but Williams and Daniels have had a strong impact.

As the passing defensive coordinator, Williams is tasked with building a weekly scheme and creating coverages to slow down the opponent's passing attack. Daniels, for now, is more of a utility man, doing everything from breaking down video to working on techniques.

"I'm just learning from everyone," Daniels said. "Even though I'm on the defensive side, I've really just tried to be a sponge and soak it all in. I try to wear as many hats as I can."

Williams said he never considered the possibility of coaching until DeWayne Walker, then the defensive backs coach with the Giants and currently the head coach at New Mexico State, took him under his wing. Daniels, on the other hand, majored in kinesiology and had always considered a coaching career.

"Knowing the fact that I couldn't play sports forever, a way that I could be around it would be through coaching," Daniels said. "I didn't think I would be coaching this soon, but I love coaching and being around the kids."

When Williams and Daniels see players like Decenta, whose 70-yard interception return for a touchdown was the difference in William Paterson's 21-14 win against SUNY-Maritime two weeks ago, and senior Steve Bovo make plays, they feel a sense of pride unique to a coach. It's not the pride they used to feel when they made a big tackle or key interception. It's something different and, in a way, better.

"It makes me appreciate all the coaching that I had," Daniels said. "... There's so much work that goes into coaching that, honestly, I took for granted. I didn't know until now."

Williams said he hopes to secure a Division I job or coaching internship in the NFL in the future. Daniels readily admits that he wishes he were still playing, but said he's also embraced this next chapter of his football career.

"I don't even know if I've truly made a transition," Daniels said. "I love the fact that if I'm showing a guy how to do something, I don't even have to wear pads. ... I try to stay in shape and run around, but they still joke with me because they'll be like, 'Alright coach, you're breathing hard now. ...'

"I love football. I always want to be around it."

Salisbury still king of Empire 8

We knew it would be a close game, we knew it would be hard hitting, and we knew that it would basically decide the Empire 8 championship. We just didn't know if Salisbury would remain unbeaten in conference play.

Now, we do -- Salisbury is the best team in the Empire 8. That was previously a tough statement to debate, but after Saturday's 28-17 win against St. John Fisher, it can probably be stated as fact. Yes, Alfred is flying under the radar, and Fisher isn't going anywhere. But the Sea Gulls have yet to lose in Empire 8 play since joining the conference last season, and they might not this year.

Salisbury, currently ranked No. 7 in the D3football.com Top 25 poll, did what all great teams do -- it finished strong. Fisher took a 17-14 lead late in the third quarter on Tyler Fenti's 2-yard touchdown run. But Ross Flanigan's 5-yard touchdown run with 6:32 left in the fourth quarter put Salisbury back up. A 32-yard interception return for touchdown by Paul Moore a few minutes later sealed the Sea Gulls' win.

Flanigan rushed for two of Salisbury's three offensive touchdowns and led the team with 55 yards on the ground. Dan Griffin (12 carries, 33 yards) and Joe Benedetti (11 carries, 31 yards) were virtual non-factors in the running game. In fact, Fisher actually out-gained Salisbury on the ground and in total yards.

Fenti, a junior backup, was pressed into duty after the Cardinals lost starter Ryan Kramer to injury. Outside of the fourth quarter, Fenti faired decently. But a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions doomed the Cardinals. Would this game have had a different outcome with a healthy Kramer? It's not out of the question.

Salisbury's schedule sets up favorably, as three of its next four games come at home. St. John Fisher travels to Alfred this weekend for another key Empire 8 battle.

Kean rolls to third straight win

Kean caught plenty of people by surprise last season, especially with its season-opening upset of Wesley. The Cougars, coming off a 10-win season, were widely expected to compete for the NJAC title.

So perhaps a season-opening loss to Albright tempered expectations a bit. A Week 2 loss to Mary Hardin-Baylor was understandable, if not expected. But since then, Kean has rattled off three straight wins, each seemingly more impressive than the last. The latest, a 58-7 drubbing of Western Connecticut, was a showcase of the team's weapons.

Quarterback Christian Bailoni threw for 171 yards and three touchdowns, Darius Kinney rushed for 200 yards and two TDs, and even kicker Bill Cullen connected on a 45-yard field goal. Defensively, Kean held an improving Western Connecticut team to 150 total yards and forced four turnovers.

Kean is 3-0 in the NJAC, with wins against Brockport State, Morrisville State and Western Connecticut. Road games against William Paterson and TCNJ in the next two weeks present a prime chance to reach 5-0 in the conference.

After that, Cortland State and Rowan loom. The Cougars tallied close wins over both the Red Dragons and Profs last season. A repeat could mean another NJAC title.

Rochester heating up

When I usually break down the Liberty League, the conversation starts with Hobart and usually ends with Union or RPI. Springfield, a team this writer expected to make a playoff push, is mired in a down season.

I'll fully admit that seeing Rochester, following its 44-26 win against Merchant Marine last weekend, at 3-2 overall and just a game out of first place in the Liberty League standings surprised me a bit. Perhaps it's because the Yellowjackets have had some serious ups and downs this season. Or perhaps Rochester is just overshadowed by the Hobarts and Unions of the world.

Whatever the case, consider the Yellowjackets firmly on my radar now. Here's a team that has back-to-back conference wins under its belt, including an impressive 18-point road win. Here's a team that also beat Thiel in its season opener, and played St. John Fisher close in the Courage Bowl. The 30-point loss to Springfield? Sure, that one got away from them. But can the Yellowjackets, a team with four wins in each of the last three seasons, hang with the big boys in the Liberty League?

Quarterback Dean Kennedy, who had 247 passing yards, 65 rushing yards and two total TDs in the win over Merchant Marine, has been solid in his first season as a starter. The dual-threat QB is completing 60 percent of his passes and leads the team with three scores on the ground. Rochester's defense has also played well in spurts. At least eight players have one sack, and none more than 2.5, so there is productive depth at work.

Rochester faces RPI, Union, WPI and Hobart in its final four games, so we'll find out soon enough if the Yellowjackets will push the teams ahead of them. A more realistic goal, perhaps, would be winning two of those final four games. That would give Rochester its first winning season since 2007.

Top 25: St. John Fisher falls out of top 10

St. John Fisher, following its loss to Salisbury, dropped from No. 9 to No. 11 in this week's D3football.com Top 25 poll.

Salisbury (No. 7), Hobart (No. 12) and Widener (No. 17) all held steady for another week. Rowan climbed from No. 23 to No. 22.

Brockport State and Alfred also received votes in this week's poll.

Quick hits

Chuck Beckwith rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns as Alfred throttled Ithaca 31-7 on Saturday. The Saxons dominated the Bombers in the trenches, sacking Phil Neumann eight times, including 4.5 by Mike Raplee. ... Chris Haupt threw for 279 yards and three TDs -- including two to dynamic wide receiver Anthony Davis -- as Widener defeated Stevenson 56-20. ... Bobby Dougherty ran for 150 yards and three scores as Hobart out-rushed Springfield in a 28-7 victory. The Statesmen held the Pride's dangerous triple-option attack to just 150 yards on 47 carries. ... Louie Bianchini threw for 268 yards and four TDs -- each to different receivers -- in Rowan's lopsided 33-7 win over Montclair State. Rowan exploded for three touchdowns in the final 5:41 of the first half to put the game out of reach. ... Jarrin Campman caught six passes for 73 yards and two TDs and returned a punt 59 yards for a score in Lycoming's 42-7 win vs. FDU-Florham. Tyler Jenny threw four TD passes as Lycoming improved to 5-1 overall. ... Chris Rose tossed four TD passes and Andrew Tolosi returned an interception 32 yards for a score in Cortland State's 42-28 win against TCNJ. ... Connor Eck threw for one TD and ran for another in Union's 21-6 win vs. WPI. Jafar Johnson intercepted a pair of passes for Union, which held WPI to just 89 passing yards. ... Andrew Benkwitt set school records for completions (38) and touchdown passes (six) in Utica's 55-44 come-from-behind win against Buffalo State. Jeremy Meier caught 12 passes for 148 yards and four touchdowns in the shootout win. ... Tyrone Nichols rushed for 165 yards and two of Brockport State's four TDs on the ground in the Golden Eagles' 35-14 win over William Paterson. ... Mike Hermann passed for 277 yards and three touchdowns and added another 138 yards and score on the ground in RPI's 46-27 win over St. Lawrence. Wade Hansen tallied three of the Engineers' five sacks on the day. ... Patrick Ingulli rushed for 119 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Wilkes' 45-13 win vs. Misericordia.  

Looking ahead

No. 11 St. John Fisher (4-1, 1-1) will get a chance to bounce back from its first loss on the road against Alfred (3-1, 2-0) Saturday at 1 p.m. Both teams will have a hard time keeping pace with No. 7 Salisbury in the Empire 8, but this is a key game that could have Pool C ramifications.

Brockport State (4-2, 2-2) will try to win its second straight when it faces Cortland State (4-1, 4-0) on the road Saturday at 1 p.m. Cortland has been on fire since losing in its season opener. Brockport, after back-to-back losses, rebounded with a win against William Paterson last weekend.

Two under-the-radar Liberty League teams will meet when Rochester (3-2, 2-1) hosts RPI (4-1, 2-1) Saturday at 1 p.m. No. 12 Hobart garners the most attention, and rightfully so. But both Rochester and RPI has shown flashes of potential this season. This should be a good matchup.

Other games of note: Buffalo State (2-4, 0-3) at Ithaca (4-1, 2-1), Saturday, 1 p.m.; Wilkes (3-2, 2-2) at Lebanon Valley (3-2, 2-2), Saturday, 1 p.m.; TCNJ (2-3, 1-2) at Montclair State (2-4, 2-2), Saturday, 3 p.m.

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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