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Young Colonels have speed, agility, talent

August 17, 2003|MIKE MARSEE

Experience does count for something, but it isn't the only thing they're counting on at Centre College.

For one thing, the Colonels figure to have speed on their side. There's also strength, agility and a fair amount of talent.

But experience? That isn't the area where Centre is best equipped for the coming season.

"We're a young football team," Centre coach Andy Frye said. "The only thing we're missing is experience. Probably our biggest objective coaching-wise is how to get these kids to the point of being experienced."

There's only one way to do that, of course. The Colonels lost 16 seniors from last year's team, and this year's senior class is relatively small with only 11 players.

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Centre comes off a 6-4 season that Frye called disappointing, but as he enters his sixth season as the Colonels' coach, he said the program is getting closer every year to being in position to win conference championships and NCAA playoff berths.

"We're not ashamed to say our goal is to try to get to the NCAA playoffs," Frye said. "But this is a process."

That process has been made all the more difficult by the rise of Trinity, which has become the dominating force in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference and one of the best teams in the country.

"It's raised everyone's level," Frye said. "It has made us better. We can consider ourselves a top-30 school, but we want to try to get in position now to be a top-10 team. Once you get in the top 10, now you're competing for something."

There will be competition within Centre practices as well, and the battles for positions will give the Colonels better depth, Frye said.

"I think we'll have decent depth," he said. "The people that are competing at those positions are athletes."

The Centre coach said that is due in large part to the work of offensive coordinator Rick Fox, who also serves as the team's strength and conditioning coach.

"Rick has done an outstanding job getting our kids trained in the off-season," Frye said.

You can't teach speed, of course, and that's something Frye said this Centre team has been blessed with plenty of.

"This might be one of the fastest teams we've had in a long time," Frye said. "We're excited about our team speed."

Frye said 13 of 55 players expected to be in camp this month were timed at 4.65 seconds or better in the 40-yard dash, and 21 were timed under 4.8.

That doesn't even include the linemen. But Frye said there is plenty of agility up front, which is one area where Centre is especially lacking in experience.

"This offensive line is much more athletic than the ones that graduated," he said. "The ones that start might run 5.1s.

"They've got agility, but they don't have experience. And the defensive line is in the same situation."

There is more experience among Centre's skill players, as four veterans return to lead the Colonels' offense.

Senior Lorenzo Engleman will assume the role of the team's top running back, because Jeremy Britt, last year's leading rusher, is not returning to the team this season.

Engleman rushed for 256 yards last year, getting fewer than half the number of carries as Britt. He also led Centre in receptions with 45, making him a double threat in the backfield.

"He's going to be a multi-dimensional player," Frye said. "Lorenzo can catch the ball very well. And there's no question 'Zo' has earned the right to be the tailback."

Engleman will once again get the ball from quarterback Brian Behrendt, who threw for 2,396 yards and 16 touchdowns last year as a sophomore. Behrendt won his first four games, but on the whole the season was a series of ups and downs.

"He grew up during the season," Frye said. "I can't think he's not any more prepared than (predecessor) Drew Mildren was coming out of his sophomore year."

The top returning receivers are seniors Adam Schneider (36 catches, 540 yards) and Nate Woodall (22 catches, 240 yards).

On defense, Centre returns a pair of all-SCAC linebackers in senior Solomon Parker and junior Brian Downs (last year's leading tackler), as well as junior Jared Zywein, who missed last season after tearing a knee ligament in the preseason.

But Centre's athleticism may be best displayed in the secondary, where three-sport star John Ortega returns for his senior season.

The fleet-footed Ortega finished a close second in total tackles last year and also earned all-conference honors.

"John could be one of the best football players in the country," Frye said. "He's so fast, he's explosive and he sees his field."

Centre opened its preseason camp Saturday, and Frye said new NCAA rules limiting practice time and all but eliminating two-a-days will present a further challenge to the young Colonels' preparation.

"Whoever is able to utilize their practices to the point where they get the most out of it I think will have an advantage in the first two weeks of games," Frye said.

"The biggest thing for coaches is who can be the most effective teachers."

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