PFL upstart Davidson gaining respect
By CRAIG HALEY
(STATS) - Davidson may have been the most-entertaining team in the FCS last season.
Wildcats' games averaged 86 points with them winning 45-41. They led the FCS in rushing while finishing 6-5 for their first winning season since 2007.
Few foresaw the success, especially considering Davidson had a new coach in Scott Abell, who had never been on the Division I level previously, and the Wildcats entered the season off the worst five-year run in the FCS, where they beat only one D-I opponent.
This season, Davidson won't sneak up on the opposition, as suggested Tuesday with a fifth-place prediction in the Pioneer Football League's preseason coaches poll. As expected, San Diego was installed as the favorite for the ninth straight year.
While San Diego owns the longest conference winning streak in the FCS at 29 games, Davidson had been the polar opposite until last season - both geographically in North Carolina and in the PFL standings, where they had won only once in a span of 41 league games from 2013-17.
Opponents may have seen "Davidson" on the opposing jersey, but they didn't necessarily sense the new culture under Abell. The Wildcats went 3-5 in the PFL with four of the losses by seven or fewer points.
"We talked about it a lot, the successes we had in year one," Abell said, "but we looked a lot at some of the areas that we just missed on and how we are going to get over the hump and maybe finish some of the opportunities that we didn't finish last year. You can see the leadership in our group really come alive when we began to talk about that. That's a driving force for us - how do we get better, how do we take that next step? I saw a team this spring that was ready to take that next step, that wants to take that next step."
Optimism abounds with the return of seven starters on each side of the ball. Quarterback Tyler Phelps returns to direct the option, which features two-time 1,000-yard running back Wesley Dugger.
On defense, safety Dreylan Hines was named the PFL's 2018 co-freshman defensive player of the year, while lineman Bryce Perry-Martin led the league with 15 tackles for loss.
PIONEER FOOTBALL LEAGUE PRESEASON POLL
Head Coaches Poll
1. San Diego (7 first-place votes), 79 points
2. Dayton (2), 66
3. Drake (1), 64
4. Marist, 52
5. Davidson, 48
6. Stetson, 44
7. Butler, 37
8. Jacksonville, 30
9.(tie) Morehead State, 15
9.(tie) Valparaiso, 15
PIONEER FOOTBALL LEAGUE PRESEASON TEAM
QB - Calvin Turner Jr., Jacksonville, Jr.
RB - Wesley Dugger, Davidson, Jr.
RB - Emilio Martinez, San Diego, Jr.
FB - Garnett Nicolas, Jacksonville, So.
WR - Michael Bandy, San Diego, Sr.
WR - Steve Burdette, Dayton, Sr.
WR - Steven Doran, Drake, Gr.
TE - Adam Trautman, Dayton, R-Sr.
OL - Ethan Steinbacher, Davidson, Sr.
OL - Dane Cordell, Jacksonville, R-Jr.
OL - Michael Niese, Dayton, Sr.
OL - Dan Wittekind, Marist, Sr.
OL - Josh Poe, Morehead State, R-Sr.
DL - Gavin Dineen, Drake, Sr.
DL - Nick Friedel, San Diego, R-Jr.
DL - Bryce Perry-Martin, Davidson, Sr.
DL - Erin Morgan, Drake, Gr.
LB - Andrew Lutgens, Dayton, Sr.
LB - Colby Duncan, Stetson, R-Sr.
LB - Mason Brunner, Butler, Sr.
LB - Kama Kamaka, San Diego, Jr.
DB - Will Warner, Drake, Sr.
DB - J.J. Henderson, Stetson-R-Jr.
DB - Luke Sennett, Butler, R-Sr.
DB - Jamari Booker, Valparaiso, Sr.
PK - Drew Bevelhimer, Butler, Sr.
P - Tanner Kuljian, San Diego, R-Jr.
RS - Michael Armstead, San Diego, Sr.
LS - Mason Brunner, Butler, Sr.
Updated July 30, 2019