W&J The Choice in the PAC
Written by: William Albright on Tuesday, August 12th, 2008
LATROBE — Although Washington & Jefferson is the unanimous pick to win the 2008 President’s Athletic Conference football championship, it might be best if you would wait a while before sending in the final results.
The Presidents return 58 letter winners and 16 starters from last year’s 10-1 squad which captured the 22nd PAC football title in school history. W&J also returns 22 seniors to the gridiron who are searching for their fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Division III playoffs.
However, there are a few other teams in the PAC that might have something to say about who wins the championship and nobody knows that any better than W&J head coach Mike Sirianni.
“It is nice to be the favorite, but as past preseason polls have shown, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll get the trophy at the end of the year,” said Sirianni. “Three different teams have won the PAC over the past five years and that shows how much the conference has improved. Our seniors are hoping to win their third in a row.”
Although Grove City’s Chris Smith, Thiel’s Jack Leipheimer and Westminster’s Jeff Hand all have hopes of their team getting a piece of the pie at the end of the year, all three also know the President’s are the team to beat.
“They (W&J) just seem to replace people,” said Hand. “They have an outstanding quarterback and what can you say about the greatness he (Bobby Swallow) shows in his play. It is not like he (Sirianni) returns a bunch defensively, but they are still very solid. Actually, they are pretty dog, done good.”
While Leipheimer agrees with Hand’s assessment of the Presidents, he was quick to point out that you had better be ready to play every time you take the field.
“Every single Saturday you never know for sure what is going to happen,” said Leipheimer. “With the improvement in programs like Bethany, Westminster, Grove City and ourselves (Thiel), you never know. They (W&J) certainly have to be the hands-on favorite with all of the players they return, but the conference is very competitive and I certainly wouldn’t count anyone out.”
Although the President’s are coming off an outstanding season with a lot of returnees, Smith feels that how they bounce back from the way the season ended will dictate a lot on how they play, especially early in the season.
“They had a very disappointing ending (to the 2007 season) and how they respond to that will play a large part in their success,” said Smith, the dean of coaches in the PAC. “They can use that as a springboard to be better or it could become a stumbling block that you just can’t get by. Nobody knows how that is to going to play out, but they certainly do have the talent to be very, very good.”
As for the conference overall, Smith feels that parity among the teams plays an important role in what happens.
“If you look at the top five or six teams, it is going to be a real dog fight every Saturday,” he said. “Waynesburg picked up a couple of transfers, Thomas More has a couple of difference-makers who are now healthy and I think that Westminster has a chance to make some noise in there as well. Jack does a great job at Thiel and going into the season, I am very excited about our program and our situation.”
The conference held its annual kickoff luncheon at St. Vincent College in Latrobe. One of the highlights that always come out of that get-together is the pre-season poll as a result of balloting by the head coaches, sports information directors and the members of the media.
Here is how that poll turned out with the total points listed in parentheses:
1. Washington & Jefferson (192), 2. Waynesburg (165), 3. Westminster (100), 4. Grove City (97), 5. Thomas More (87), 6. Bethany (78), 7. Thiel (65).
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