Tim McNerney had a slight drop-off in production during his second year as the feature tailback for the Washington & Jefferson College football team, but there's a good reason for his drop of 159 yards rushing from one season to the next.
McNerney, a Knoch High School graduate who resides in Penn Township, Butler County, rushed for 1,009 yards and 18 touchdowns in 224 carries during his sophomore season with the Presidents.
Last season was significantly different, as McNerney carried the ball only 180 times, and accounted for 850 yards and eight touchdowns. His junior season began on a sour note, as he missed two of the Presidents' first three games due to illness.
"I missed two games [weeks 2 and 3] with [mononucleosis]," McNerney said. "I was supposed to be out three weeks, but I didn't want to miss our big game with Thomas More. I had to have a special note from my doctor so I could play."
With McNerney in the lineup, the Presidents almost upset the three-time Presidents' Athletic Conference champions. McNerney rushed for 93 yards on 21 carries and scored one touchdown, but it wasn't enough, as Thomas More recorded a 35-32 victory en route to its fourth consecutive PAC title.
"It definitely set me back a little bit," McNerney said. "I felt a little suggish coming back. I was a little weaker, and had lost some weight, but I dealt with it. Hopefully, nothing like that happens this year, so I can play a full season."
McNerney, who stands in at 5 feet 10 and 200 pounds, needs 125 yards to reach 2,000 career rushing yards. He has no chance of breaking the Presidents school record of 5,714 career rushing yards set by Chris Babirad in 1992.
"I don't worry about numbers," McNerney said. "When I'm older, I'll probably look back and be proud of what I was able to accomplish, but the numbers don't mean much to me now. The only statistic that matters to me is wins. Our goal is to win enough games to be conference champions."
Washington & Jefferson has fallen short of reaching that goal during McNerney's first three seasons. The Presidents finished in a three-way tie for second place in last year's PAC standings and finished with a 6-4 overall record.
"All of our losses were close," McNerney said. "I don't like to make excuses, like saying this play or that play would have made a difference, but it shows us just how close we were to the title. Winning a PAC title is within our grasp."
To reach that level, McNerney and his Presidents teammates must cut down on mistakes.
"We just have to play better," McNerney said. "We made too many mistakes last year, too many turnovers, and too many penalties. It's that simple. We have enough talent on this team to win a conference title, but must cut down on the mistakes."
McNerney is one of five key skilled players returning for the Presidents. Also back are quarterback Matt Bliss (2,153 yards and 15 touchdowns passing), and receivers Alex Baroffio (70 catches, 1,102 yards, 10 touchdowns), Hunter Creel (43 catches, 394 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Max Creighan (20 catches, 175 yards).
"It's going to be exciting," McNerney said. "We've got a lot of guys who can make big plays, so we can spread the ball around. Having a balanced offense is so important in a close game. The defense doesn't know what to expect.
"We just have to stay focussed, especially in the conference. You can't take a week off in this conference. Every PAC opponent is strong."
Presidents coach Mike Sirianni has been very impressed with McNerney's progress over the past two seasons.
"Timmy has developed into a good leader," Sirianni said. "He takes responsibility for his actions on and off the field. He's a great back. He's very elusive. He'll run you over. He's fast enough to run by you. And he's developed into a pretty good receiver out of the backfield. He's becoming a total back. We need him to have a big season this year."
McNerney didn't get a chance to play at Heinz Field during his career at Knoch, but did see the Knights play in the 2011 WPIAL Class AAA title game against Montour.
"It was an awesome experience to see my high school play at Heinz Field," McNerney said. "It was disappointing to see them lose, but it was quite an accomplishment to get that far."
The Knights' 2011 performance reminded McNerney of his junior year at Knoch.
"We made it to the WPIAL semifinals that year, but I couldn't play because I got injured in the quarterfinals," McNerney said.
First Published August 16, 2012 4:00 AM