West/North Xtra: Highlands grad hopes to rebound for RMU


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The game has gotten slower for Robert Morris quarterback Jeff Sinclair, who plans to speed up his decision-making this season.

"I'm reading defenses better," said Sinclair, a senior and fourth-year starter. "I know what I'm looking at so I'm going to get rid of the ball quicker. I've been there. I've seen things."

But Sinclair, a 2009 Highlands High School graduate, doesn't like what he sees when he watches video of himself holding onto the ball and getting sacked or running around aimlessly before getting hit.

"It's stupid," he said of those plays. "I need to improve on my pocket passing and make better choices when to run."

The Colonials return 17 starters -- eight on offense, seven on defense and two specialists -- from a 2-9 team that lost its final six games of the season. They are picked to finish sixth in the Northeast Conference in a preseason poll of the league's nine coaches.

"We want to get back [to where we were]," Sinclair said of the Colonials, who won the Northeast Conference championship in 2010 and participated in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division 1-AA) playoffs.

"Last year wasn't what we expected at all, for myself and the team. Last year there was a lot of disappointment because we had higher standards. We really worked hard in the offseason ... we can't accept 2-9."

His voice rose a decibel as he added, "It's time to go."

Sinclair's statistics in 2011 declined from the gaudy numbers he put up during the championship season when he was named to the All-NEC first team -- 50 percent completion, 1,920 yards passing, 22 touchdowns, 10 interceptions. A year ago, he passed for 1,373 yards, 11 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and ran for 231 yards and six touchdowns despite missing the Colonials' final two games with a knee injury.

"I'm not even worried about it," said Sinclair, who lives in the Natrona Heights section of Harrison Township. "It's healed and good to go.

"I've been working on getting rid of the ball faster and to improve on my pocket passing. I know the playbook like the back of hand. I'm going to be throwing on rhythm more.

"In the past, I've pulled it down sometimes a little quickly and ran. I'll still run, but I'm going to make the right choices when to run."

Sinclair is fifth on the school's career list in completions (322), passing yards (4,121) and touchdown passes (42) and is tied for sixth in rushing touchdowns (14).

"I'm a lot better than I was as a freshman," he said. "I made some mistakes I'll never make again. The experience helps. I have mixed emotions because this is my last season, but this is the most excited I've ever been coming into a season."

Sinclair will be throwing to an untested corps of receivers because the top four pass-catchers from last season are gone.

"I'm comfortable with the guys we have," said Sinclair, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound right-hander, whose weight is up about 36 pounds from the end of last season. "I feel stronger and I didn't lose any speed. I'm hoping I can take a few more hits and not go down."

The Colonials won't have much time to catch their breath because they open the season at defending national champion North Dakota State on Sept. 1 and host NEC champion Albany on Sept. 8.

"We''re looking forward to the challenges," Sinclair said. "We'll be ready."


First Published August 16, 2012 4:00 AM


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