With the top offensive player in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference returning, along with 12 other starters, it’s no surprise that Thomas More has been tabbed as the team to beat.
Thomas More, located in Crestview Hills, Ky., received 29 of 34 first-place votes and a total of 367 points in the PAC preseason poll, announced Wednesday at Saint Vincent College.
“Being selected number one in the PAC’s preseason poll is a credit to both our past and present players,” Thomas More coach Jim Hilvert said. “We still have to go out every Saturday and play with a chip on our shoulder.”
Thomas More has 13 starters returning. It shared the PAC title with Washington & Jefferson. The Presidents were awarded the conference’s only berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs after their 45-21 win against Thomas More midway through the regular season.
The Saints have seven starters returning on offense, including senior tailback Domonique Hayden, who was named 2013 PAC offensive Player of the year after leading NCAA Division III rushers with 2,017 yards and 25 touchdowns on 242 carries. Junior quarterback Jensen Gebhardt, who threw for 2022 yards and 22 touchdowns, returns along with his top two receivers.
“Talent-wise, Thomas More has to be considered the favorite,” said Washington & Jefferson College football coach Mike Sirianni, who has a career .808 winning percentage (101-24) and is a five-time PAC coach of the year.
But Sirianni isn’t about to concede the title to the Saints.
“We may not be the favorite, but we’re two-time defending conference champions,” he said. “Don’t count us out.”
Washington & Jefferson was second in the preseason poll with two first-place votes and 330 points. The Presidents lost 11 starters to graduation, including quarterback Matt Bliss, who threw for 2,089 yards and 18 touchdowns, and wide receiver Alex Baroffio, who caught 91 passes for 1,051 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Waynesburg was third in the voting with one first-place vote and 293 points. The Yellow Jackets have 13 starters returning from a squad that placed third in the conference. Waynesburg returns all but two starters on an offense led by quarterback Carter Hill (3,102 yards, 28 touchdowns).
The PAC is celebrating its 60th anniversary and features 11 football teams, as Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve are now affiliate members.