It might be a new conference for the Case Western Reserve University football team, but for Chartiers Valley High School graduate Sean Lapcevic, it will be business as usual as the Spartans begin dual membership in the Presidents Athletic Conference and the University Athletic Association along with fellow UAA member Carnegie Mellon.
The Spartans and the Tartans open the season at 7 p.m. on Sept. 6 in Cleveland in the 29th annual Academic Bowl. The Spartans also will continue to play UAA members Chicago and Washington University of St. Louis along with the Presidents Athletic Conference rivals. A year ago, Case Western defeated Carnegie Mellon, 35-32, at the Tartans' Gesling Stadium.
"I'm just going to continue to prove myself in every aspect of my game," said Lapcevic, an accounting major who will be a four-year starter. "I haven't set any specific personal goals. I'm just focused on winning games."
Lapcevic, who resides in the Presto section of Collier Township, is a receiver in a run-oriented offense. But he gets plenty of chances to touch the ball as he also returns punts and kickoffs. Last season, Lapcevic set a school record with 614 kick return yards, an average of 20.5 yards per return. He also led the UAA with 1,164 all-purpose yards. With a new quarterback, Billy Beecher, at the controls of the offense, Lapcevic anticipates a change in Case Western's style of play.
"This year will be more of a run-oriented offense," he said. "Erik Olson [last year's starting QB] was more of a drop-back passer. I'm not exactly sure what to expect from the offense, but there will be a lot more running and more option plays.
"[Beecher] is a running threat, and he can keep plays alive. Sometimes on pass plays, those are the biggest plays if a play is broken, he might have to run the ball. He presents that duel threat for the offense."
Running the ball could pay off well for the speedy Lapcevic. If he isn't catching the ball as a receiver, he might be catching laterals from Beecher and running upfield with the ball from behind the line of scrimmage.
"That would bring me back to my high school days," he said.
Regardless, Lapcevic isn't likely to be idle as he is the Spartans' primary threat when returning kicks and punts. He said there is definitely an attitude adjustment when he's awaiting a kick or a punt.
"You have to change your mind-set when you are returning kicks [and punts]," he said. "You can't hesitate at all. If you see any sort of opening, you have to take advantage of that right away. You have to be pretty fearless to be running at 11 guys who are coming at you full speed."
With the team now competing in the Presidents' Athletic Conference, the Spartans will see plenty of new teams on the heels of a 5-4 season it completed a year ago. Lapcevic is looking forward to a schedule that features six teams from Western Pennsylvania.
"I heard some of the other coaches talking about their players [at PAC Media Day], and they were familiar names from high school," he said. "All of those schools are pretty close to where I'm from in Pittsburgh, and I trained with a lot of the guys whom I'll be playing against. So, it is exciting."
As a Pittsburgh area native going to college in Cleveland, Lapcevic said there are plenty of students from his home area attending Case Western.
"The football team recruits a lot from Western Pennsylvania," he said. "Sometimes, it feels like there are more Steelers fans than Browns fans on campus. And it is fun to go back and forth about it, but the Steelers have the Browns number for now."
Lapcevic hopes he and the Spartans can pile up plenty of their own numbers this season in the Presidents Athletic Conference and the UAA this season.