Tartans Picked Fifth in PAC Football Preseason Poll

Tartans Picked Fifth in PAC Football Preseason Poll

(LATROBE, Pa.) – The Presidents' Athletic Conference (PAC) held its annual football media day on Wednesday, August 2, where the Carnegie Mellon University football team was selected to finish fifth in the 2017 PAC preseason poll. Media day was held at the Sis and Herman Dupré Science Center on the campus of Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Thomas More garnered 23 first-place votes and a total of 345 points to headline this year's preseason poll. Washington & Jefferson was second with six first-place votes and 308 points, followed by Case Western Reserve in third and Westminster in fourth. Case Western Reserve received three first-place votes while Westminster garnered one.

Joining Tartan head coach Rich Lackner, who is in his 32nd year at the helm of the program, was senior wide receiver  John Prather (Olney, Md./Our Lady Of Good Counsel), as the two participated in a question and answer session with the other 10 PAC schools.

Lackner spoke about what it would take in 2017 to continue the success from the last two seasons where the Cardinal and Gray recorded 15 wins with two consecutive appearances in the ECAC Legacy Bowl. The 2017 team returns 18 starters on offense, defense and special teams.

"The past is great, but we are always looking to the future. I think it has a lot to do with chemistry," said Lackner. "It also has a lot to do with unselfish players where the team is much more important than any stat. Hopefully we come together as a team. We have had some great players graduate over the last two seasons and now it's time for the younger kids to step up."  

Prather, an All-PAC second team selection last season, has played in all 32 games of his career including 27 starts. He became the program's single-season receiving leader last year with 1,125 yards receiving which ranked second in the PAC. His 66 receptions in 2016 was also the program's single-season school record. Prather ranks second on the school's all-time list with 2,045 receiving yards and 131 receptions for his career needing 111 yards and 17 receptions to become the all-time career leader in each. The senior will enter the season having caught at least on reception in 25 straight games and in 30 games total over the last three seasons.

Prather talked about how the captains and other senior leaders, as well as the coaching staff has pushed the team this offseason to make sure they finish every play.

"This last spring practice was the best in my three years at Carnegie Mellon," said Prather. "Using that to propel us into the summer and into the season, we are looking to take the next step as a program this season."

Carnegie Mellon returns preseason All-American and Lindy's Sports pick as Most Valuable Player in senior running back Sam Benger (Hingham, Mass.). Benger is also a two-time PAC Offensive Player of the Year. He will enter his final season as the program's all-time leading rusher, as he has ran for 4,333 yards in 32 career games. The senior has rushed for 49 touchdowns in three seasons and needs 10 more to become the school's all-time leader. His yardage currently ranks fifth on the PAC all-time list while his carries (725) and rushing touchdowns rank sixth. At the conclusion of last season, Benger was named All-America by two organizations and is now a five-time honoree.

On defense, Carnegie Mellon returns 2016 preseason All-American senior safety Drew Fitzmorris (Omaha, Neb./Westside) who missed the entire 2016 season with an injury. During his sophomore season, Fitzmorris was a first-team All-PAC honoree after leading the Tartans with 87 tackles and the PAC with six interceptions. Joining Fitzmorris in the secondary will be junior corner back Ethan Anderson (McMurray, Pa./Peters Township) and senior safety Jacob Johnson (Terre Haute, Ind./Terre Haute South Vigo), both of who started in four games a year ago with Anderson playing in all 11 games and Johnson in eight.

The Tartans return four senior linebackers that appeared in every contest a year ago. In the inside, Stanley Bikulege (Greer, S.C./Saint Joseph's Catholic) and Sean Graff (Oswego, Ill.) paired up with Kyle Brittain (Largo, Fla./Clearwater Central Catholic) and Quentin Wolfe (Round Rock, Texas/Stony Point) at the outside position. Bikulege led the team with 105 tackles and finished the season third on the team with 3.5 sacks for a loss of 11 yards. His 105 tackles ranked fourth best in a single-season for the Tartans. Brittain was third on the team with 72 tackles, 43 solo, and tied for the team lead with two interceptions. ¬ Wolfe was the Tartans fourth leading tackler with 68, including 31 solo stops, while Graff recorded 31 tackles and had six pass breakups a year ago.

Senior punter Tyler Kohman (Pataskala, Ohio/Columbus Academy), who was named to the All-South Region Third Team by D3football.com a year ago, returns for the Tartans. Kohman was second in the PAC with an average of 42.9 yards per punt and ranked seventh nationally. He recorded 13 punts of 50 yards or more including a career-best 61-yarder and placed 19 of his 53 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Also on special teams, sophomore William Richter (Leander, Texas/Cedar Park) returns. Richter, a second team All-PAC honoree in 2016, combined for 935 return yards, which ranked seventh nationally and second in the PAC.
Carnegie Mellon will open the 2017 season on Saturday, September 2, with a road contest in St. Louis to play the Bears of Washington University. Kickoff is set for 11:00 a.m. CT. The Tartans first PAC contest will take place at Waynesburg on Saturday, September 16.

2017 PAC Preseason Poll:
1. Thomas More: 23 first-place votes (345 pts.)
2. Washington & Jefferson: 6 first-place votes (308 pts.)
3. Case Western Reserve: 3 first-place votes (302 pts.)
4. Westminster: 1 first-place vote (271 pts.)
5. Carnegie Mellon (255 pts.)
6. Saint Vincent: (189 pts.)
7. Bethany (139 pts.)
8. Thiel (115 pts.)
9. Geneva (101 pts.)
10. Waynesburg (80 pts.)
11. Grove City (73 pts.)