(LATROBE, Pa.) – The Presidents' Athletic Conference (PAC) held its annual football media day on Tuesday, where the Carnegie Mellon University football team was selected to finish fifth in the 2019 PAC preseason poll. Media day was held at the Robert S. Carey Center Student Lounge on the campus of Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
Washington and Jefferson College garnered 23 first-place votes and a total of 298 points to headline this year's preseason poll. Case Western Reserve University was second with six first-place votes and 277 points, followed by Westminster College in third place and collected two first-place votes and 241 points, Grove City College was fourth (219) and the Cardinal and Gray came in at fifth (194).
Head coach Rich Lackner was asked about the strength of this year's team as well as the loss of the program's all-time leading passer, rusher and receiver and how the team will be able to bounce back offensively from the loss of these players the last two seasons.
"Those guys were all great players. They have had wonderful careers," said Lackner. "It's an exciting time for us as coaches because that's what we do; we bring up those young guys and coach them. We try and make them better and record setters themselves."
Joining 34-year Tartan head coach at media day was senior defensive lineman Long Tran (Harrisburg, Pa./Susquehanna Township), an All-PAC honorable mention honoree in 2018. Tran is one of 12 players on the defensive side of the ball who saw starts in three games or more, as well as another handful of players that saw action in all 10 games.
Tran is the top returning tackler for the Tartans and is returning for a fifth season after missing his junior year with a medical condition. The senior led the Tartans with 7.5 sacks and 11.0 tackles for loss, which ranked fifth and 11th in the PAC. Tran also posted a career-high 39 tackles and forced a fumble.
"Having an extra year has been extremely helpful for my development as a player and as a student of the game," said Tran. "I think that experience and chemistry can be something that takes a good defense to a great defense. When you have 12 returners understand that you might have to take on a block and not get the best stats, but the guy next to you makes the tackle to prevent a big play, you have a formula for success. I think we have that with the guys we are bringing back."
Along with Tran, the Tartans return six All-PAC honorees from last season. Senior cornerback Anthony Kennon (Lancaster, Mass./Nashoba Regional) was a second team selection a year ago and is joined by three seniors, defensive lineman Michael Lohmeier (Clarendon Hills, Ill./Hinsdale Central), outside linebacker Quinn Gaughan (Elmhurst, Ill./York Community) and safety Thomas Polutchko (Southborough, Mass./Algonquin Regional) and junior defensive lineman Skyler Blacker (Lake Bluff, Ill./Libertyville), who were honorable mention honorees a year ago. All six appeared in all 10 games for the Cardinal and Gray.
Kennon led the PAC with 16 passes defended and ranked fourth with four interceptions. Two of his picks came in the Tartans' victory at nationally ranked Case Western Reserve with the last coming in the end zone during overtime. Kennon finished the season with 38 tackles, 26 solo. Lohmeier recorded 5.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for a loss, which both ranked second on the team behind Tran, while ranking ninth in the PAC in sacks. Gaughan led the team with 70 tackles and 38 solo stops while Polutchko was third with 61 stops and 31 solo. The safety also recorded three interceptions. Blacker was a force on the defensive line with Tran and Lohmeier. The junior tabbed 25 tackles and recorded two blocked kicks last season.
The Tartans special teams and offense both return two All-PAC selections from 2018. Senior Willie Richter (Leander, Texas/Cedar Park) garnered first team honors as a returner while sophomore placekicker Brandon Nguyen (Maitland, Fla./Lake Highland Preparatory) were named to the second team. Senior running back Chris Haas (Coronado, Calif./Coronado) and junior offensive lineman Bram Miller (Colgate, Wis./Kettle Moraine Lutheran) both landed on the honorable mention squad last season.
Richter averaged 11.6 yards per punt return, which ranked second in the conference and 22nd nationally a year ago. He finished the season with a combined 515 return yards. Richter was also second on the team with 35 receptions for 512 yards and two touchdowns in 2018. Nguyen ended his first year as the team's leading scorer with 54 points, which ranked eighth best in the PAC. The placekicker converted 33-of-35 point-after-attempts and was 7-of-11 on field goals with a long of 45 yards.
Both Haas and Miller appeared in all 10 games for the Tartans last season and Miller has now played in every game of his career with 18 starts upfront. Haas led the Tartans with 593 yards rushing along with five touchdowns on the ground last season. In the Tartans Academic Bowl victory over Case Western Reserve, he ran for a career-high 218 yards on 36 carries and a pair of touchdowns, including the game winning score in overtime.
Carnegie Mellon will open its 2019 season on Saturday, September 7, with a road contest against MIT. Kickoff is set for 12:00 p.m. The Tartans first PAC contest will take place at Geneva College on Saturday, September 14 at 7:00 p.m.
2019 PAC Preseason Poll:
1. Washington & Jefferson (23 first-place votes): 298 points
2. Case Western Reserve (6): 277 points
3. Westminster (2): 241 points
4. Grove City: 219 points
5. Carnegie Mellon: 194 points
6. Bethany: 138 points
7. Waynesburg: 118 points
8. Geneva: 98 points
9. Saint Vincent: 77 points
10. Thiel: 45 points