J.C. Morgan is ready to embark on his second season as head coach of the Millersville University football team.
Oddly enough, when the Marauders take the field at 7 p.m. Thursday for their season-opener at Pace, Morgan will be one of the longest-tenured guys on the visiting sideline.
The 2019 Millersville roster features 66 new players, including 46 true freshmen.
“There are a lot of guys who we haven’t seen once the lights come on,” Morgan said. “We just don’t know what we’re going to get. That’s exciting, but that also keeps me up at night.”
Digging a little deeper into the roster, of the 99 players listed at the end of summer camp, only 18 wore the black and gold two years ago. Only 25 players have played in an NCAA football game before.
“We really like the players we brought in,” said Morgan. “We had a large graduating class, and when you go through a transition, there are going to be some changes. That happens everywhere.”
This year’s team returns only three starters on defense and six on offense, including a familiar face in Collin Shank at quarterback. The Lampeter-Strasburg grad is now a redshirt junior and is another year removed from tearing his ACL and trying to learn a new offense.
A season ago, Shank completed 146 of 260 passes for 1,508 yards and six touchdowns, but he was picked off 13 times. He and the two others who lined up under center were sacked an NCAA Division II-high 64 times.
“When it comes to the sacks, we’ve had to make improvements all across the board,” Morgan said. “I think everybody looks at the line right away and wants to point fingers at them. Yeah, the line has to play better, but the quarterback has to do a better job setting himself up, getting the protections into the right place.”
Morgan expects Shank’s improved mobility and better understanding of the offense to help bring the sack total down in 2019.
“His decision-making is going to be a lot better,” said Morgan. “He’s had an extra year with the system. He’s starting to see things and anticipate things a lot better. He’s down 15-20 pounds, so he’s moving a lot better and he’s had another year to train after the knee injury.”
Two of Shank’s top targets will be wideouts Chris Dolan and Evan Morrill. Last year, Dolan broke the freshman record for receptions (45) and was second on the team in receiving yards (498).
Morrill, meanwhile, is a wrestler-turned-football player. He finished fourth at the NCAA Super Region 1 Championships last winter after he caught 35 passes for 354 yards on the football field in the fall.
“Evan is a different type of athlete,” said Morgan. “He’s gritty and he’s tough. He gives you everything he has. He’s emerging as a leader (voted one of six team captains) and I think he’s going to emerge as a playmaker this season.”
MU had the No.-1 pass defense in the PSAC last season, but lost everyone in the secondary and will have to replace four guys on the defensive line.
Three transfers — Datrell Reed, Ty Tate and A.J. McCloud — should help fill that void. Reed (6-4, 275) is a fifth-year senior who played three seasons at Villanova and Tate (6-2, 295) made 30 tackles as a true freshman for Division III power Wesley.
McCloud (6-4, 310), a Manheim Township grad, had 5.5 tackles for loss last season as the starting nose tackle at Lock Haven and joins the list of new faces.
“When you have a lot of young guys that you’re going to play, you get excited about what can be moving forward,” said Morgan. “But, we’re still talking about having the urgency to be successful now. We’re playing for 2019, we want to play for what we have in front of us and we want to win now.”