With spring practices a thing of the past, the Shippensburg University football team has come into the 2016 fall camp with energy and determination to improve on last year’s 8-3 campaign.
The Red Raiders were picked second in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Eastern Division Coaches Preseason Poll, trailing behind West Chester University.
“It’s gone well and the effort is there. They have worked and battled through the heat and it’s been pretty hot but we haven’t lowered our expectations of the workload or anything like that, so we’re going right after it like any other summer camp,” SU head coach Mark “Mac” Maciejewski said.
“These guys are working hard. The one thing we have to continue to do is improve. Every play matters, we need to give it 100 percent effort on every play and be more consistent. They are doing a good job and coming together as a family. You can really feel that as camp comes to a close,” Maciejewski said.
This season, the team will return 16 starters from last year’s squad, with nine of them on the defensive side of the ball. The team also returns starting quarterback Ryan Zapoticky, along with sophomore Richard Nase, who broke the school’s single-season sack record that was previously owned by Philadelphia Soul star Jake Metz.
“On paper, everything is good. You have to transfer all of that hard work and dedication onto the field and you have to play. Every play is going to be a difference maker on our side,” Maciejewski said.
“We have a lot of potential,” Maciejewski said. “I tell the team that every day; you have a lot of potential, on paper. Until you go and apply that on the field, at practice and in the weight room knowing the schemes as far as offense and defense, you have to put that time in to be different.”
“Our expectation as a team is a championship. We go out there every day trying to achieve that goal and we all know it starts one game at a time,” Zapoticky said. “We have the end goal in mind and we just need to take it day-by-day.”
“My expectations are for us to play hard, physical football for 60 minutes and to be disciplined in what we do and to have the passion and the pride to play this great game,” Maciejewski said. ”If you go out there and just go through the motions you are cheating the game and you are cheating yourself. It’s all about us playing with passion for 60 minutes, getting after it and having fun.”
The team will look to Zapoticky in his second season under center for leadership and consistent play. Last season Zapoticky threw for 2,345 yards and 27 touchdowns. He also tallied a school record 561 rushing yards by a quarterback as well as five touchdowns on the ground.
This season, Zapoticky is hoping to continue to improve on completing his passes and making the right read.
“I just want to be able to make better decisions. The game slows down as you get more experience and the guys around me do a great job of helping out,” Zapoticky said. “The offensive line has done wonders and they help slow the game down for me and the communication with them and the receivers is great.”
Coach Maciejewski spoke highly of his starting quarterback.
“He just continues to get better. He’s more comfortable with what we’re doing offensively. His reads are getting better and better, being able to check down and go through his progressions,” Maciejewski said.
“He’s not an unknown. We had a whole year with him and he did a great job for us so we have complete confidence in him and the team does as well.”
Defensively, the team is looking for another productive year out of Nase, who is poised to better himself and challenge his own sack record. Maciejewski reminds Nase that it’s a new season, however.
“The first thing [he needs to do] is quit reading press releases from last year, because it’s over. It’s back to ground zero and he has to prove himself again this season just like every other player on the team so expectations are high for everyone, including Richard Nase,” Maciejewski said.
“Again, you have to put the hard work in; you have to understand the defense and continue to climb that ladder. We expect him to get better every day just like everybody else. One thing he has is that he gives 100 percent effort. He’s got a great motor on him and he’s going to go hard every play. You can count on Richard going hard every single play that he’s in there and that’s the special part of it.”
Along with the team growing on the field, the team is also growing as a family. On August 19, the team accompanied Maciejewski to Grace B. Luhrs Elementary School on campus, for his kid’s first day of school.
“First off, it was great to see their first day of school, that was a great thing for me as being daddy, and as a coach, my players volunteered to come with me,” Maciejewski said.
“I was going to leave the meeting 10 minutes early and they are the ones who volunteered to come over. I didn’t make them do that, they wanted to and it not only made my kids smile, it made a lot of other kids smile as well.”
The next win for the SU football program will be No. 500 in its history.
“Five hundred is a big number so it’s cool to be the head coach. It doesn’t have a lot of meaning to us as the 2016 Red Raiders, but it does mean a lot to the alumni, players and people who have contributed to that number,” Maciejewski said.
The team will open its season on the road at American International College Sept. 3.