Frostburg State (3-0) has one of Division III's best defensive units, a development fourth-year coach Dennis Riccio attributes largely to his three down linemen.
"As a group," he said, "they are the best three I've ever been involved with, and they make us better all around."
The three -- senior Mike Colletta (Calvert Hall), 6 feet 3, 230 pounds; senior William Perry (Aberdeen), 5-11, 244; and junior TC Tony Hooker (Crossland), 5-11, 223 -- are complemented by senior defensive back Mark Price (Dulaney).
Riccio changed the offense last year and now, as he explains it, "Our defense is more compatible with our offense. We stress the team concept, attacking, aggressive, and it allows our down linemen more freedom."
On the other side of the line, the group includes four-year starters Mike McGuire and Bill Park at the guards, senior Mark Wells at tackle and junior Paul Kumpar (Mount St. Joseph) at center.
Ten last-year players have seen the team progress from 2-8 to 4-6 to 9-1 to 3-0. A year ago, when the Bobcats were 3-0 after three weeks, Price told an assistant coach: "You're going to have to teach me about this winning stuff. We're not used to it."
It hasn't taken Riccio long to instill that winning philosophy. An assistant coach at Augustana, Ill., when it was winning four successive Division III national championships (including a 31-3 win over Salisbury State in 1986), he played freshmen and sophomores his first couple of years, but now has what he calls his best freshman class and doesn't need those players on the varsity.
"All good teams believe they can win," he said. "We're at that point where our players have to understand what it takes to stay at that level. It's a transition for us. We'll find this year that we're the ones other teams are after. We won't sneak up on anybody."
* WESTERN MARYLAND: Some off-season homework is beginning to pay winning dividends, as coach Dale Sprague collected information from Notre Dame about using two talented players in the same backfield. Tony Brooks and Raghib Ismail give the Irish a 1-2 combination, and they are to their team what junior Eric Frees and sophomore Rob Johnson (North Carroll) are to Western Maryland.
Sprague has kept some of his I-formation plays and implemented some wishbone formation plays to use both players in the lineup at the same time. In three games (2-1), Frees has 707 yards of total offense and Johnson has 567. Each has returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
Senior defensive back Keith Smith (John Carroll) came off the bench to get seven tackles and make a clutch play to halt an Ursinus drive, first forcing a fumble and then recovering the ball.
* TOWSON STATE: Pat Locke, a defensive tackle, sprained a shoulder at Delaware State on Saturday and will be lost for three weeks. Tony Bethea, a redshirt freshman, will move into that spot.
With two interceptions, senior quarterback Chris Goetz now has a career total of 46, one more than former leader Dan Dullea (1973-76).
* JOHNS HOPKINS: Although freshman recruits Scott Cade and Joe Richards drew a lot of the applause for their offensive efforts in Friday night's win over Fairleigh Dickinson-Madison, seniors Dave Erfle and Frank Gangemi also played key roles. Erfle was the defensive leader from his end position, and Gangemi, the cog of the offensive line at tackle, went all the way on offense and was used in special situations on the defensive line. His two sacks in the closing minutes of the game were crucial to the Blue Jays' win.
Cade came off the bench to direct two touchdown drives, including the winning one in the final two minutes, and will start at quarterback Saturday against Gettysburg.
* SALISBURY STATE: First-year coach Joe Rotellini will continue to play his three quarterbacks, looking for one to step up and take charge. This week at Shepherd, Len Annetta, who opened the first game, will start. He had the best passing numbers in the loss at Frostburg State, 4-for-9 for 70 yards and an interception. Pierre Copes, a junior transfer from Potomac State, was the top rusher with 34 yards, and was a factor with his kickoff returns, including one for 67 yards. James McCormick is the other quarterback.
Junior linebacker Rich Bowen (Southern-AA) had 11 tackles, including his side's only sack. He also recovered a fumble.