Frostburg State's football team is no longer just a decent group of players who perform out west, hidden among the Allegheny Mountains.
Not after the Bobcats enjoyed their best season last year. Not after they finished the regular season at 9-1, made the NCAA Division III playoffs for the first time, and won their first-round game before falling in the national quarterfinals.
With 17 starters back, the Bobcats won't be surprising people anymore. In one year, they have gone from a blip on the Division III screen to a team that has been ranked among the top five in preseason polls. In one year, their roster has gone from merely respectable to one that boasts four preseason All-Americans.
"I kind of like being marked, because that means every week you have to step up your intensity," said senior nose guard Joe Holland (City), one All-American.
"We have the same goals, regardless of the polls," said Mike McGlinchey, the Bobcats' third-year coach. "We can't worry about whether people think we're going to be great, or whether people think we're going to take a nose dive."
The Bobcats return 10 starters from an offense that averaged 33 points and 388 yards.
They are led by preseason All-America senior quarterback Gilbert Telleria, a 5-foot-9, 165-pounder who ran McGlinchey's wing-T attack with double-edged precision. He averaged 4.5 yards per rush and ran for six touchdowns. He threw for another 1,494 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 23 yards per completion.
Telleria's favorite game-breaking target -- senior wide receiver Ariel Bell -- is back. Bell, a preseason All-America pick, averaged 23.5 yards on a modest 19 catches.
The backfield is the quickest and deepest of McGlinchey's three teams. Halfbacks Shawn Freeman (5.4 yards per carry) and Andre Parker (7.9) complement fullback Kermit Nored (4.9), and they all figure to benefit from a strong offensive line anchored by tackles Tim Feldman (6-2, 260) and Mo Cifuentes (6-2, 255). Feldman, a Mount Hebron alum, is a preseason All-American.
The Bobcats absorbed significant losses on defense, particularly the secondary, where All-America safety Russell Williams graduated. Redshirt freshman Malvin Duncan, a 6-3, 210-pound transfer from North Carolina, will step into that role. Sophomore Neddy Veron (five interceptions last year) leads a young, quick group of cornerbacks. The linebacker corps includes fast-improving Buddy Edmond (Mount St. Joe) and Ryan Harry, who was third on the team last year with 86 tackles.
The team's biggest improvement should be in its pass rush, led by Holland (5-11, 275) and tackle Dwight Sims (6-0, 250).
For the Blue Jays, 1993 was a tale of two seasons. They won their first two games by averaging 37 points, then went into a tailspin that only ended when the season did. They wound up 4-6, the first losing season under coach Jim Margraff. Hopkins' offense went into a shell, producing only six touchdowns in the last five games. Meanwhile, the defense came together, yielding less than 20 points in five of the team's games.
Margraff begins his fifth season with a defense he can count on. The Blue Jays lost All-America linebacker Stu Markley but return everyone else. The leader is senior tackle Jelani Rucker (Poly), a preseason All-American who was second on the team with 111 tackles last year. Junior outside linebacker Victor Carter-Bey (73 tackles, team-leading eight sacks), an All-Centennial Conference pick last year, could be headed for All-America honors if he continues his rate of progress. In the backfield, senior cornerback Chad Van Den Berg is coming off a terrific year. He had 72 tackles and five interceptions.
The offense returns four starters on the line, led by junior John Applegate (6-2, 265). But the Blue Jays need a steady quarterback to emerge from the battle between senior Mike Bopp and junior Dan Redziniak. They also need junior running back Hari Lymon (City) to stay healthy. Injuries limited Lymon to half a season last year.
Second-year coach Tim Keating needed nearly the entire season to get the Green Terror rolling with its new run-and-shoot offense. Western Maryland responded with victories in its final two games to finish 3-5-1.
This looks like a rebuilding year. The Green Terror lost Rob Johnson -- the school's second-leading rusher -- to graduation. It lacks team speed. It has converted senior Matt Lecorchick from linebacker to running back in the one-back attack. And it will start five freshmen on defense, including three in the backfield.
Western Maryland's best hope likely is to out-gun opponents in high-scoring affairs, and it might pull off a few victories with junior Brian Van Deusen at quarterback.
By midseason last year, Van Deusen (Atholton) grasped Keating's offense. By the end, he owned nearly every single-season school record. He wound up with 2,315 yards and 17 touchdowns, and he didn't throw an interception in his final three games while tossing for seven touchdowns.
Senior left tackle Rob Nightingale should keep blitzing linebackers off Van Deusen long enough for him to hook up with his four wide receivers. The best of that bunch is junior Alan Pietkiewicz, who caught 59 passes for 758 yards and seven touchdowns last year.
It has been a frustrating stretch for coach Joe Rotellini, who has won six games in four years. The Sea Gulls are coming off a 2-7 season. But this could be the year they turn the corner to respectability.
The Sea Gulls are considerably bigger on both lines, and senior right tackle Bryan Schaumloffel (6-0, 245) looks like a fine foundation for the offense. Record-setting quarterback Len Annetta is gone, but sophomore Marc Thomas had an excellent preseason. The defense, especially in the backfield, is much quicker than last year's.
If the Sea Gulls become competitive, speedy sophomore Freddie Grant will be a prime reason. He'll be the team's chief deep threat at flanker, and he'll return kickoffs and punts.