In two weeks, the Towson University football team will take a 45-mile bus ride into its Atlantic 10 future.
The trip to Newark, Del., to meet the defending national Division I-AA champion Delaware Blue Hens will be much more than the Tigers' much-anticipated debut in the tough Atlantic 10.
It will be a barometer of how far the team has to travel to reach the top of the two-division, 12-team league.
"You can only get better by playing the best," said Tigers senior co-captain and rover back/linebacker P.D. Moore. "I think we have a chance to surprise some people in the A-10. This program is starting to attract better talent and more size on the offensive line."
Towson coach Gordy Combs, starting his 13th season as head coach, knows the odds are stacked against him in the Delaware game and in the Atlantic 10.
"I'm glad we're getting them [Blue Hens] early because they're changing quarterbacks," said Combs of the Sept. 11 encounter. "Andy Hall is now with the Philadelphia Eagles."
Hall led the Blue Hens to a 15-1 record last season and was a Walter Payton Award candidate. Junior Sonny Riccio won the starting job nine days ago.
Towson second-year freshman Andrew Goldbeck (Calvert Hall) is waging a duel with returning starter Anthony Melzi for the right to lead the Tigers into the A-10. "It's a real horse race, and I'd say they're in a dead heat," Combs said.
Towson, 6-6 overall and 3-4 in the Patriot League last season, landed three transfers who will start in the nonleague season opener Sept. 4 at Elon.
The top catch was 6-foot-3, 315-pound junior right guard Antoine Colvin (Dunbar), who transferred last fall from North Carolina State after his father was found to have cancer. The All-Metro pick received extensive playing time in his sophomore season for the Wolfpack.
The other two transfers are 6-5, 240-pound sophomore tight end Jim Alexander from Kent State and 6-5, 272-pound junior right tackle Marc Destra from Nassau (N.Y.) Community College.
Colvin headlines an imposing starting offensive line that includes 6-1, 320-pound junior center Konstantinos Kosmakos; 6-5, 315-pound sophomore left tackle Jermon Bushrod; and 6-2, 275-pound junior left guard Joe Ripple, in addition to Destra.
"We were one of the fastest teams in the Patriot League, but we didn't have the size to match most of those teams," Combs said. "Now, we have much more size and we're in the middle of the league [A-10] in speed."
Combs believes his Tigers are better prepared for the Atlantic 10 than the Patriot League because "we had nothing but need-based financial aid in 1997, and now we've had 30 scholarships for two years and will be phasing in 63 scholarships in the future."
NOTES: Media and league coaches picked the Tigers to finish last in the Atlantic 10's South Division. ... Moore has been the team's most celebrated preseason player, being named to the A-10 second team by the coaches and media and the I-AA College Football Weekly Preview, which also named two other Tigers seniors, defensive tackle Mike Collier and cornerback Davon Telp, to the second team. Moore, 5-10, 190 pounds, was also an honorable mention selection to The Sports Network's I-AA All-America team. ... With five teams ranked in the preseason I-AA Top 25 by The Sports Network, the A-10 has the most representatives of any conference in the nation.