Can’t Stop Kuntz! Duquesne alumnus joins NEC Brethren in NFL

Former two-time #NECFB DPOTY Christian Kuntz (PHOTO: @steelers)

Christian Kuntz never accepted “No” for an answer.

First, there was the ACL tear following his All-American sophomore season at Duquesne.

Following a year-long rehabilitation, Kuntz responded with two more All-American seasons in a Dukes’ uniform.

Kuntz, the 2015 FCS ADA National Linebacker of the Year, became one of the most-feared edge rushers in the entire Football Championship Subdivision. He possessed great football instincts and twice won the NEC Defensive Player of the Year award. Surely, the NFL was in his future?

While his collegiate resume pushed him onto the NFL radar, he went undrafted in 2017 despite boasting an immensely productive body of work.

Kuntz’s detractors in the scouting community pointed to his “lack of size” for a NFL edge rusher and his “lack of speed” for a pass-defending linebacker.

Surprisingly, Kuntz did not receive an opportunity until late in the 2017 NFL Preseason when the New England Patriots signed him to a UDFA contract, only to waive him later that week.

Jobless during the 2017 season, Kuntz embarked on a position change and began grooming himself to become a reliable long snapper.

With long snapping being a talent unto itself, not many pro snappers possess the same eye-popping instincts that are synonymous with elite defenders. Kuntz’s roots, however, make him better suited than most to get down the field in punt coverage and make tackles.

Having added a new skill to his arsenal, he signed with the Denver Broncos in March 2018. After a few months in their offseason program, Kuntz was released and on the move again.

Unsigned until December of that year, Kuntz landed on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad for the final two weeks of the regular season and was signed to a reserve/futures deal.

After working through the Jaguars’ 2019 offseason program, Kuntz found himself on the waiver wire again in June prior to the start of training camp.

Still, the best was yet to come for the Western Pennsylvania product.

Midway through August 2019, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed Kuntz and the Duquesne alumnus proceeded to log five tackles and a sack in the team’s preseason finale.

Despite the strong showing, the roster bubble burst on him.

Kuntz was without a 53-man roster spot for the 2019 NFL regular season, but he was far from finished.

The linebacker-turned-long snapper landed in the XFL with the Dallas Renegades in early 2020 and impressed enough to earn another chance with the Steelers.

Kuntz was signed by Pittsburgh on March 30, 2020 and worked through another NFL offseason program before being waived on August 2.

The relentless kid from the Pittsburgh suburbs kept at it though.

Late in the 2020 regular season, Kuntz served two short stints on the Steelers’ practice squad before signing a futures/reserve contract on January 14, 2021.

Now all he had to do was beat out an incumbent starter at a position where turnover happens less than regularly.

To no Duquesne fan’s surprise, Kuntz did just that.

Living a remarkable story of commitment and triumph, Christian Kuntz is on a NFL 53-man Opening Day roster.

TK!

He spent much of the last two seasons on the practice squad, but Tom Kennedy has earned a promotion in Detroit. Bryant’s former all-NEC receiver performed well enough during the 2021 NFL Preseason to earn a spot on the Lions’ initial 53-man roster. He has played in one NFL regular season game, becoming the first-ever Bryant alumnus to do so when he suited up for Detroit against

SEAHAWKS, STAND UP

Wagner alumnus Chris Williams (PHOTO: Michael Conroy | Associated Press)

Three Wagner Seahawks made the cut when initial NFL 53-man rosters were published.

Julian Stanford, a former all-NEC linebacker, will spend his ninth NFL season as a special teams ace with the Carolina Panthers.

Despite battling injury during the preseason, former two-time NEC Defensive Player of the Year Cam Gill earned a spot on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ roster for the second straight year.

Former Wagner defensive tackle Chris Williams secured a spot on the Indianapolis Colts’ 53-man roster after spending the 2020 NFL season on the team’s practice squad.

EXPANDED TWEET SHEET

#NECinNFL: Late-Summer 2021 Update

Christian Kuntz (PHOTO: Chaz Palla – TribLive.com)

It’s Preseason Week 3 in the National Football League.

Teams have one last chance to evaluate their talent during game action prior to finalizing their 53-man regular season rosters.

There are plenty of Northeast Conference alumni in the mix, hoping to land on active NFL rosters for the 2021 campaign.

Here are the #NECinNFL names you need to know…

Cam Gill, LB (Wagner) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The two-time NEC Defensive Player of the Year made the Bucs’ 53-man roster as a rookie UDFA in 2020. He saw on-field action during Tampa’s victory in Super Bowl 55, but Gill has missed numerous reps this preseason due to injury. Normally, his roster status would not be in question, but his lack of preseason availability is something to monitor. Whether or not he fits into the Bucs’ plans for Opening Day, the organization clearly liked Gill enough to award him defensive snaps in the Super Bowl.

Christian Kuntz, LS (Duquesne) – Pittsburgh Steelers

Kuntz made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks as a collegiate linebacker, but he has transitioned to a long snapper at the professional level. The former three-time DI FCS All-American has bounced around the NFL training camp circuit and spent time in both the AAF and XFL. Kuntz’s tireless efforts could pay off in the form of a 53-man roster spot this time around. He spent time on the Steelers’ practice squad late in the 2020 season and signed a futures/reserve contract in January. Kuntz has seen a healthy number of reps at long snapper throughout Steelers’ camp and appears to be in a position battle with incumbent Kameron Canaday.

Tom Kennedy, WR (Bryant) – Detroit Lions

Kennedy, who has spent each of the past two seasons on the Lions’ Practice Squad and was active for one regular season game in 2019, has led his team in receiving yards during each of the first two preseason games. The former dual-sport college star may be playing his way into the Lions’ regular season receivers rotation. Kennedy made a 29-yard reception to set up a late, go-ahead field against Buffalo in Preseason Week 1. The following week, the Bryant alumnus produced gainers of 31 and 25 yards at Pittsburgh.

Jake Dolegala, QB (Central Connecticut) – Green Bay Packers

The all-time leading passer in CCSU history enters his third NFL season after spending much on the 2020 campaign on the New England Patriots’ practice squad. Dolegala, who spent the entire 2019 season on the Cincinnati Bengals’ 53-man roster after signing as a rookie UDFA, has bounced in between Green Bay and New England this offseason/preseason. The Packers resigned prior to Preseason Game 2, adding an arm in the wake of Jordan Love’s injury. Dolegala entered the game in the waning minutes of the Packers’ 23-14 loss to the New York Jets. He has NFL measurables and big-league arm strength that will continue to intrigue the Packers and others in the months ahead.

Greg Senat, OT (Wagner) – Cleveland Browns

Initially landing at Wagner on a basketball scholarship, Senat made a successful transition to the gridiron where he started two seasons for the Seahawks. Senat, a former Baltimore Ravens’ sixth-round draft pick who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad during their Super Bowl 54 championship season. In 2020, Senat signed with Dallas and saw action in 10 regular season games. Having since moved onto Cleveland, the 6-foot-6 Empire State product is battling for a spot on the Browns’ 53-man roster as a swing tackle.

Julian Stanford, LB (Wagner) – Carolina Panthers

Since landing with Jacksonville as a rookie in 2012, Stanford has established himself as a special teams ace. He earned six regular season starts at linebacker during his first year with the Jaguars, but has spent much his 104-game career as a contributor on special teams. After playing the 2018 and 2019 campaigns with the Buffalo Bills, Stanford continued his NFL career in Carolina last year. The Panthers used him heavily on special teams, where he logged seven tackles. This past offseason, Carolina signed Stanford to another one-year deal. He has been banged up during the preseason, but appears back at full strength now according to reports.

Chris Williams, DT (Wagner) – Indianapolis Colts

Williams developed into a NFL prospect during his time at Wagner, benefitting from the tutelage of position coach (and NFL veteran) Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton. The Empire State product signed a UDFA deal with the Colts following the 2020 NFL Draft and spent the ensuing season on the team’s practice squad. Listed on Indianapolis’ depth chart as a nose tackles, Williams has been battling for an active roster spot all summer long. He was credited with a tackle in the Colts’ recent 12-10 win over the Vikings. Pro Football Focus tracked Williams on a team-high 27 pass-rushing snaps in the Preseason Week 2 contest. Williams made two stops in the Colts’ preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers. After the game, he caught up with the aforementioned Terrance Knighton who is in his first season on the Carolina coaching staff.

EXPANDED TWEET SHEET

NEC Football’s Reese’s Senior Bowl Prospects

Julius Chestnut totaled 189 scrimmage yards in the #NECFB Spring Championship Game

It’s the ultimate pre-draft all-star game and it has eyes on Northeast Conference football.

On an annual basis, the Reese’s Senior Bowl provides an opportunity for elite draft prospects from around the country to showcase their talent and connect with coaches and decision-makers from all 32 NFL teams.

Sacred Heart running back Julius Chestnut and Merrimack cornerback Darion McKenzie may earn the chance to attend the week-long festivities in Mobile, AL this coming February. The two players appear on the official Reese’s Senior Bowl Watch List heading into the 2021 fall season.

Chestnut comes off a spring season that saw him finish third overall in the Stats Perform Walter Payton Award voting. He totaled 888 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns in four games against NEC opponents. In a NCAA FCS playoff game, the 6-foot-1 do-it-all running back rushed for 138 yards and one touchdown against No. 5 Delaware.

Chestnut will enter his fourth collegiate season with 3,063 career rush yards over a 28-game span. He averages 5.75 yards per carry.

McKenzie made Merrimack’s lone interception in a game against Sacred heart this past spring. In 2019, the 6-foot-2 cornerback appeared in nine games and totaled 11 pass break-ups.

Should Chestnut and/or McKenzie impress enough to earn an official invitation, they would join a short list of NEC invitees.

In 2017, Saint Francis safety Lorenzo Jerome became the first-ever NEC athlete to earn a spot in the Senior Bowl.

Jerome, a four-time all-NEC first team honoree, performed exceptionally well during the all-star game, intercepting two passes and forcing a fumble. He went on to sign a post-draft contract with the San Francisco 49ers, and he currently competes for the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.

During the 2020 NFL Draft process, Wagner’s Cam Gill (LB) and Chris Williams (DL) were invited to the East-West Shrine Game. Gill went onto sign an undrafted free agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and played in Super Bowl 55. Williams spent the 2020 NFL season on the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad and is battling for a spot on the 53-man roster this summer.

TWEET SHEET

2020 #NECFB Virtual Media Day Guest List

The Northeast Conference will ceremoniously kick off its 25th football season by hosting #NECFB Virtual Media Day on July 23.

Presented by American Identity Group, the on-air program kicks off at 11:00 am ET and can be seen via NEC Front Row and ESPN3.

Longtime play-by-play announcer Paul Dottino will host the show, which will feature guest appearances from Stats Perform FCS editor Craig Haley and NFL Draft Bible’s Ric Serritella.

In addition to eight head coaches, two student-athletes from every team will join the program.

STUDENT-ATHLETE LINEUP

BRYANT BULLDOGS

ANDRE BRACKETT, DB/KR (Sr., 5-10, 175)
– Appeared in 33 consecutive games

– Career: 5 INT, 15 PBU

– 31.5 KO return average in 2019

ALEX RASMUSSEN, WR (Sr., 6-3, 192)

– limited to one game in 2019 due to injury

– 22 career appearances

– two-time NEC Academic Honor Roll selection

 

CENTRAL CONNECTICUT BLUE DEVILS

TYSHAUN JAMES, WR (Sr., 6-3, 215)

– All-NEC First Team (2019)

– 14 total TD led NEC in 2019

– 34 career appearances; 17.5 ypc

TREVANTE JONES, LB (Sr., 6-3, 255)

– All-NEC First Team (2019)

– 58 TT, 8.0 sacks last season

– 34 career appearances; 29.0 TFL

 

DUQUESNE DUKES

SPENCER DeMEDAL, DB (Sr., 6-0, 200)

– COSIDA ACADEMIC ALL-AMERICA® (2019)

– Three-time NEC Commissioner’s Honor Roll selection

– 23 career starts at safety [35 appearances]

BILL O’MALLEY, TE (Sr., 6-4, 240)

– 2019 Team Captain

– Three-time NEC Commissioner’s Honor Roll selection

– 34 career games played

 

LONG ISLAND SHARKS

DERICK EUGENE, WR (Sr., 6-3, 200)

– 2019 Team Captain

– sustained season-ending injury in opener at SDSU

– 20 career appearances

JONATHAN DeBIQUE, RB (Jr., 6-0, 225)

– Appeared in nine games during inaugural DI season

– 115 scrimmage yards at Duquesne

– 91 rush yards at Villanova

 

MERRIMACK WARRIORS

CLAY LeGAULT, OL (Sr., 6-5, 325)

– 11 starts at RT in 2019

– 30 career appearances

JOVAN GRANT, DB (Sr., 6-1, 210)

– Started 10 games at safety in 2019

– career-high 14 TT at Saint Francis

– 30 career appearances in secondary

 

SACRED HEART PIONEERS

SHAWN RAMCHERAN, DB (Sr., 5-11, 190)

– 12 starts at CB last season

– 2019 Team Captain

– Career: 3 INT, 13 PBU, 34 appearances (missed 2017 to injury)

JOSH SOKOL, OL (Sr., 6-3, 290)

– All-NEC First Team (2019)

– 23 straight starts at Center

– 2019 Team Captain

 

SAINT FRANCIS RED FLASH

JASON BROWN, QB (Jr., 6-4, 230)

– All-NEC Second Team (2019) [1st season as starter]

– 3,084 pass yards [3rd NEC single-season]

– 28 TD passes [NEC single-season record]

DORIAN JACKSON, DB (Jr., 5-11, 180)

– All-NEC First Team (2019)

– Led league w/ 16 passes defended

– 22 career appearances

 

WAGNER SEAHAWKS

JOSH DeCAMBRE, WR (Sr., 6-4, 200)

– All-NEC Second Team (2019)

– Led team in rec yards (675) and TD catches (6) last year

– Native Staten Islander w/ 27 career games played

AHMAD LYONS, DB (Sr., 5-9, 190)

– Transferred to Wagner Spring 2019

– 12 games played, 2 INT, 4 PBU

Septet Represents #NECFB on STATS Legacy Awards Ballots

They are the most prestigious individual honors in FCS football and seven of the STATS Legacy Awards finalists hail from the Northeast Conference.

Central Connecticut QB Aaron Winchester and Sacred Heart RB Julius Chestnut are up for the Walter Payton Award, presented annually to the top offensive performer in the FCS.

Wagner LB Cam Gill and Saint Francis LB Da’Jon Lee are two of 26 national finalists for the Buck Buchanan Award, which goes to the top defensive performer in the FCS.

Sacred Heart redshirt freshman WR Tyrese Chambers joined 19 others on the ballot for the Jerry Rice Award, which annually honors the top freshman performer in the FCS.

One of only two conference with multiple finalists for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, the NEC has placed Robert Morris’ Bernard Clark, Jr. and Central Connecticut’s Ryan McCarthy on the ballot.

On Monday, December 9, the voting results will begin to trickle out starting with the top-three vote-getters from the Walter Payton Award balloting. STATS will present the honors at its pre-championship game banquet in Frisco, TX on January 10, 2020.

Entering its 33rd season, the FCS legacy awards program continues to celebrate the high quality of play in the Football Championship Subdivision as well as some of the sport’s most-recognizable historical figures. The recipients of four major awards will be chosen by a voting panel that consists of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries.

Here are plenty of reasons why the NEC’s finalists deserve to WIN (only regular season statistics/accomplishments are shown)…

 

PAYTON AWARD

Aaron Winchester, QB (CCSU)

  • The Unanimous NEC Offensive POTY’s 3,204 yards of total offense rank in third in league history
  • Ranked fourth amongst national FCS leaders in pass efficiency (170.7)
  • NEC pass completion pct. (67.1) leader ranked third amongst league leaders in rush yards (782)
  • The dual-threat QB has eight rushing touchdowns and averaged 5.3 yards per carry for the NEC champions
  • Threw at least one touchdown pass in all 12 games, including a 68-yard go-ahead score w/ 2:05 left at FBS member Eastern Michigan
  • Contributing to first 11-win season in program history, he has 19 TD passes to only 4 interceptions
  • More than 90 rush yards in four different games, including 108 in season-opening win at Fordham and 161 in a NEC win over Bryant
  • 4 TD rushes in title-clinching Week 12 win over Robert Morris

 

Julius Chestnut, RB (Sacred Heart)

  • The former NEC Offensive ROTY ranked second overall amongst FCS leaders in rush yards (1,495)
  • More than 110 rush yards in nine different games
  • 366 rush yards and 5 TD rushes in three wins over Patriot League members (Lehigh, Lafayette, Bucknell)
  • Led NEC in rush attempts (293) and rushing touchdowns (11)
  • Made at least one reception in eight games; two TD receptions in win over Bucknell
  • More than 50 rush yards in all 12 games
  • Set NEC single-game season high with 203 rush yards in win over Bryant on Nov. 2
  • 128 scrimmage yards (111 rush, 17 rec) vs. NEC champion CCSU (FCS leader in rushing defense)

 

BUCHANAN AWARD

Cam Gill, LB (Wagner)

  • Two-time NEC Defensive POTY (2019, 2018)
  • Unanimous All-NEC First Team
  • Led circuit with 9.5 sacks
  • Tied for second amongst active FCS careers sacks leaders (34.0)
  • Tied for fifth overall amongst national FCS season leaders in tackles-for-loss (20.0)
  • At least 1.0 TFL in 11 consecutive games, including 2.5 TFL at FBS member UConn
  • Three forced fumbles are second most in NEC
  • Set NEC career sacks record with his first of two QB takedowns against NEC champion Central Connecticut in Week 10
  • Team-leading eight QB hurries to go with two fumble recoveries and two pass break-ups
  • At least 1.0 sack in seven of last eight games

Da’Jon Lee, LB (Saint Francis)

  • Led all FCS players w/ 24.5 tackles-for-loss
  • Made 4+ tackles in nine games, including double-digit totals against James Madison, Sacred Heart and Wagner
  • His team-leading 93 total tackles are fifth most amongst NEC leaders
  • Second amongst FCS active career leaders with nine forced fumbles
  • At least 3.0 TFL in five different games, including a season-high 4.5 hits behind the line in a win over Wagner
  • 5 TFL, including 1.0 sack, and one fumble recovery at No. 2 James Madison in Week 2
  • At least 0.5 TFL in all seven NEC games this season

 

 

RICE AWARD

Tyrese Chambers, WR (Sacred Heart)

  • The four-time NEC Rookie of the Week owns team highs in receptions (50), receiving yards (811) and TD receptions (8) in 11 games
  • His 73.7 receiving yards per game are fourth most amongst NEC overall leaders
  • At least 33 receiving yards in each of his last 10 appearances
  • Made a TD reception against six different opponents
  • Eclipsed 130-yard receiving mark three times in a four-week span
  • Made season-high 9 catches for 133 yards and 2 TD in road win over Patriot League member Lafayette
  • Went for 139 yards on 7 catches at Ivy League member Penn
  • Rushed seven times for 32 yards this season

 

 

ROBINSON AWARD

Bernard Clark, Jr. (Robert Morris)

  • Former Miami Hurricanes linebacker (and Orange Bowl MVP) has led a renaissance at RMU with a second-place NEC finish
  • Robert Morris increased its win total by five (5) during his second season at the helm
  • Picked next-to-last in the NEC Preseason Poll, RMU won its first five conference games before falling to nationally-ranked Central Connecticut
  • The team’s seven DI wins are its most in a single season since 2010 when it made the FCS playoffs
  • Colonials captured team’s first road win since the 2015 season when they posted a 31-21 victory over SoCon member VMI in Week 4
  • RMU has six conference wins this season after only one NEC victory in the prior three seasons combined

 

Ryan McCarthy (CCSU)

  • First-year head coach has presided over first 11-win season in program history
  • Secured NEC’s automatic FCS Playoffs bid by dealing Robert Morris its first league loss in Week 12
  • Blue Devils have been ranked in Top 25 for seven weeks – longest stretch by a NEC team in league history
  • CCSU owned 11-0 record vs. FCS teams; lone loss came in the final seconds at FBS member Eastern Michigan
  • 8 yards per play are fifth most in FCS; Pass Efficiency Rating is nation’s fifth highest
  • 3 rushing defense (71.3 ypg) in the FCS
  • FCS’ No. 2 total defense (273.3 ypg)