#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.

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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)

Stud Running Backs Spearhead NEC’s Banner All-America Showing

 

Two years after AJ Hines became the first-ever Northeast Conference footballer to win a STATS Legacy Award, Duquesne’s highly-decorated running back has teamed up with Wagner’s Ryan Fulse to make more history.

For the first time, both running back slots on the STATS Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) All-America First Team are occupied by Northeast Conference rushers.

Fulse (137.1 ypg) and Hines (120.3), who ranked first and second respectively amongst FCS career rushing leaders active during the 2018 season, led a contingent of six NEC athletes who earned STATS All-America honors.

After averaging 39.1 yards per kick return, Bryant junior Jean Constant joined Hines and Fulse on the STATS All-America First Team.

The three First Team selections are the most ever celebrated by the NEC in the same year.

The 2018 season also marks only the second time ever that the NEC has produced multiple First Team honorees.  Linebacker Christian Kuntz (Duquesne) and safety Lorenzo Jerome (Saint Francis) gave the NEC double representation on the First Team Defense in 2016.

Central Connecticut guard J’Von Brown (Offense) and Wagner outside linebacker Cameron Gill (Defense), both juniors, comprise the NEC’s presence on the Second Team in 2018.

Meanwhile, Saint Francis U senior safety Hakeem Kinard, the leader of the NEC’s top-ranked defense, earned a spot on the Third Team.

For the eighth year in a row, the Northeast Conference garnered multiple STATS All-America selections.

The six honorees mark the NEC’s highest single-season total since 2014.

 

 

ALL-AMERICA ONE-SENTENCE RESUMES

Ryan Fulse, Wagner (First Team Offense – RB)

The Walter Payton Award candidate, who went over 100 scrimmage yards in nine of 11 games highlighted by a 251-yard day at Montana State, paced the nation in all-purpose yards average (177.36) despite not returning a single kick or punt this season.

 

AJ Hines, Duquesne (First Team Offense – RB)

The NEC Offensive Player of the Year, who scored at least one touchdown in all nine of Duquesne’s victories, exceeded 200 yards from scrimmage on four different occasions during the regular season stretch run and did so again in a FCS First Round road win over CAA member Towson.

 

Jean Constant, Bryant (First Team Specialists – KR)

The active FCS career leader in kick return touchdowns (5) averaged a national-best 39.1 yards per run back highlighted by a game-winning 88-yarder at MEAC member Howard in Week 12.

 

Cam Gill, Wagner (Second Team Defense — LB)

The NEC Defensive Player of the Year, who led the NEC with 13.5 sacks, made the second-most tackle-for-loss (24.0) in the FCS and logged at least 2.0 hits behind the line of scrimmage in seven different games including visits to Montana State and ACC member Syracuse.

 

J’Von Brown, Central Connecticut (Second Team Offense — OL)

The 350-pounder protected the NEC’s least-sacked quarterback and started all 11 games at Left Guard for conference’s top-ranked offense, which averaged 6.8 yards per play and 5.9 yards per rush.

 

Hakeem Kinard, Saint Francis (Third Team Defense – DB)

The highly versatile senior safety, who was amongst the NEC’s top-nine leaders in both passes defensed (11) and tackles-for-loss (9.5), spearheaded an SFU defense that ranked seventh overall in the FCS.

 

#NECFB’s AP All-America Presence Reaches All-time High

 

Four Northeast Conference footballers received All-America honors from the Associated Press, marking the highest single-season total in league history.

Topping the three AP All-America selections garnered by NEC athletes in 2016, Wagner RB Ryan Fulse (First Team), Duquesne RB AJ Hines (Second Team), Robert Morris TE Matthew Gonzalez (Second Team) and Wagner LB Cam Gill (Third Team) accounted for a banner showing in 2018.

Fulse ranks amongst the FCS’ top-four rushers for the second straight season. He totaled more than 100 yards from scrimmage in nine of 11 games this season, including a 25-1 yard day at Montana State. ACC member Syracuse was lone team to hold him under 90 scrimmage yards.

Hines, the 2016 Jerry Rice Award winner, exceeded 1,000-yard rushing mark for third straight season. He scored at least one touchdown in all eight of the team’s regular season victories, including 3 TD rushes in Week 2 win over Valparaiso. In four of the Dukes’ five NEC triumphs, the pwerfull runner racked up more than 200 yards from scrimmage.

Gonzalez emerged as a serious threat in RMU’s passing attack, leading the NEC with 12 touchdown receptions (the second-most TD catches by a FCS tight end this season). The 6-foot-3 junior finished the season as the No. 1 receiver on a team that saw a 140+ percent increase in scoring offense from the 2017 campaign.

Gill, a 2018 Buck Buchanan Finalist, made second-most tackles-for-loss (24.0) in FCS. After ranking second amongst NEC sacks leaders as sophomore, the junior led circuit with 13.5 QB takedowns. The explosive edge rusher accounted for at least 2.0 TFL in seven games, including visits to Montana State and ACC member Syracuse.

 

 

NEC Associated Press FCS All-Americans Since 2010…

2018
RB Ryan Fulse (WAG) 1st Team
RB AJ Hines (DUQ) 2nd Team
TE Matthew Gonzalez (RMU) 2nd Team
LB Cam Gill (WAG) 3rd Team

2017
OG Ben Huss (DUQ) 2nd Team
LB Tom Costigan (BRY) 3rd Team

2016
DB Lorenzo Jerome (SFU) 1st Team
WR Kamron Lewis (SFU) 2nd Team
LB Christian Kuntz (DUQ) 2nd Team

2015
LB Christian Kuntz (DUQ) 2nd Team

2014
DB Jarrett Dieudonne (WAG) 2nd Team
DL Jeff Covitz (BRY) 3rd Team

2013
RB Kyle Harbridge (SFU) 3rd Team
DB JD Roussel (SHU) 3rd Team

2012
WR Jordan Harris (BRY) 2nd Team

2011
DB Serge Kona (DUQ) 3rd Team

2010
TE Shadrae King (RMU) 1st Team
OL Corey Konycki (RMU) 2nd Team