2021 Colonial Athletic Association Season Preview

Courtesy Bill Zizkin/Albany Athletics

The Spring season was very disjointed with many changes, cancellations and opt outs. When the season finally completed, Delaware was named the conference champion with James Madison also making the playoffs. The Dukes expected to compete and win the CAA title (they went unbeaten in conference at 3-0, but Delaware went 4-0). The Blue Hens internally probably expected to win the CAA, but no one outside of Newark expected it. I have said for years that if Delaware could find a solid quarterback, they would be a contender. Nolan Henderson took the reigns and led Delaware to a semifinal appearance where they lost to South Dakota State.

James Madison struggled early with uneven play on offense. After returning to play after a couple weeks off, the Dukes showed what they were capable of and tore into the semifinals where they held a 24-3 lead at Sam Houston. JMU imploded, especially on special teams, in the second half allowing the Bearkats to complete the comeback and ultimately win the National Championship.

The CAA should be strong again in the fall with several teams looking for playoff berths. Richmond looks much improved. Albany should be better than they were in the spring with Jeff Undercuffler returning. Villanova should also challenge for a spot. Maine and New Hampshire are looking for bounce backs. Elon was a disaster with injuries in the spring. Anything can happen in the CAA with most teams so tightly packed

Top Returning Offensive Players

Dejoun Lee, Running Back, Delaware – Lee took the opening kickoff of the spring season for a touchdown and the Blue Hens never looked back. Lee ran for 564 yards and seven touchdowns to lead Delaware to the semifinals. Lee’s skills as a runner and returner make him a threat on every play and will give opponents fits.

Percy Agyei-Obese, Running Back, James Madison – Agyei Obese led the Dukes and the CAA with 717 yards and 8 touchdowns in the Spring. While the Dukes use as many as five different backs in a game, Agyei-Obese is clearly the workhorse. He is in sight of JMU records for rushing yards and touchdowns that he could surpass with a strong season.

Jeff Undercuffler, Quarterback, Albany – Undercuffler had a spring season to forget, but don’t forget how dominant he was in 2019 as a freshman. He finished second to Trey Lance in the Jerry Rice Award balloting. Hampered by injury in the spring, he never got going. But Undercuffler led the FCS in touchdown passes in 2019 with 41. Expect a bounce back year for both him and Albany this fall.

Top Returning Defensive Players

Mike Greene, Defensive Tackle, James Madison – Due to injuries in the spring, Greene was forced to play defensive end, rather than inside on the defensive line. Despite the new position, Greene was still dominant enough to be named CAA Co-Defensive Player of the year. With the returns on defense for the Dukes, Greene will play on the inside again and should be a menace for opposing offenses.

Kobie Turner, Defensive End, Richmond – Turner was the other Co-Defensive Player of the year in the CAA in the spring. Turner let a resurgent Richmond defense that should be a tough unit to play against this season.

Christian Benford, Defensive Back, Villanova – Christian Benford is the next in a long line of talent defensive backs to play at Villanova. Benford has seven career interceptions in 22 games and has the ability to take away one side of the field for an opposing offense. Benford should garner a look for the Buchanan award as well as top honors in the CAA this year.

Projected Order of Finish (link to full team previews below)

  1. James Madison– The Dukes mindset is simple for this year. Its Frisco or bust. This team is loaded on both sides of the ball and should be one of the top contenders for the National Title.
  2. Delaware – The Blue Hens had a great spring and should be able to back it up in the fall if Nolan Henderson’s knee if fully healthy.
  3. Villanova – The Wildcats have talent on both sides of the ball and will be a tough out for any team this year. This should be a playoff team
  4. Richmond – The Spiders have one of the best linebacking corps in the FCS to lead a stingy defense. If the offense can contribute, Richmond could make some noise
  5. New Hampshire – The Wildcats got just one game in the spring in the return of Coach Sean McDonnell. They should compete for a playoff berth but will be right on the bubble
  6. Maine – The Black Bears were CAA champions just 3 years ago. If there is a team that may wind up too high on this initial projection it is Maine. If they cant find a good balance, they’ll struggle to win games
  7. Towson – The Tigers were the only CAA team to completely opt out of the spring. They haven’t played in two years. But they are in the middle of the pack because they picked up a transfer quarterback, Chris Ferguson who led Maine to the 2018 CAA title.
  8. Albany – If there is a team on this list who is probably too low on the list, it’s the Great Danes. They have one of the top quarterbacks in the FCS in Jeff Undercuffler, just a sophomore. Combined with top running back Karl Mofor, this should be a strong offense.
  9. William & Mary – The Tribe will rely on the improvements of quarterback Hollis Mathis. Overall, this is still a young team. They’ll compete in many games but may not win a bunch
  10. Stony Brook – The Seawolves always tend to have a tough defense. But they lack the offensive punch to be able to put teams away. They’ll most likely struggle through the season
  11. Elon -The Phoenix could go either way. If Davis Cheek is healthy, he is one of the better quarterbacks in the CAA. But staying healthy has been a problem for Cheek. There is talent on this Elon team but they’ll need to put it together consistently.
  12. Rhode Island – The Rams showed a little spark in the spring, especially on offense. But the defense is a mess and cant stop anyone. Some people will have them in the middle of the pack. That just speaks to the overall depth of the CAA.

2021 CAA FOOTBALL PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
(Selected by a vote of Head Coaches and Media Relations Directors)
OFFENSE
Name, School Cl. Pos. Ht. Wt. Hometown/High School
Nolan Henderson, Delaware Jr. QB 6-1 195 Smyrna, Del./Smyrna
Percy Agyei-Obese, James Madison Sr. RB 6-0 204 Frederick, Md./Oakdale
Dejoun Lee, Delaware Sr. RB 5-7 185 Springfield, Va./Lake Braddock
Karl Mofor, UAlbany Sr. RB 5-9 225 Greenbelt, Md./Eleanor Roosevelt
Joey Kenny, Rhode Island Sr. FB 6-2 253 Wayne, N.J./Wayne Hills
Andre Miller, Maine Gr. WR 6-2 220 Old Town, Maine/Old Town
Thyrick Pitts, Delaware Jr. WR 6-3 200 Manassas, Va./Forest Park
Kris Thornton, James Madison Jr. WR 5-8 179 Manassas, Va./Osbourn Park
John Fitzgerald, Richmond Gr. TE 6-4 250 Baltimore, Md./The Gilman School
Michael Corbi, Villanova Jr. OL 6-3 295 Arnold, Md./Mount Saint Joseph
Liam Fornadel, James Madison Sr. OL 6-5 310 Wyckoff, N.J./Don Bosco Prep
David Kroll, Delaware Sr. OL 6-7 315 Reston Va./South Lakes
Clayton McConnell, Richmond Sr. OL 6-4 290 Foley, Ala./Foley
Kyle Nunez, Stony Brook Sr. OL 6-2 340 East Islip, N.Y./East Islip

DEFENSE
Name, School Cl. Pos. Ht. Wt. Hometown/High School
Malik Fisher, Villanova Sr. DL 6-4 255 New York, N.Y./Xavier
Mike Greene, James Madison Sr. DL 6-3 285 Richmond, Va./Highland Springs
Chase McGowan, Delaware So. DL 6-1 240 Stafford, Va./North Stafford
Kobie Turner, Richmond Sr. DL 6-3 285 Clifton, Va./Centreville
Johnny Buchanan, Delaware Jr. LB 6-0 230 Brick, N.J./St. John Vianney
Tyler Dressler, Richmond Gr. LB 6-3 245 Covington, Va./Covington
Forrest Rhyne, Villanova Sr. LB 6-1 225 Waynesboro, Pa./Waynesboro Area
Tristan Wheeler, Richmond So. LB 6-2 228 Bethlehem, Pa./Freedom
MJ Hampton, James Madison Sr. S 6-0 196 Fredericksburg, Va./Stafford
Evan Horn, New Hampshire Sr. S 6-0 220 Lebanon, Pa./Cedar Crest
Kedrick Whitehead, Delaware Jr. S 5-11 195 Middletown, Del./Middletown
Christian Benford, Villanova Jr. CB 6-1 190 Randallstown, Md./Randallstown
Nijuel Hill, Delaware Sr. CB 5-10 185 Baltimore, Md./Calvert Hall

SPECIAL TEAMS
Name, School Cl. Pos. Ht. Wt. Hometown/High School
D’Ago Hunter, Towson Jr. KR 5-8 160 Culpeper, Va./Eastern View
Tre’Von Jones, Elon So. PR 6-0 166 Warrenton, N.C./Trinity Christian
Bronson Yoder, William & Mary Jr. PR 5-11 190 Nappanee, Ind./Northwood
Ethan Ratke, James Madison Sr. PK 5-10 178 Mechanicsville, Va./Atlee
Harry O’Kelly, James Madison Sr. P 6-1 180 Wynnum, Queensland, Australia/Iona
Anthony Del Negro, Stony Brook Sr. SPEC 6-2 230 Bohemia, N.Y./Connetquot

CAA FOOTBALL PRESEASON OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Percy Agyei-Obese, RB, James Madison
CAA FOOTBALL PRESEASON DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Mike Greene, DL, James Madison

Honorable mention: Davis Cheek, QB, Elon; Daniel Smith, QB, Villanova; Jeff Undercuffler, QB, UAlbany; Justin Covington, RB, Villanova; Gene Coleman II, WR, Delaware; Ivory Frimpong, WR, Rhode Island; Antwane Wells, Jr., WR, James Madison; Bryce DeMaille, TE, Delaware; Andrew Trainer, OL, William & Mary; Will Kiely, DL, William & Mary; Niko Kvietkus, DL, New Hampshire; Jared Verse, DL, UAlbany; Kelvin Azanama, LB, James Madison; Danny Damico, LB, UAlbany; Christian Dixon, LB, Towson; Cole Coleman, S, Elon; Aaron Dykes, KR, Richmond; Shane McDonough, P, Towson; Bryce Colee, SPEC, Maine

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