2021 CSJ Pioneer Football League Spring Football Preview

CSJ’s Predicted Order of Finish

1. San Diego
2. Drake
3. Davidson
4. Stetson
5. Morehead State
6. Butler
7. Valparaiso
8. Presbyterian
Dayton & Marist * (not participating in spring season)  

2019 PFL NCAA Division I FCS Playoff Results

First Round

Northern Iowa 17 San Diego 3

The Pioneer Football League will begin conference play on Saturday, March 13th with six conference games each but the league also is allowing teams to play non-conference games starting this weekend (Feb. 20th). Two teams have games this weekend in Morehead State and Davidson with Presbyterian playing on Mar. 6th. 

The five other schools in the league will only play a PFL schedule.  The PFL this spring saw two schools opt out of playing this spring in Dayton and Marist so the league will be with just eight teams this spring vying for the PFL’s automatic bid to the Division I FCS Playoffs.    

The league also loses Jacksonville, who dropped football after the 2019 season, but the league is picking up Presbyterian, who were previsously a Big South Conference member in 2019 and intended to play the 2020 season as an independent but the COVID-19 pandemic has moved their entrance into the PFL up by a half year. 

The league will also welcome another new member this fall in St. Thomas (located in St. Paul, Minnesota) to the league.  The Tommies are the first school to transfer from Division III to Division I and will be a member of the Summit League for most other sports.  St. Thomas will not be eligible for any postseason play until 2025 with due to its Division I transition. 

The Pioneer Football League has been rather one-sided in recent years.  San Diego has been the king of this league having won the last four PFL titles in a row and have at least shared the title the last six seasons.  In fact, the Toreros have won 37 straight PFL conference games, the second-longest conference winning streak in FCS history. They are two games away from tying the record and seven games from matching the longest such streak in Division I (FBS and FCS).

The Toreros look like the pick again for this spring to represent the PFL in the postseason.  However, they could have some contention with Drake, Davidson, and Stetson looking like the best hopes to unseat USD from its perch. 

Top Conference Games of Spring 2021

My top four picks will not all play each other, but I believe the five games below will go a long way in determining this spring’s PFL champion and automatic qualifier for the Division I FCS playoff field.

Mar. 13 – San Diego at Drake
Mar. 13 – Davidson at Stetson
Mar. 27 – Drake at Stetson
Apr. 10 – Stetson at San Diego
Apr. 17 – Stetson at Davidson

Here is the countdown my PFL teams’ predictions:

Dayton Flyers

(not playing in Spring 2021)

Coach: Rick Chamberlin (13th Season, 93-40 @ UD & overall)

Offensive Coordinator: Jim Collins
Defensive Coordinator: Tee Overman
Stadium: Welcome Stadium (11,000 capacity)

Location: Dayton, Ohio

2019 Record: 8-3 (6-2 PFL)

Marist Red Foxes

(not playing in Spring 2021)

Coach: Jim Parady (29th Season, 142-152-1 @ Marist & overall)

Offensive Coordinator: Jake Dembow
Defensive Coordinator: Scott Rumsey
Stadium: Tenney Stadium at Leonidoff Field (5,000 capacity)

Location: Poughkeepsie, New York

2019 Record: 4-7 (4-4 PFL)

8. Presbyterian Blue Hose

Coach: Tommy Spangler (11th Season, 50-49 @ PC & overall)

Offensive Coordinator: Joey Orck
Defensive Coordinator: Roland Matthews
Stadium: Bailey Memorial Stadium (6,500 capacity)

Location: Clinton, South Carolina

2019 Record: 2-10 (1-5 Big South)

The Blue Hose are the newest member of the Pioneer Football League. Presbyterian enters the league right away this spring schedule after originally planning to be an independent this year.

Presbyterian will lean on two stars on each side of the ball to be their team leaders this year in LB Colby Campbell and WR Keith Pearson.

LB Colby Campbell

Campbell recorded a whopping and Big South Conference record 150 tackles in 2019.

7.Valparaiso Crusaders

Coach: Landon Fox (Second Season, 1-11 @ Valpo & overall)

Offensive Coordinator: Chris Limbach
Defensive Coordinator: Brian Dougherty
Stadium: Brown Field (5,000 capacity)

Location: Valparaiso, Indiana

2019 Record: 1-11 (1-7 PFL)

In Coach Landon Fox’s first season, the Crusaders won only one game but there did seem to be a turnaround. Valpo’s defense was much better than the recent years before and in fact, ranked in the top half of the league statistically for total defense for the first time since 2004–the last year the Crusaders won the PFL.

The defense should be headed by two All-PFL honorable mention selections in senior DE Trejuan Purty and junior LB Jaxon Peifer. Purity finished the 2019 season tied for sixth in the PFL with 3.5 sacks and had six tackles for loss. Peifer registered 62 tackles (31 solos) and 3.0 tackles for loss.and also forced a pair of fumbles.

DE Trejauan Purty

The offense though was not as strong though. QB Chris Duncan does return after leading the team both in passing and rushing yards in 2019. He will have his top receiver back in Ollie Reese, who was also a strong kick returner. Reese led the team in receptions (34), receiving yards (545) and receiving touchdowns (five). He also was the team leader in yardage– both total (1,328) and per game (110.7).

6.Butler Bulldogs

Coach: Jeff Voris (13th Season, 77-81 @ Butler, 93-115 overall)

Offensive Coordinator: Kyle Conner
Defensive Coordinator: Joe Cheshire
Stadium: Butler Bowl (7,500 capacity)

Location: Indianapolis, Indiana

2019 Record: 3-9 (2-6 PFL)

Butler was very inconsistent on both sides of the ball last year in ranking in the lower half of both offense and defense. The team gave up a league worst 35.7 points per game, while scoring the second to worst 19.7 points per game.

The Bulldogs will have CB Devin Aguilar back for his junior season and was one bright spot on the Butler defense. He ranked 10th in the PFL in passes defended and 13th in tackles per game by a defensive back.

CB Devin Aguilar

The offense also has its question marks but should be headed by leader up front on the line in sophomore Skyler Spetter. The offensive tackle appeared in all 12 games for BU and ended taking over the starting spot in the final seven.

He will be blocking for QB Sam Brown, who led Butler with 1,293 passing yards in 2019. He completed 55.6 percent of his passes and tossed six touchdowns and his play will likely be a big factor if the offensive numbers can be turned around this spring season.

5.Morehead State Eagles

Coach: Rob Tenyer (Eighth Season, 30-50 @ MSU & overall)

Offensive Coordinator: Rob Tenyer
Defensive Coordinator: Andrew Strobel
Stadium: Jayne Stadium (15,000 capacity)

Location: Morehead, Kentucky

2019 Record: 5-7 (3-5 PFL)

Morehead State might be set to make a move up the PFL standings this year as the Eagles return a plethora of talent on both sides of the ball from last year’s 5-7 squad.

On offense, QB Mark Pappas, RB Iassiah Aguero, and WR Landon Hurst are all back after leading their respective position from the 2019 season. Pappas threw for 2.327 yards and 19 touchdowns, Agurero rushed for 958 yards and seven scores, while Hurst caught 53 passes for 642 yards and six touchdowns.

DE Vaughn Taylor, Jr. (left), QB Mark Pappas (right)

The Eagle defense also has leaders in senior DL Vaughn Taylor, Jr. and junior LB Justin Benvie. Taylor was the PFL leader in tackles for loss (18 for 59 yards) and sacks (5.5 for 31 yards) in 2019. He also ranked second on the team with 63 tackles. Benvie, led all Eagle defenders with 70 total tackles with 4.5 being for a loss.

The Eagles also have two stars in the special teams too in junior return man Ian Holder and senior punter/kicker Andrew Foster. Holder averaged 27.1 yards on 21 kickoff returns with one going for a score. He was also the second leading receiver on offense with 34 catches for 398 yards and two touchdowns. Foster led the PFL in punting in 2019 with an average of 41.8 yards and also made a program record 31 PATs in a row to go with making all six field goal attempts from 40-49 yards.

4.Stetson Hatters

Coach: Roger Hughes (Eighth Season, 31-46 @ Stetson, 78-98 overall)

Offensive Coordinator: Stan Clayton
Defensive Coordinator: Steve Davis
Stadium: Spec Martin Stadium (6,000 capacity)

Location: DeLand, Florida

2019 Record: 7-4 (4-4 PFL)

Stetson has reached a little consistency over the last two seasons. In 2018, the Haters finished with a 8-2 overall and finished tied for second in the PFL standings. Last year, Stetson dipped a little with a young team to 7-4 overall and were tied for fifth in the PFL standings.

Before the last two seasons though, the Hatters had not had a winning season at all since bringing the school back with a football program in 2013.

RB Jalen Leary

Coach Rodger Hughes has been the only coach of Stetson since the program’s resurrection. This spring’s team will have a big highlight in RB Jalen Leary, who was the PFL’s Freshman of the Year in 2019. He gave the program its first 1,000 yard rusher over this new history. He will be helped by his FB Connor Wilson in the backfield, along with offensive linemen Antonio Derry and Alex Brown in what should again be a big run first type of offense.

Stetson will need to replace QB Gaven DeFilippo, and two look to do that in , redshirt junior Alex Piccirilli and junior Colin Wray. Whichever signal caller is selected though, he will have an experienced WR Jeramiah Nails, who recorded 21 receptions for 204 yards and four touchdowns in 2019

The Hatter defense does lose leading tackler Colby Duncan but does bring a pair upfront in DEs Fermon Reid and Bryson Richards that will likely be the team leads this spring.

3.Davidson Wildcats

Coach: Scott Abell (Third Season, 14-9 @ Davidson, 53-33 overall)

Offensive Coordinator: Vince Munch
Defensive Coordinator: Jon Berlin
Stadium: Richardson Stadium (6,000 capacity)

Location: Davidson, North Carolina

2019 Record: 8-4 (5-3 PFL)

The Wildcats have thrived under the leadership of Coach Scott Abell. Before he came to the this North Carolina based campus, Davidson had not had a winning season since 2007 and Abell has done that both in his first two seasons for Davidson.

This spring’s team will look to go a step further in the standings and be a contender for the PFL crown. And this year’s team has senior QB Tyler Phelps returning for his fourth season to lead the offense. He returns after throwing for 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns and also rushed for 316 yards and another score.

QB Tyler Phelps

The Wildcats though will be without star RB Wesley Duggar, who leaves as the program’s leading rusher in school history. Slot back Eli Turner will likely be the one that tries to make-up the loss of Duggar. Turner rushed for 490 yards and received another 151 with seven total touchdowns in 2019.

Where Davidson made their biggest improvement was on the defensive side in 2019, finishing fourth in the FCS in total defense (278.9) and among the top 10 in rushing defense and passing yards allowed. But Davidson will be without DT Bryce Perry, who has graduated as the school leader in sacks.

The Wildcats will have seniors in LB Jalen Jefferson, DE Chibuike Odo and S Cade Vela as the team leads to try to continue their recent dominance on defense.

2.Drake Bulldogs

Coach: Todd Stepsis (Second Season, 6-5 @ Drake & overall)

Offensive Coordinator: Kirk Wherritt
Defensive Coordinators: Willie Cashmore & Al Smith
Stadium: Drake Stadium (14,557 capacity)

Location: Des Moines, Iowa

2019 Record: 6-5 (6-2 PFL)

Drake has been right on the cusp of winning the PFL several times and last year finished second to San Diego in 2019. The Bulldogs will have the Toreros to open both school’s spring schedules on March 13 in a game in Des Moines that may feature a weather advantage to the Bulldogs and win there might shoot Drake into the PFL title.

This spring’s offense will be headed by sophomore QB Ian Corwin, who had an outstanding freshman season in 2019 with 2,101 yards throwing and 20 touchdowns. The offense likely will need to be more reliant on Corwin after the graduation of 1,000 yard RB Drew Lauer.

QB Ian Corwin

His main target from a year ago is gone in WR Devin Cates. TE Grant Gossling may be a player that emerges this spring too after being an All PFL Honorable Mention performer despite only seven catches for 52 yards as he was more honored because of his blocking.

The Bulldog defense had a few players graduate that would have played if there was a fall season including DT Gavin Dineen and S Will Warner but the cupboards are not completely empty for the Bulldogs as LB Will Kulick should be the team leader on this revamped group that will look to improve its effort in the scoring department (gave up over 25 points per game in 2019.

1.San Diego Toreros

Coach: Dale Lindsey (Seventh Season, 64-19 @ USD & overall)

Offensive Coordinator: Tyler Sutton
Defensive Coordinator: Bobby Jay
Stadium: Torero Stadium (6,000 capacity)

Location: San Diego, California

2019 Record: 9-3 (8-0 PFL)

As mentioned before, San Diego has ruled the PFL really in the last half decade. This spring’s team looks to be again the kings of the PFL and possibly play a spoiler in the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs again as USD has the only two football playoff wins in the history of the PFL.

This spring’s USD team will see a new signal caller as QB Reid Sinnett has graduated. Also, All-American TE Dalton Kincaid transferred to FBS Utah before the fall FBS season. The Toreros, however, do return two All-PFL offensive linemen in Luke LaCilento and DJ Wright as well as a starter in the backfield in RB Terrance Smith, who was second on the team in rushing with 473 yards in 2019.

RB Terrance Smith

All-American WR Alex Spadone also returns after he caught 34 passes for 432 yards in 11 games in 2019 and should be a key target for whomever the new USD quarterback will be.

The Toreros lose a couple of standouts upfront on the defensive line in Nick Friedel and Jacob Bergstrom for this spring season but DT Kevin Glajchen does return this spring to be the leader up front. LB Kama Kamaka should be the team leader overall after he led the team in tackles the last two seasons, Fellow LB Kyle Bilchik and CB Cassius Johnson, as well as S Hunter Nichols, should also help seal this side of the ball that was the third best in the PFL in 2019 in total defense.

CSJ 2021 Spring Preseason PFL Players of the Year

Offense

Alex Spadone, WR, San Diego, Jr.

Defense

Kama Kamaka, LB, San Diego, Sr.

Special Teams

Andrew Foster, K/P, Morehead State, Sr.

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