Jennifer Hoffer – Special to Southern News –
Early season struggles have given the Owls football team a glimpse of what the team looks like without star running back Rashaad Slowley.
Slowley, who graduated last Spring, was a finalist for the 2011 Harlan Hill Award for last season’s outstanding performance on the field.
The Harlan Hill Award honors the nation’s top Division II player, basically serving as the Division II version of the Heisman Trophy.
The absence of Slowley is obviously a great loss, but according to the returning players and staff, the team is not worried.
“He was an outstanding athlete,” head coach Rich Cavanaugh said. “An outstanding football player.”
Cavanaugh said that Slowley is not the only key player the team lost.
“We lost a lot of great players and it’s the new players’ turn to carry the torch,” he said. “The ball is in their court now.”
Cavanaugh plans to stick with the same game plan as last season.
“We’re going to try to run the same basic offense, be balanced and continue to build on improving,” he said.
Two key factors that Cavanaugh looks for his team to improve upon are finishing drives and playing better defensively.
“Unfortunately we came up short,” Cavanaugh said, following the team’s 33-6 opening game loss to IUP. “We need to do a better job of finishing on offense and getting off the fielding in third down situations while on defense.”
Vaughn Magee, a junior, starts in place of Slowley this year. Magee said he is focused and motivated to help lead the team this year.
“We lost a lot of seniors including Slowley,” Magee said. “We’re a young team with upperclassmen who have huge potential.”
Through three games, Magee has amassed 283 yards at 3.9 yards per carry. In all three outings, Magee split time with J.W. Forte, who is also a junior. Cavanaugh said that he plans to rotate the two at running back.
“Right now the team has been breaking down film the coaches have been preparing,” Forte said. “We’re really working hard as a team and watching lots of film so we know the play before the ball’s even snapped.”
Forte emphasized the importance of team camaraderie and hard work in order for the team’s success this season.
“We’re working hard as a team week-by-week and executing what we perfected in practices and bringing that to the games every Saturday,” Forte said. “We’re young, working hard, everything’s starting to come together.”
Forte spoke about what Slowley brought to the offense.
“He could change the tempo of the game in just one play,” Forte said. “That’s tough to replace.”
Both Forte and Magee worked on their game at an individual level in the offseason. Magee trained this past summer at a speed school to help with his quickness and said that he will continue to work hard on his game both physically and mentally. Forte, on the other hand, has been working closely with the team’s new strength and conditioning coach.
“We’ve really been focusing on my flexibility,” Forte said. “I’m working on being quicker and faster on my cuts to the hole.”
Aiding the Owls’ offensive attack will be another first-year starter, quarterback Jacob Jablonski. Jablonski, now a junior, split time last season with graduated senior Kevin Lynch.
“We trust J.J. to lead us on the field and believe he can get the job done and make things happen for our team,” Forte said. “He’s a playmaker and I’m truly honored to go to war week in and week out with each and every player on our team.”