Division III football is nothing if not exciting.
In seven seasons as head coach at Maryville College, Tony Ierulli has directed the Scots in 10 games that went to overtime. Two of them took four extra sessions to decide.
All that withstanding, the former Maryville captain as a player in the late 1970s took the podium at the USA South Athletic Conference Football Media Day on Tuesday vowing to league coaches and others in attendance the Scots would be no less competitive in 2010.
Maryville graduated 26 seniors following the 2008 season, making 2009 one of rebuilding for the Scots. A young team finished last fall at 4-6, prompting league coaches on Tuesday to pick Maryville to finish fifth in its annual preseason poll.
Ierulli didn’t take exception to the selection. He didn’t take it lying down, either.
“We’re not happy being a 4-6 team,” Ierulli told the crowd. “We’re not happy being 5-5.”
Maryville opens the 2010 season at Huntingdon College, Montgomery, Ala., on Sept. 4, hosting Centre College on Sept. 11.
The Scots report for the start of fall camp Aug. 14.
Maryville’s sparkling new Clayton Center for the Arts played host to Tuesday’s USA South gathering, a move that had Maryville coaches and administrators beaming with pride.
“It was an outstanding event,” Ierulli said. “I’m a firm believer we need to promote the USA South conference, and this was a good opportunity for Maryville College to promote the USA South.
“(Maryville sports information director) Eric Etchison did a great job putting this thing together. I firmly believe Etch is the best SID in Division III. He’s the best I’ve ever worked with.”
Several dignitaries were in attendance, including new Maryville president Tom Bogart, former Scots coach Lon Herzbrun and Maryville alum and former Southeastern Conference commissioner Roy Kramer.
“I commend you on this beautiful facility,” USA South commissioner Rita Wiggs said, “and we thank you for the opportunity to have our event in the facility.”
Maryville athletics director Kandis Schram, who staged a two-year campaign to land the conference media gathering, was noticeably pleased.
“We like to think of athletics as the front porch of the campus,” she said, “and right now you’re getting a nice view.”
The USA South’s eight coaches spent much of the morning giving an overview of their respective teams for the 2010 season. North Carolina Wesleyan College, unbeaten at 7-0 in conference play a year ago, 8-3 overall, was picked to defend its title this fall, followed by Averett, Christopher Newport and Ferrum. Maryville and Greensboro were projected to finish in a tie for fifth, with Shenandoah and Methodist in the Nos. 7 and 8 spots, respectively.
Where 2009 was one of uncertainty for Maryville, Ierulli believes there’s enough talent returning to climb above the middle of the pack. The Scots return one of the nation’s top players in junior All-American receiver Wesley Idlette. The Chattanooga native had 62 catches for 994 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009, often fighting his way through double teams to average 16.0 yards per catch. Senior Tim Conner returns at quarterback after throwing for 1,800 yards and 14 scores last season to get Idlette the ball.
In the backfield, Maryville will hand the ball to senior Darrell Tate to fill the void left by the departure of all-conference selection and school record holder Rommel Hightower. Taken together, it’s a trio Ierulli believes can take the Scots places.
“We’ve still got some pretty good playmakers,” he said.
Maryville ranked sixth in scoring offense a year ago, averaging 19.6 points per game.
Defense has been Ierulli’s specialty in seven seasons as coach, and 2009 was no different. Maryville finished with the conference’s second stingiest defense last year and Ierulli isn’t looking for a letdown in 2010. The Scots will have to replace an All-American at linebacker to make it so.
Kyle Chewning led the USA South in tackles with 123 total stops last season. No other conference player had as many as 100 hits.
Juniors Tanner Caylor, at one of the linebackers, and Caleb Clement, at one of the defensive backs, are the top returning tacklers for Maryville. Seniors Bud Christy and Phil Garrett finished among the conference leaders in interceptions in 2010 with five and four picks, respectively.