Coming off a 12-2 season a year ago, which featured a second-straight appearance in the NCAA Semifinals, expectations are high once again for the California Vulcans football team.
Cal U opens its eighth season under head coach John Luckhardt on Thursday, Aug. 27, when the Vulcans host Saginaw Valley (Mich.) at Adamson Stadium for a 7 p.m. start.
2008 was a special year for the Vulcans as the program won their fourth-straight Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West crown and claimed the first PSAC Championship title after the game was renewed after a 20-year hiatus.
The season ended with disappointment for the Vulcans, suffering a 45-7 loss to eventual national champion Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA semifinals.
In his first seven years at the helm for Cal U, head coach John Luckhardt has built the Vulcans football program into a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference power house and a national title contender. In season eight under Luckhardt, that is unlikely to change.
With another strong recruiting class that includes Division 1 transfer, Maryland QB Josh Portis, the cousin of NFL star running back Clinton Portis, Cal U has their eye on another title run.
“We expect to compete for our conference championship and if successful there compete in the post season,” Luckhardt told Inside Pittsburgh Sports.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Vulcans are losing two of their top contributors from last season in quarterback Kevin McCabe and wide receiver Marcel Pestano.
McCabe a former Division 1 transfer from Virginia who was highly recruited by Pitt coming out of high school, threw for 32 touchdowns and 3,214 yards for the Vulcans in 2008.
Pestano a transfer from Pitt last year, had 80 receptions and 15 touchdowns for the Vulcans and was among the nation’s top wide receivers in Division II.
Replacing that kind of production would seem near impossible but the Vulcans may not miss a beat.
Portis (6-4, 205 lbs, Woodland Hills, Calif) has taken over as the teams’ starting QB and has been selected as a team captain.
Portis is a dynamic playmaker who was a prime candidate to become Maryland’s starting quarterback after his sophomore season. He figures to be among the top players in division II at his position.
While it is expected that Portis will have an immediate impact, wide receiver is among the deepest positions on the team.
“We have an outstanding corp of receivers”, Luckhardt said.
Wide outs AJ Jackson , Josh Gumbert, Chad Cherry, Dom Curry, Terrance Moore Tim Picard, all figure to be difference makers in the passing game.
The player who is primed to replace Pestano is senior AJ Jackson (6-6, 230 lbs, Lehigh Acres, Fla.).
Jackson was second on the team with 43 receptions for 703 yards and 10 touchdowns. At 6-6, 230lbs, Jackson is major matchup problem for opposing cornerbacks, safeties and is developing as a number 1 target for Portis in summer practices.
Jackson caught at least 1 touchdown in 7 of his final 8 games.
The Vulcans will open the 2009 campaign ranked ninth in the preseason D2Football.com Top 25 media poll, which was released last week. This marks the second-straight year in which the California University of Pennsylvania football team has been featured in the top 10 of the preseason D2Football.com poll.
In addition to the Top 25 poll, D2Football.com also selected a preseason All-PSAC team that features players from both the West and East Divisions. Senior wide receiver/tight end AJ Jackson (Lehigh Acres, Fla./Lehigh/Sequoias), defensive back Terrence Johnson (Braddock, Pa./Woodland Hills) and defensive lineman Willie Walker (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa), along with junior offensive lineman Nate Nurse (Teaneck, N.J./Don Bosco/Rutgers) and graduate student punter Derek Fiorenza (Downingtown, Pa./Bishop Shanahan/Villanova), all garnered All-PSAC preseason honors from D2Football.com.
*Pascal Dupuis of the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins will be a special guest at California University of Pennsylvania on Thursday.
Dupuis will appear at the festivities prior to the Vulcans season opener on Thursday.