Dunn era begins at Cal U.

August 23, 2016
California’s Luke Smorey jumps over Shippensburg’s Allen Holman and runs into the endzone for a touchdown during the second quarter of Saturday’s game. California won 34-26. - Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter Order a Print

When Gary Dunn agreed to become the California University football coach this year, he dropped himself into a combustible situation.

HEAD COACH – Gary Dunn (1st season)

ASSISTANT COACHES – Mike Craig, Pete Davila, Chad Salisbury, Larry Wilson, Dave Durish, Pat Onesko

COLORS – Red & black

NICKNAME – Vulcans

2015 RECORD – 8-3

CONFERENCE – PSAC West

STRENGTHS – Wide receivers, secondary

WEAKNESS – Quarterback

OFFENSE – Pro-I

DEFENSE – 40

LAST POSTSEASON APPEARANCE – 2011

HOME FIELD PLAYING SURFACE – Turf

The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference is not a place for the faint of heart in the coaching world. Not when you’re battling such powerhouses as Slippery Rock and Indiana on a yearly basis.

Fortunately for Dunn, the talent level at Cal is high as are the hopes because all but the starting quarterback return from last year’s skill positions. So the expectations will be high for the Vulcans, who went 8-3 last season and were left out of the NCAA Division II playoffs. The Vulcans were picked third behind IUP and Slippery Rock in the preseason coaches poll.

Dunn was concerned with other things.

“When I got here, the biggest thing for me was getting to know my players,” said Dunn, who was an assistant coach at Duquesne University before coming back to his alma mater. “Getting out on the field was the best part of it. The other thing that was nice was the outreach of the alumni. They came to the spring game and are willing to help the program.”

Whoever wins the quarterback job will have two talented receivers with which to work. Garry Brown is one of the best receivers in the PSAC with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. The 6-1 senior ranked 10th in Division II last year with a 102.8 yards-per-game average. Brown had 62 receptions as a sophomore and 64 last season.

“Garry wants to compete at everything,” Dunn said. “He was one of the guys we had to reign in during spring. He always wants to go 100 percent, even when we want him to throttle back a bit. We’re just excited to get him back on the field.”

On the other side is Luke Smorey, a 6-0 junior whose receptions led to big plays. Of his 22 catches, five were for touchdowns and he was seventh in Division II with an average of 22.1 yards per catch.

Dunn decided to make the wide receiver position even more dangerous by switching Desimon Green from tight end. The 6-5, 240-pound senior had 14 receptions last year but he had 27 as a sophomore. Dunn sees the matchup problems Green creates if he’s used in the slot or as an H-back against smaller defensive backs.

There is quantity at running back. Dunn needs to figure out the right combinations from four potential starters: junior John Franklin, sophomore Jimmy Wheeler, redshirt sophomore Nate Goldsmith and junior Nick Grissom, who led the team in rushing two years ago but missed last season with a knee injury.

The biggest loss on offense came at the most important position: quarterback. James Harris had two strong seasons. In his senior year, Harris threw for a whopping 3,055 yards and 25 touchdowns. Micheal Keir, a 6-2 junior from Philadelphia, got into nine games but only threw eight passes. Marcus Prather, a 6-2, 205-pound transfer from Robert Morris, will be Keir’s main competition in camp. Prather, a redshirt senior, started his career at Akron, transferred to Robert Morris and is now at Cal.

“Mike was our quarterback through the spring and he’s been here, backing up James Harris,” said Dunn. “He’s worked hard preparing himself. He was here for the summer trying to find out what he needs to do for that job. It’s going to be a race. Prather will battle with Keir in camp.”

On defense, the big move sends Aaron Terry, a 5-11, 195-pound senior, from cornerback to strong safety to replace graduated Chaz Veal. That’s not a knock against Terry’s play but more a nod to the development of two other cornerbacks, senior Vondel Bell, who has unique height – he’s 6-4 – and 5-9 sophomore Brendan Edwards, who started four games. Dunn believes it’s better to have all three on the field at the same time. Jordan Bowman, a senior free safety, rounds out the strongest part of the defense.

“There are expectations because of so many older guys (on the team),” said Terry, who is drawing interest from a number of NFL scouts, including the Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. “I gained a little more weight because I moved to safety. I’m more involved in the game, along with the linebackers.”

Terry was second on the team with 70 tackles and four interceptions. The top tackler from last year, junior linebacker Devonte Suber, and senior defensive end Jawan Turner, who had a team-high 10 tackles for losses, also return.

Joe Tuscano has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1980. He has covered all sports for the newspaper, including the Steelers, Pirates, Pitt football, local college football and wrestling. He has worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Jeannette News-Dispatch and North Hills Record. He graduated from Duquesne University in 1980.

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Sept. 17 – Millersville, 1 p.m.

Sept. 24 – at Seton Hill, 3 p.m.

Oct. 1 – Slippery Rock, 1 p.m.

Oct. 8 – Indiana, 7 p.m.

Oct. 15 – at Clarion, 6 p.m.

Oct. 22 – Gannon, 3 p.m.

Oct. 29 – at Mercyhurst, noon

Nov. 5 – Edinboro, 1 p.m.

Nov. 12 – East Stroudsburg, 1 p.m.

Penn State

Sept. 3 – Kent State, 3:30 p.m.

Sept. 10 – at Pitt, 12 p.m.

Sept. 17 – Temple, 12 p.m.

Sept. 24 – at Michigan,* 12 p.m.

Oct. 1 – Minnesota,* TBA

Oct. 8 – Maryland,* TBA

Oct. 22 – Ohio State,* 12 p.m.

Oct. 29 – at Purdue,* 8 p.m.

Nov. 5 – Iowa,* 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 12 – at Indiana,* TBA

Nov. 19 – at Rutgers,* 8 p.m.

Nov. 26 – Michigan State,* TBA

Dec. 3 – Big Ten Championship Game, TBA

Pitt

Sept. 3 – Villanova, 1:30 p.m.

Sept. 10 – Penn State, 12 p.m.

Sept. 17 – at Oklahoma State, 3:30 p.m.

Sept. 24 – North Carolina,* TBA

Oct. 1 – Marshall, TBA

Oct. 8 – Georgia Tech,* TBA

Oct. 15 – at Virginia,* TBA

Oct. 27 – Virginia Tech,* 7 p.m.

Nov. 5 – at Miami,* TBA

Nov. 12 – at Clemson,* TBA

Nov. 19 – Duke,* TBA

Nov. 26 – Syracuse,* TBA

Washington & Jefferson

Sept. 3 – Wooster, 1 p.m.

Sept. 10 – Grove City, 2 p.m.

Sept. 17 – at Thomas More, noon

Oct. 1 – at Thiel, 3 p.m.

Oct. 8 – Carnegie Mellon, 2 p.m.

Oct. 15 – Bethany, 6 p.m.

Oct. 22 – at Westminster, 1 p.m.

Oct. 29 – Saint Vincent, 2 p.m.

Nov. 5 – Geneva, 1 p.m.

Nov. 12 – at Waynesburg, 1:30 p.m.

Waynesburg University

Sept. 3 – Muskingum, 1:30 p.m.

Sept. 10 – at Westminster, 1 p.m.

Sept. 17 – at Carnegie Mellon, 1 p.m.

Sept. 24 – Case Western Reserve, 1:30 p.m.

Oct. 1 – at Grove City, 2 p.m.

Oct. 8 – Geneva, 1:30 p.m.

Oct. 15 – Thomas More, 1:30 p.m.

Oct. 29 – At Thiel, 7 p.m.

Nov. 5 – At Saint Vincent, 1 p.m.

Nov. 12 – Washington & Jefferson, 1:30 p.m.

West Virginia

Sept. 3 – Missouri, noon

Sept. 10 – Youngstown State, 2 p.m.

Sept. 24 – BYU at Landover, Md., TBA

Oct. 1 – Kansas State, TBA

Oct. 15 – at Texas Tech, TBA

Oct. 22 – TCU, TBA

Oct. 29 – at Oklahoma State, TBA

Nov. 5 – Kansas, TBA

Nov. 12 – at Texas, TBA

Nov. 19 – Oklahoma, TBA

Nov. 26 – at Iowa State, TBA

Dec. 3 – at Baylor, TBA