With a returning All-America linebacker and a standout quarterback, Catawba appears poised for another run at the NCAA Division II football championship this season.
The Indians captured the South Atlantic Conference title last fall but fell short in a home playoff game, losing 28-14 to Tuskegee. With players returning at most skilled positions, Catawba and several other SAC teams were tabbed this preseason as playoff contenders.
In the Carolinas’ other Division II conference, Winston-Salem State and Bowie State were picked by coaches to repeat as conference champions and meet in the CIAA title game in November in Durham.
Winston-Salem State won the title last year, but Bowie State received the NCAA playoff berth, losing in the first round to Assumption.
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A look at Division II conferences that include Carolinas schools:
Favorites: Bowie State (Northern Division); Winston-Salem State (Southern)
Contenders: Virginia Union and Virginia State (Northern); Fayetteville State (Souther).
Livingstone is picked third in the Southern, with Johnson C. Smith predicted for fourth. Smith is led by sophomore quarterback Jordan Lane, who played at Victory Christian in Charlotte, wide receiver Rod Carter and All-America safety Carlo Thomas.
Players to watch: QB Shawheem Dowdy (Virginia Union); WR Nyme Manns (Bowie State); OL Jac’que Polite (Winston-Salem State); DL Almond Cox (Livingstone).
Comment: Bowie State and Winston-Salem State feature two of the CIAA’s top defenses and figure to return the title game Nov. 12 at Durham County Memorial Stadium.
Contenders: Carson-Newman, Newberry
Other local schools: Wingate, led by running back Lawrence Pittman, was picked fifth in the eight-team league. Lenoir-Rhyne, with new coach Mike Kellar, was picked sixth.
Players to watch: LB Kyle Kitchens (Catawba); QB Mike Sheehan (Catawba).
Comment: The defending champion Indians have a preseason All-American in linebacker Kyle Kitchens, and quarterback Mike Sheehan (with a 3.97 GPA on a 4.0 scale) led the SAC in most passing categories last season. Carson-Newman is loaded, as usual, and figures to contend for a playoff berth with Catawba.