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St. John’s picked to finish seventh in NEC

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If you ask the Northeast Conference coaches, the St. John’s football team is expected to struggle again this season. The Red Storm were selected seventh out of eight teams in the preseason coaches poll announced Tuesday afternoon.

If you ask St. John’s head coach Bob Ricca, the team is not concerned with what people outside the Red Storm locker room thinks.

“I tell the kids that no one outside the [locker] room effects this team,” Ricca said on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “What others think, their expectations don’t matter. What matters is what we think inside.”

What Ricca, who is beginning his 30th year as the only head coach in the history of the St. John’s football program, does think is there is some potential in that locker room, including some key players in “skill positions.”

Leading that charge is what Ricca said is “as good a running back situation as we’ve ever had here” in the tandem of sophomore tailback Derek Jones, who had reconstructive knee surgery in the off-season, and Matt McGuire, a sophomore fullback who Ricca said showed some signs of brilliance last year before fracturing his ankle.

And while Ricca is also high on sophomore Alex Otero, who is a converted tight end from fullback last year, it is the other skill positions — quarterback and wide receiver — that has Ricca concerned.

“At quarterback we think we have some potential, but that potential has to transmit itself,” said Ricca, whose team went 5-6 overall and 2-6 in their first season in the NEC last year. “At wide receiver we need to find someone.”

With the regular season opener at Albany less than a month away, Ricca is unsure of his starting quarterback as sophomore Matt Millheiser and freshmen Marc Saracino and Kyle Lauver are all battling it out for the top spot. James Morton would have been the Red Storm’s top receiver, but he will miss the season to academic ineligibility.

Senior defensive lineman Shawn Oliver was the lone St. John’s player on the preseason all-conference team and is the only returnee to receive post-season honors last year, as he was selected to the second-team All-NEC.

The 6-foot-1, 240-pounder from Yonkers is expected to anchor the defensive line while the lion’s share of the backfield responsibility will rest of the shoulders of senior defensive back Allistair Sebastien from Roosevelt, who returns after being sidelined following a fractured ankle resulting from a freak accident in practice last year.

“Allistair has been a prominent player virtually from Day 1,” Ricca said. “He’s drawn much interest from NFL scouts and hopefully he will have a lot of impact this year.”

Once again, Robert Morris was the unanimous coaches choice to repeat as NEC champs. The five-time conference champs, coached by former New York Jets coach Joe Walton, is also ranked No. 1 nationally in the Division I-AA power poll.

Since coaches can’t vote for their own school in the preseason poll, Sacred Heart, who return 20 starters from last year, picked up the only other first place vote after finishing the season 10-1. The Pioneers are ranked No. 5 nationally in the Division I-AA power poll.

Wagner, ranked 10th in the Division I-AA power poll, was picked to finish third, followed by Monmouth, Central Connecticut State, Stony Brook, St. John’s and St. Francis (Pa.).

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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