Despite postponed season, Duquesne football has exciting outlook

Courtesy of Villanova Athletics | Todd Summers, a transfer from Villanova, will be eligible as a redshirt senior for the Dukes (whenever DU plays football again). Summers is originally from Murrysville and attended Franklin Regional High School.

Brentaro Yamane | Staff Writer

Sept. 3, 2020

It is weird walking along Duquesne’s “Academic Walk” and not seeing all of the football players practicing as a team. With the coronavirus pandemic changing the way people live their lives, it has affected many sports organizations, including leagues such as the Northeastern Conference (NEC), the conference in which Duquesne’s football program competes.

The NEC has postponed all fall sports until 2021, so while we won’t be seeing the Gridiron Dukes this autumn, there is a chance that the team can still play in the spring. There is also the possibility that the Dukes could play as an NCAA Division I FCS Independent school for this school year, but such an event is unclear at this point.

With the beginning of college football season upon us, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the Dukes will likely not play this season.

With everything going on in today’s society, all the Duquesne football players can do is simply keep practicing to become better, as a lot of the players are having individual or small group workouts.

For the Dukes, they come off a 2019 season in which they finished with a conference record of 4-3 and an overall record of 6-5. Duquesne started off 2019 hot with a conference record of 4-0, but things started slipping away when they lost their last three games of the season — all conference games. With the way that Duquesne played, fans could see that the team had the capability of winning another conference championship; it’s just that they couldn’t end the season strong.

The last time the Dukes won a conference title was in 2018 when they were co-conference champions with Sacred Heart.

So, it wasn’t that long ago that Duquesne’s football team were champions, but they want to get back to the top after not exceeding expectations from last season.

If the Dukes actually play a season before the end of the 2020-21 school year, that would be great to see as they will probably play all of their conference opponents. The only difference in the NEC going into the future is that there will be eight teams rather than nine, like in previous years.

Duquesne rival Robert Morris left the NEC during this summer to currently become an FCS independent school and will join the Big South Conference starting in 2021-22.

Duquesne’s head football coach Jerry Schmitt will enter his 16th season at the school and has some questions to think about when it comes to improving his ball club.

One of the key questions for the Dukes remains: Who will be the starting quarterback in the future? Both starting quarterbacks from last year, Daniel Parr and Brett Brumbaugh, have exhausted their eligibility. Parr, who was the team’s starting quarterback before getting a collarbone injury in the middle of last season, capped his Duquesne career with the second-highest completion percentage (59%) in program history. Whoever will be the team’s starting quarterback in the future will have to perform just as well as Parr.

Some of the potential starting quarterbacks for the Dukes in the future are players such as junior Evan Nelson, junior Alex Smith, sophomore Bryce Veasley and others.

Another hole that Duquesne will have to fix is the running game. The Dukes’ two leading rushers from last season, Mark Allen and A.J. Hines, have used all their years of eligibility. Hines led the Dukes in rushing yards in 2019 with 809 yards and is the all-time leader for the Dukes in rushing yards (4,629), rushing touchdowns (44) and total touchdowns (47).

Replacing Hines seems hard, but it is not impossible.

Sophomore Ky’ren Cunningham is one of the running backs expected to start for the Dukes for whenever they play. Even though he rushed for only 107 yards last season, he recorded 21 carries for a career-high 96 yards in the last game of the season against Central Connecticut State. That performance shows that he has the capability of being great.

The Dukes’ two leading receivers from 2019 in Kellon Taylor and Kareem Coles Jr. are no longer at the school, either, which means that Duquesne fans should see senior Dominic Thieman get more targets. Junior Davie Henderson should get more looks as well.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Dukes have lost their leading tackler (Brendan Thompson, 75), sack leader (Chris Favoroso, 9.5), and their leader in interceptions (Reid Harrison-Ducros, 4) from 2019. Daivon Ellison is also no longer on Duquesne’s football team after being ranked third on the team in tackles and second in interceptions a year ago.

Also, on special teams, the Dukes will have to replace their placekicker, Mitch MacZura, as he led the Dukes in field goals made with 9 in 2019. Rising senior Jacob Gill should be expected to be the team’s starting placekicker for the future, barring any unforeseen developments.

Also, last season, the Dukes had nine football players in total that were named to the 2019 All-NEC First or Second teams. All nine of those players, which include Kam Carter, Sterling Jenkins, Gabe Spurlock, Thompson, Favoroso, Harrison-Ducros, Allen, Taylor and Hines are all gone.

Duquesne did a good job recruiting 20 high school football players from the Class of 2020 to commit to the school. So, perhaps one of those 20 freshmen can make an impact for the Dukes in the upcoming season — whenever that may be.

Expect linebacker Connor Barrett, defensive back Michael Daure, and linebacker Todd Hill to continue to make big plays for the Dukes. All three of these players were freshmen last year and all three were the only football players from Duquesne’s recruitment class of 2019 that are true sophomores on this season’s roster. All three of them started a game for the Dukes last season.

With everything going on in today’s world, it can be hoped that sooner rather than later we can expect to see the Dukes’ football team back on Arthur J. Rooney Athletic Field.