Bryanna McDermott| Asst. Photo Editor
One day before the start of the 2016 season, the Duquesne football team extended head coach Jerry Schmitt’s contract, which will keep him on the Bluff through the 2020 season.
Athletic Director Dave Harper and Schmitt agreed to terms on Wednesday as the Dukes get set for their Sept. 1 season opener on the road against the Youngstown State Penguins, and will do so as the defending Northeast Conference champions.
Junior linebacker and captain Nate Stone, along with his teammates are quite happy with the decision to give Schmitt a contract extension.
“Coach Schmitt is a great guy, he always looks out for the team,” Stone said. “He brings a lot to the team physically and mentally.”
Last season Schmitt led the Dukes to a record of 8-4, going undefeated at home. Duquesne rallied to defeat St. Francis University 30-20 and claim the NEC Championship after trailing 14-0 early on in last November’s contest.
The win notched Duquesne’s third NEC title in just five years, with the team also victorious in 2011 and 2013. However, it was the first time that the Dukes won the conference outright and therefore qualified Duquesne for its first-ever FCS playoff game, in which they fell to William & Mary 52-49.
Junior defensive lineman James Coleman also acknowledged his appreciation for Schmitt.
“He always brings a winning mentality and a can-do attitude in everything we take on as a team,” Coleman said. “With him always being a steadfast leader, it creates a culture of winning.”
Coaches around the NEC showed respect to Duquesne in preseason voting as six of the league’s seven first place votes were given to the Dukes, which makes them the conference’s top team heading into 2016.
The upcoming season will consist of six home games and five contests on the road, which could serve the team well in 2016 if they can secure a perfect record at Arthur J. Rooney Field as they did in 2015.
The Red and Blue will be led by seniors Christian Kuntz and Dillon Buechel. Last season Kuntz led the nation in tackles for a loss, while Buechel enters 2016 second in Duquesne history in career completions (593), completion percentage (.583) and passing yards (7,465).
In his 12th season, Schmitt will return 14 starters from the defending Northeast Conference Championship squad, including seven on offense, six on defense and his starting place kicker and punter.
“It brings a certain level of experience on both sides of the ball,” Stone said. “In recent years we’ve had to play some younger guys sooner than we wanted to. With the experienced guys we have back, we feel more comfortable on the field and have a sense of what it’s like playing with the guy next to you.”
For Stone, going into the season as the defending champions is a motivator.
“It’s definitely a good feeling. It gives the guys something to look forward to and a goal to aim for down the road,” Stone said. “Our coaches and captains emphasize taking it one game at a time.”
Duquesne also had a league-high six players named to the preseason All-NEC Team including Stone,Buechel, Kuntz, senior wideout Wayne Capers, junior lineman Ben Huss, senior defensive lineman Jake Radziukinas.
Right now, the team is focusing on its matchup against Youngstown State, and the players feel they are ready for anything the season may throw their way. While becoming NEC champions for a second year might be the overall goal, the players aren’t looking that far ahead quite yet.
“Dukes adapt to any situation,” Coleman said.