Out of the chute and October. The Captains open at home against national power Salisbury and then travel to defending ODAC champ and league favorite Hampden-Sydney. The Sea Gulls are preseason top-10 in the D III polls, and QB Dan Griffin was a 1,000-yard passer and rusher last season. Hampden-Sydney welcomes Tennessee QB transfer Nash Nance, whose name sounds more Hampden-Sydney, or Dashiell Hammett, than Volunteer. October includes Ferrum and LaGrange at home and Averett and N.C. Wesleyan on the road. Ferrum always has athletes. The Captains never have faced LaGrange, a new member of the USA South, and are unsure what to expect. CNU has taken good teams to Danville and had a tough time with Averett, and Wesleyan has enough talent to challenge for the title.


Depth almost everywhere. The Captains came out of spring workouts believing that they might have their deepest team ever in 2012. Start at quarterback, where they have three players who started games last season: seniors Christian Woelfel-Monsivais and Aaron Edwards, and junior Lyndon Garner. All-conference runner Markeese Stovall (970 yards, 11 TD) and second-leading rusher Marcus Morrast (556 yards) are back. The coaches felt good enough about the depth at running back that they moved productiv Evan Moog (519 yards, 8 TD) to linebacker. He could play on both sides of the ball. Juniors Carus Boone and Jarod Lindner lead the offensive line, Justin Navarro the defensive line. Corners Tyshawn Harris and Marvin Mills are solid and experienced.


Placekicker, middle linebacker and tight end on the field, a handful of new faces off the field. Stephen Denuel handled the bulk of the kicking duties last year and made 16 of 18 field goals. Sophomore Mason Studor and junior Nick Henderson are the leading candidates to replace him. The Captains must replace all-conference middle linebacker and leading tackler Mike King, though senior Daniel Bowen stepped in and did a decent job when King was injured. Kelchner has four new assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator Justin Wood, and a new trainer (hey, football coaches get antsy if their parking spots are changed). Wood was an All-America linebacker with the Captains and has been with the program the past two years, but this is his first year as coordinator.


As mentioned before, underclassmen Mason Studer and Nick Henderson will battle to replace kicker Stephen Denuel. Justin Ricks (Hampton) was hurt much of last season, but will be counted on at free safety. Senior Travis Bruns backed up steady center Michael Meredith last year and has a leg up on the starting job. Tight end Chris Coiner's role should expand this season. He caught 14 passes, two for touchdowns, last year. Senior Dorion Jackson and juniors A.J. Schmetzer and Dequan Chatmon will challenge for playing time at outside linebacker.


The Captains' front four on defense has some experience, but is still young. They lost linemen Malcolm Jones and Paul Bresnan off of a group that was third in the USA South in total defense (323.9 ypg) and third against the rush (139.5 ypg). Junior end Justin Navarro (25 tackles, 5.5 TFL) appears to be the leader. Sophomores Hakeem Garner and Chris Roth also figure into the end rotation after getting playing time last season. Junior Kendal Rivers and soph Shaun Copening will be in the mix at tackle. Expect a lot of guys to get looks in preseason camp, and the Captains may rotate as many as 8-10 players along the line in games.


Best case: A quarterback separates himself among the three candidates and remains healthy, as does Stovall. The defensive line develops into a productive unit, allowing the linebackers to get to plays and make tackles. A kicker as efficient as Denuel emerges. The Captains get off to a quick start, winning at least two of their three non-conference games, providing a springboard into the league race. Nine wins almost certainly gets them into the playoffs for the ninth time in 12 years. Eight wins might do it as well, if they're the right eight wins. Worst case: No quarterback stands out, leaving Kelchner and the staff with a weekly decision on who and how many to play. The Captains get stuffed in their first couple of non-league games, shaking their confidence. Funny thing is, CNU experienced something close to a worst-case scenario last season, with quarterback injuries and losing Stovall at the end of the season. Yet the Captains still went unbeaten in the conference and made the playoffs, with a fairly young team.

Dave Fairbank