This coming fall marks an end for the Shenandoah University football team – the program will play its seven USA South Conference opponents for the final time as league rivals in 2011.
In 2012, Shenandoah moves to the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and will play virtually an entire new slate of opponents.
"This year is our last year," head coach Paul Barnes said. "Of course our goal is to win every game, but since it is the last time we will be playing the majority of these schools, that thought is even greater in our minds."
Barnes, heading into his ninth season at the helm of the SU program, has 20 of a possible 26 starters (11 offense, 11 defense and four consisting of the special teams positions of kicker, punter, holder and long snapper) returning this year.
Nine of these starters come on the defensive side of the ball with seven coming on offense.
Erdman, a junior, is a two-year starter at defensive tackle, Giffing and Rogers are middle linebackers while Gibbs has been a mainstay in the defensive backfield.
Erdman had a second-best on team 13.5 tackles for loss last season on his way to being named honorable mention All-USA South.
An excellent student, Erdman was also one of two returning Hornets to earn Capital One Academic All-District III honors.
Erdman's work up front made the job of Giffing and Rogers much easier in the middle of the defense. Giffing, a junior, and Rogers, a sophomore, combined for 176 tackles (a school-record 101 by Giffing) as Giffing was tabbed as a second team linebacker and Rogers to the honorable mention team.
Both men grabbed Player of the Week honors during the season and Rogers, who was named as the league defensive Rookie of the Week on two occasions, picked up a D3football.com Team of the Week award after posting seven tackles in the Christopher Newport contest on October 2.
Gibbs had 62 tackles (32 solo) and seven passes defensed from his free safety position and was named second team All-USA South.
"These four guys provide us an excellent core to start with," Barnes said. "They are leaders on the field and in the weight room, and the coaching staff expects them to be an example for our younger guys in showing them what it takes to be a successful student-athlete."
Barnes and defensive coordinator Brock McCullough add to those four returnees by welcoming back Dustin Rowland, Preston Funk, Sean Purcell, Byron Mitchell, Brandon Martin and Philip Volz from the top of the depth chart that was posted for the 2010 season finale at Greensboro.
Those seven players started a combined total of 35 games (including Purcell and Volz with 10 each) with Mitchell making 42 tackles from his cornerback position.
This group does not include senior linebacker John Redmond, a two-year starter at middle linebacker who missed the final seven games of the year with a knee injury, and senior LB Jon Ludden.
"We played a tremendous number of guys last season and guys like Dustin, Preston, Byron and Brandon earned playing time as freshmen," Barnes said.
"We lost a couple of starters, but I don't think that is going to hurt us as much as it has in the past because of our depth. We should be in the same situation again this year in terms of excellent competition for starting spots."
Barnes and McCullough can also look to Cliff Parkins, Derrick Brown and Evan Griffin for depth on the defensive side of the ball. Parkins and Brown were both on the two-deep for most of the year and Griffin moves to outside linebacker after starting his career as a tight end.
Offensively, Keone Kyle departs after gaining over 2000 yards in two seasons in a Hornets uniform, but starters at every other position except right guard and the 'Z' wideout return.
Senior Rico Wallace, who became the first 1000-yard receiver in school history last season, again figures to be a focal point on offense.
Wallace had 56 catches for 1023 yards and was one of two SU players (the other being graduated offensive lineman Jamal Venable) to earn first team All-USA South accolades.
Wallace is the all-time leader at Shenandoah in receptions, reception yardage and receiving touchdowns after just three seasons in the program. In addition to the first team All-USA South nod, Wallace set a new school record with 224 yards receiving in the Ferrum contest last season and was named to the D3football.com Team of the Week.
Throwing Wallace the football again this season will be classmate Daniel Wright. Wright, a southpaw out of Verona, Virginia, finished second in the USA South in passing last season 1643 yards and 11 touchdowns on 126 completions over 229 attempts.
His 19 for 27 for 315 yards against Ferrum on October 23 represented the first time in school history that an SU quarterback cracked the 300-yard barrier in a game.
Wright had at least 10 completions in seven games, including the final four, and also ran for a score in the Averett victory at the end of October.
"Last season, we were fortunate for Daniel in that he had Rico and Keone as experienced playmakers to get the ball to," Barnes said. "That meant we didn't have to ask him to make all of the plays at the beginning of the season.
"He matured into that role as the year went on and we were more successful as we asked him to take on more of the offense.
"I think Daniel's ability to run the offense is going to really help us be balanced this season."
Martz had 33 carries for 136 yards and two touchdowns last season with Hopkins gaining valuable experience playing in junior varsity contests.
"Brad is a great athlete," Barnes said. "At the beginning of last season, we put him on defense for a bit in order to get him on the field.
"He played both fullback and tailback last season and is more than capable of handling the job as our primary ballcarrier.
"DaShawn has excellent speed and toughness. I think he will be right there competing for significant playing time."
At fullback, senior Paul Athey returns.
Wallace' 56 catches return at wideout, but Brian Calloway (26 receptions for 246 yards) and Derrick Lee (24 for 248) are no longer with the program.
Lee, who elected not to play football this season, also was the team's primary punt and kickoff returner in 2010. He had 48 total returns for 862 yards.
Feldman, who was named first team Capital One Academic All-District III last season, had four catches for 46 yards to lead this group.
Murphy and Tibbs both had one reception in limited varsity action.
"These guys might not have the experience that Rico has, but they improved steadily throughout last season and are ready to take the next step," Barnes said.
"I feel very confident with any one of them as one of our starting receivers."
Dellinger made nine starts and had two catches for four yards while Austin Barnes (Paul Barnes oldest son) alternated with Dellinger every other series.
"The two of them compliment each other very well. Each will see significant time again this season," Paul Barnes said.
These seven players average just a shade under 296 pounds and helped the offense average 281.1 yards per game last season.
"Joe (Jacoby, assistant coach) is a great teacher," Barnes said. "His NFL experience gives him a credibility that you don't see at this level very often, but sometimes overshadows how good he is with the players.
"We moved a bunch of guys into starting positions last year and Joe got them working as a unit. With these seven guys returning, I expect to pick up right where we left off."
Matthew Bounds and Donny Dodson, who both gained experience on the junior varsity, are candidates to crack the two-deep along the offensive line.
The special teams is also virtually unchanged from 2010 as Lloyd, a sophomore, and Gay, a junior, return to man the placekicking and punting duties.
Lloyd was 6 for 11 in field goals, including two of five from beyond 40 yards. He had a school-record 48 yarder in the 24-14 victory over Averett on October 30.
Gay had a 36.2 yard average in 51 punts with a long of 61 yards. Eleven of his punts were downed inside the 20-yard line and he had four punts of at least 50 yards.
"Last season, we were looking at Cory shifting from placekicker to punter and Andrew making the transition from high school," Barnes said.
"I thought both of them performed very well in those new roles and they are ready for even greater improvement this fall."
Gay will once again serve as the holder and Brooks is back for his fourth year as long snapper.
"Overall, I am very happy with the depth we have in our program," Barnes commented. "I thought we had our best year ever with the off-season program, which should allow us to start at an advanced spot when camp starts this season.
"Our recruiting numbers are about the same as always – I expect between 50 and 60 newcomers when practice starts in August. We should start camp right around 120 players.
"This is our last opportunity to win a USA South Conference title and I expect our guys to be prepared for every opponent's best effort each time out. It should be a great season and I can't wait to get started."
The final non-conference game, on September 17, is also against an ODAC foe. SU will travel to Ashland to take on Randolph-Macon.
Following an off-week, the Hornets host Greensboro in an October 1 Homecoming contest before going to Christopher Newport for just the second night game in Captains history.
Shenandoah completes the regular season with home dates against Maryville (Tenn.) on October 15 and Ferrum on October 29 along with road games at Methodist, October 22, Averett, November 5, and N.C. Wesleyan, November 12.
The N.C. Wesleyan contest is the final USA South game for the football program.
"We have had a great run in the USA South but it isn't over yet," Barnes said. "Our motto this season is going to be 'finish', and that is what we intend on doing in the USA South. We have seven games left and we intend to compete from start to finish in every one of them."