After being picked to finish first in the South Atlantic Conference Coaches' Poll, the Lenoir-Rhyne football team is ranked No. 8 in the NCAA Division II Preseason Poll, as announced Monday afternoon. The Bears finished the 2018 campaign ranked No. 8 and are coming off a 12-2 season, including a 7-0 mark in league play.
"You obviously want to be ranked high, it means people are taking notice of your program," said reigning American Football Coaches Association National Coach of the Year Drew Cronic. "At the same time, we don't talk about that much with our guys. We talk about always having something to prove and trying to show people we aren't just a flash in the pan. We have to focus on playing well week in and week out because this league is tough and we have to prepare for people's best shot."
The Bears placed a school-record 13 players on the South Atlantic Conference Preseason Team including a pair of 2018 All-Americans in Jason Poe and Kyle Dugger. Poe, the SAC Jacobs Blocking Trophy award winner, earned Don Hansen Second Team All-American accolades in his first year with the Bears for his work at guard. Dugger was an Honorable Mention All-American as a return specialist after a season that saw him break the school record for most punt return yards in a season. Dugger finished second in Division II in punt return yardage and punt return touchdowns.
Additionally, Dugger (also all-conference as a defensive back), Drake Starks, Dan Louba and Sherrod Williams were Preseason All-Conference First Teamers with seven more being second-team selections.
The previous record for most preseason all-conference selections was 11 which was done twice, most recently in 2013.
The Bears' nine-win improvement from 2017 to 2018 represented the biggest turnaround in all of Division II and L-R would advance to the national quarterfinals before falling to eventual champion Valdosta St.
Conference foe Wingate cracked the preseason poll at No. 21, giving the SAC two top-25 programs. The Bears swept the Bulldogs a year ago, winning a pair of one-possession games including a 21-17 victory in the second round of the NCAA playoffs.
The 100th season of L-R football kicks off on Saturday, Sept. 7, at 6 p.m. inside Moretz Stadium when St. Augustine's comes to Hickory. This will be the first matchup ever between the two squads.