LANCASTER, Pa. – Following an impressive bounce-back season, nine members of the Ursinus College football team received All-Centennial Conference honors.
Junior offensive lineman Brett Highland was the lone first-team selection for the Bears, who finished 6-4 overall and 5-4 in conference play after going 2-8 (2-7 CC) the previous year, marking their ninth winning season in the last 12.
Freshman running back Samuel Ragland became the first player in program history to garner Rookie of the Year recognition since the award was instituted in 2012. Ragland is the third Bear in school history to collect a major award; he joins Bill Sedgwick, the offensive player of the year in 1993, and Greg Martell, the 2011 defensive player of the year.
Sophomore running back Stacey Gardner and sophomore offensive lineman James Marinelli were chosen to the second team offensive squad, while junior defensive lineman Charles Anderson and junior defensive back Tyler Gordon also nabbed second team laurels. Ragland joined junior tight end Thomas Cardozo, sophomore defensive lineman Noah Thomas, and senior defensive back Heath Hidlay in receiving honorable mention.
The nine all-conference performers marks the highest total for Ursinus since 2012. Best of all, eight of them will be back in 2018.
Highland started every game at right tackle for a Bears offense that led the CC in rushing yards per game (192.1) and rushing touchdowns (24) and paved the way for fellow All-CC honorees Gardner and Ragland in the backfield. Highland registered 23 knockdown blocks and 41 first down/touchdown blocks. He is the team's first first team offensive lineman since Woody Stefankiewicz in 2014.
Despite sitting out the season finale with an injury, Gardner ranked among the top five in the league in rushing touchdowns (8, 3rd), yards per carry (5.1, 4th), yards (743, 5th), and yards per game (74.3, 5th). He scored a touchdown in each of the first six games, including a 197-yard outburst in the opener against Bethany and 153 yards the following week versus Gettysburg. Gardner, who added 15 receptions, already has 1,202 rushing yards through his first two seasons.
A first-year starter, Marinelli anchored the Bears' offensive line at center, where he started every game. He recorded 37 knockdown blocks and added 39 first down/touchdown blocks on the season.
Anderson, a two-year starter at nose tackle, collected 39 tackles (5 for loss) and 1.5 sacks in the middle of the defensive front. He had eight stops (1.5 TFL) in the season finale at Dickinson.
Gordon was sixth on the team with 40 total tackles and ranked second in the conference with four interceptions. The first-year starter at safety picked off two passes at Muhlenberg and also had interceptions against Gettysburg and Franklin & Marshall.
The elusive Ragland proved a perfect complement to Gardner in the running game. He racked up an average of 6.0 yards per carry, finishing the season with 489 on just 81 totes, and scored eight touchdowns to match Gardner for third in the CC. Ragland, who also had 15 catches for 179 yards and two scores and added 370 yards on kick returns (5th in the CC), was tied for sixth in the league with 1,044 all-purpose yards.
Gardner and Ragland give the Bears a pair of all-conference running backs for the first time since 1999, when all-time rushing leader Shearrod Duncan and Joe Nagle made the all-league roster.
Cardozo finished with 15 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown as the starting tight end, all while providing excellent blocking in the run game. The junior hauled in a 10-yard TD reception in the opener against Bethany and had four grabs for 86 yards in the win at Gettysburg. Cardozo is the Bears' first All-CC tight end since C.J. Yespelkis in 2010.
Thomas jumped into the starting "viper" role four games into the season and gave the Bears an explosive threat off the edge. The sophomore, also a member of the men's lacrosse team, led the team and tied for seventh in the conference with five sacks, also ranking second for Ursinus with 6.5 tackles for loss in just eight games. Thomas had a streak of five consecutive games with a sack at one point.
Hidlay was one of the league's top ball-hawks in his final season as a starting safety. He finished second on the team and tied for 11th in the CC with 72 total tackles, and his 46 solo stops were good for ninth in the league. Hidlay tied for 11th with a team-best 10 tackles for loss and added three interceptions, 2.5 sacks, two pass break-ups, and a fumble recovery. He produced a career-high 16 tackles in his last game.
Additionally, senior defensive end Demarcus Henry was named to the All-Sportsmanship Team. Henry ranked fourth on the team with 43 tackles. He also forced a fumble and recovered another.