By Jordan Nicewarner, Panhandle News Network Sports

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. – The eyes of the D2 football world have already been on Shepherd, but fans finally got a taste of football season as the Rams took the field for their media day scrimmage. It didn’t take long for the buzz to come back to Ram Stadium, but that buzz quickly meshed with anticipation and questions.

Shepherd graduated around 30 seniors last year which naturally opens up holes all throughout the team. The quarterback position is in safe hands, so we will get to that later.

During his speech to boosters and media, Coach McCook talked about some new additions to the coaching staff, most notably defensive line coach Levern Belin and Offensive Coordinator Tyler Haines. Belin comes from the University of Deleware where he was the D-Line coach for the past five seasons. He and McCook share a long, close bond which started when they were both on the staff at Liberty University. Haines makes his way to Shepherd by way of Urbana University where he was the Head Coach until the campus closed in 2020. Then he moved on to a short stint on the staff at Baldwin-Wallace.

Looking towards the team, the defense this year is going to look a little different than last. This squad is smaller at almost every position, but this may be the most athletic group to come through in a while. Kyle Smith was pointed out by coach McCook as being one of the most underrated players from the defense last year and as being one of the defensive anchors this year. Smith will be teaming up with Malik Halloway at Defensive Ends and as McCook said “.. it’s gonna be a race to see who gets to the quarterback…the pressures on both of you guys to to keep that pressure”. Enelio Pena and Klayton Batten will be the keys to the secondary. In drills prior to the scrimmage, both showed impressive press defense and pass breakup abilities. This defense is fast and they all get to the ball. With coach Belin guiding a young defensive line, that should sure up what could be a dominating defense.

On the offensive side of the ball, questions at wide receiver was answered as soon as Marlon Cook leaped over a defender and brought down a touchdown pass from Bagent. Coming in at 6’2″ 210lbs and maning the “X” position, Cook is a matchup nightmare for defenses. He can leap over most corners and his sure hands mean he will more than likely come down with the ball. QB1 Tyson Bagent lost one of his top targets from last year, tight-end Alex Wetzel, leaving Brian Walker to fill big shoes. And if you ask coach McCook – “He’s my Guy”.  Ronnie Brown will be the main feature in the backfield behind Bagent. Brown brings an interesting twist to the offense as he can take a handoff and make a few guys miss, or he can sprint downfield and catch a deep pass. What he lacks in strength between the tackles, he makes up for with his unbelievable elusiveness.

And now on to QB1. I think I can say we all took a big sigh of relief when we heard that Tyson Bagent was coming back to campus for his senior year and we should be happy that he did. Bagent is leaner and stronger than he was during his Harlon Hill Award winning season last year. Coming in a little closer to 210lbs, Bagent looks lighter on his feet and more comfortable outside of the pocket.

Some criticism of Bagent’s season last year was that he didn’t trust his feet and wanted to stay in the pocket for as long as he could. He showed today that he still trusts the lineman in front of him to create a comfortable pocket, but he also showed that he is ready to run. In the first play of the scrimmage, Baget saw he didn’t have anyone to throw to, tucked the ball, and ran (quickly) for a 20-yard touchdown. It didn’t take long for QB1 to show the arm off, though. Not long after that TD run, Bagent dropped back into a secure pocket and launched a 40-yard, perfect fade ball to Marlon Cook who elevated over the corner to make the catch. As we all know, this team goes as Bagent goes and he seems to be going great as we head into the season.

All-in-all, this shepherd team is going to look a little different than last year’s Division 2 National Semi-Finals team. There are new faces all over the field and a fair amount of inexperience, but as coach McCook eluded to, the 12 seniors on the team have set a standard of excellence that demands everyone to be all-in.

This team will show a little different look, especially on the defense, which could surprise teams, and having Tyson Bagent at the helm keeps you confident about the offense.

The Rams have a tough first test against Southern Connecticut State University on September 1st at 5:30 pm. Tune into Shepherd Ram Football on 95.9 The Big Dawg.