September 6, 2011

Remembering Derek Sheely

More news about: Frostburg State
Frostburg State, the rock
Josh Volpe and the Bobcats touch the rock before each home game, and will remember Derek Sheely when they do so before their home opener.
Frostburg State athletics file photo 

Frostburg State coach Tom Rogish can still remember the play. His call from the sidelines was clear -- punt if you see "X," fake it if you see "Y."

Derek Sheely saw "X." He called for the fake anyway. First down, Frostburg.

"He was our first protector and we went out and said, 'OK, we're hot if they do this,'" Rogish said. "Well, they didn't do 'this' and he did it anyhow. Got the first down.

"He came over, I remember, he went right to the sidelines and he knew I was looking for him. I gave him the old, 'Don't you ever do that again.' But then I went and whispered in his ear, 'That's a heck of a call, son.' He knew he was wrong, but he was ready for the punishment."

Rogish could never stay mad at Sheely for long. Not with that infectious, do-anything-for-the-team attitude the 5-11, 215-pound fullback brought to every workout, practice and game, and certainly not with the dry sense of humor he brought to the locker room.

"He was the kind of the guy that I really never had to do too much with," Rogish said. "He was like one of the top five guys academically with the grade point average, he had a passion for the game of football, loved football, his family loved football. He was a kid that worked out all summer long. I don't think he ever missed workouts here. He was just a very committed athlete."

During a practice the morning of Monday, Aug. 22, Sheely began to display "symptoms requiring attention," according to a statement released by Frostburg State director of news and media services Liz Medcalf. The athletic training staff acted accordingly, escorting Sheely from the field. It was then that Sheely collapsed and was transported by Maryland State Police medevac helicopter to the emergency room at Western Maryland Regional Medical Center.

Later that day, Sheely was transferred to R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. He died there late Sunday night, Aug. 28. He was 22 years old.

"I've been coaching for 40-something years and it's the first it's happened on the field for me," an audibly weary Rogish said early Thursday morning, Sept. 1, just minutes before a group of 130 players, coaches, administrators, cheerleaders and friends departed Frostburg State for Sheely's funeral in Germantown, Md. "We're devastated at the loss. He was a friend, a teammate and a valued member of the whole Frostburg community."

The tragedy has drawn national attention as it once again puts sports head injuries in the spotlight. Derek Sheely's father, Kenneth Sheely, told the New York Times that doctors informed him Derek suffered from "severe head trauma," not any kind of heart condition or other ailment. Calls to reach Kenneth Sheely for this article were unsuccessful, but the Sheely family released a statement through the school early Monday morning, Aug. 23.

"It is with heavy hearts that we must inform our dear family and friends that our beloved son, Derek Thomson Sheely, passed away moments ago after a courageous fight. We want to thank all of you for your thoughts and prayers. They’ve meant so much to Ken, Keyton, me, and especially Derek. We’re incredibly proud of Derek. He’s all one could hope for to have in a son/brother and more. He’s never run from a challenge and he fought this with everything he had. Please, if you can, go to Derek’s Facebook page and post a note on his wall. Or text us. It would mean so much to us." -The Sheelys.

When asked if it was fair to classify Sheely's injury and subsequent death as a freak accident, Frostburg State director of athletics Troy Dell responded: "I'm going to pass on that one."

But while the school continues to keep some details private out of respect for the Sheely family, Rogish and Dell are anxious to talk about what Derek Sheely meant to the Frostburg State community.

"I really feel like the things that Derek did on our campus, from being an honors student to being a double major, to the way he prepared for the season and games and the way he went about his business on the field, just really makes him the kind of young man that you can build your program upon," Dell said. "He's one of the cornerstones."

Rogish can fondly recount a story from 2008, Sheely's first year at Frostburg after transferring from Penn State, where Sheely scored a touchdown against Salisbury ... but then got so excited he spiked the ball, drawing a 15-yard penalty.

Senior quarterback Josh Volpe remembers the play well -- it was Volpe's first collegiate passing touchdown. Volpe and Sheely played three years together at Northwest High School in Germantown, Md., helping the Jaguars win a state championship one season.

"It's kind of shocking, it's still hard to believe," Volpe said. "Me and him have been good friends for the past eight years and it's been hard to lose a best friend. ...

"I'm definitely going to miss him on the field and playing with him. But I think I'm really just going to miss hanging out with him on Wednesday nights, going over and playing Xbox with him or Sunday afternoon watching football with him. That's when it's really going to hit me that he's not here."

"As you could expect, we're having highs and lows," Rogish said. "We try to tell stories about him and what he's done for this team and everything. It's just one of those things that you're not ever going to get over."

Derek Sheely was set to begin his third year as a starter for Frostburg State.
Frostburg State athletics photo

The Bobcats will honor Sheely, who started 20 games at fullback, prior to their home opener Sept. 17 against Utica, Rogish said. Dell said the football team will wear helmet decals honoring Sheely, while commemorative armbands featuring Sheely's No. 40 will be made available to all other Frostburg State athletic staffs and student-athletes.

The college is also planning its own memorial service. Rogish hopes to secure Sheely's legacy in two more ways -- by adding his name to former head coach Mike McGlinchey and assistant coach Lawren Williams on Frostburg State's memorial rock that players touch before stepping on the field for games, and by preserving his locker in the Bobcats' locker room.

"Long term, we'll probably never use his locker again," Rogish said. "Hopefully we can make that into something ... that as people see him and our kids see him, they know how hard Derek worked, how hard he prepared himself for every season."

The Bobcats carried Sheely's jersey with them onto the field in their season-opening 34-21 win at Geneva this past Saturday. Volpe said his emotions weighed on him, but earning a win in Sheely's memory helped the team move forward.

"It's been a tough few weeks, but we were happy that we were able to win on Saturday for him," said Volpe, who shared a dream with Sheely of returning to coach football at their high school alma mater one day. "That felt really good. We know that's what he wanted us to do, just keep pushing on."

Dell, who called losing any student on campus "probably the most difficult thing you ever deal with," has said he's received an outpouring of support from the CAC, Empire 8 and other conferences, teams, administrators and fans all across the country.

"As a coach I've been involved with many student-athletes, and none were finer than Derek," Rogish said. "He's a shining example of the kind of student-athletes we want at Frostburg."

Defense defines key regional opener
It certainly wasn't the prettiest game ever played. But then again, if you enjoy defense, you probably loved the battle between Rowanand Lycoming, MAC and NJAC contenders. A first-quarter field goal, a second-quarter field goal and safety, and a late fourth-quarter touchdown with a failed two-point conversion -- that was it for the scoring in Lycoming's 8-6 victory. Lycoming seemed to have a shutout in hand late in the fourth quarter, but a fumble by Parker Showers on second down at Lycoming's own 22-yard line was recovered by Rowan's Dean Hammel. Two plays later, Louie Bianchini connected with Dan Reed on a 19-yard touchdown toss with 1:03 remaining in regulation. But the Profs failed to convert the two-point conversion. Lycoming recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock. Both teams are expected to contend for their respective conference's crown this season, so it comes as no surprise that this game was so close. The fact that only 14 combined points were scored? I'd call that an upset. 

Lebanon Valley shows some Guile(s)
Ben Guiles isn't sneaking up on anyone this season. The preseason second-team D3football.com All-American set school records for rushing yards and touchdowns as a junior. But if the opener against Gettysburg is any indication, it doesn't matter what defenses throw at the senior tailback -- he's going to pile up the numbers. Guiles rushed for 143 yards and four touchdowns and added another 103 yards and score through the air. The five touchdowns tied a school record and helped Lebanon Valley tally a high-scoring 57-42 victory. The Dutchmen will need improvement defensively if they hope to win the MAC, but it's clear at this point that Guiles alone will be enough to keep Lebanon Valley in the race until the end.

Cortland gets an early scare
The 12th-ranked Red Dragons got a bit of a wakeup call in the their season-opening 28-12 win over Buffalo State. The Bengals held a 12-7 lead into the third quarter, until Cortland took the lead for good on a Dan Pitcher touchdown pass to Brian Haber. Still, Buffalo State out-gained Cortland in total offense (296-250) and won the turnover battle (2-1), including a 25-yard fumble return for touchdown by Kimani George in the second quarter. The fact that Cortland still won by 16 points despite the early-season hiccups is a testament, quite frankly, to its advantage in talent. The Red Dragons are primed for another big year.

Down to the wire
Union's 2010 campaign was marred by bad luck, whether it was injuries to key players or critical bounces going the wrong way during games. The Dutchmen have to hope that misfortune didn't carry over into 2011. Salve Regina freshman kicker Mark Moore, a lefty, drilled a 49-yard field goal as timed expired to give the Seahawks a 25-22 win over Union. The kick was the first of Moore's collegiate career and set the record for longest kick in school history. Union took over possession at their own 26-yard line trailing by eight points with 2:24 remaining in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Drew Connolly calmly drove the Dutchmen the length of the field, connecting on four of his six passes and ultimately scoring on a 27-yard touchdown scamper. Union converted the two-point conversion to tie the game, but booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds to set Salve Regina up with ideal field position. Union's Chase Richey caught five passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, but Connolly had an up-and-down day in a tough loss for the Dutchmen.

Empire 8 makes it five-for-five
The Empire 8 traditionally does well in non-conference games. That sentiment rings true again this season. The five Empire 8 teams in action in Week 1 all won, three by 13 points or more. Salisbury rode Ross Flanigan (104 rushing yards, three touchdowns) and a dominant defense (nine sacks, three interceptions) to a 42-3 win over The Apprentice School. Frostburg State, still reeling from the loss of Sheely, scored a 34-21 win over Geneva behind the potent combination of quarterback Jose Volpe and wide receiver Anthony Young, who caught eight passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. Utica edged St. Lawrence 48-35, Hartwick snuck by Morrisville State 14-11, and Ithaca needed to break up a desperation pass from 31 yards out in the closing seconds to hold off Brockport State 19-14.

Quick hits
Hartwick running back Anthony Casiman (152 yards on 28 carries) and linebacker Jordan Spirou (career-high 21 tackles, two sacks) had standout season debuts for the Hawks. ... Albright running back Josan Holmes tallied 110 rushing yards, 69 receiving yards and two touchdowns to fuel the Lions' offense in a 24-17 win over Ursinus. ... Ithaca free safety Josh Liemer tied for the team lead with six tackles and added a pair of first-half interceptions. ... Utica quarterback Andrew Benkwitt could be poised for a breakout season. The junior picked apart St. Lawrence's defense to the tune of 233 yards and three touchdowns on 25-of-32 passing as the Pioneers topped the defending Liberty League champs. Running back Jess Baldassare returned a third-quarter kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown for the Pioneers. ... Bobby Dougherty (nine carries, 87 yards) and Steven Webb (14 carries, 71 yards) highlighted a Hobart rushing attack that gouged Dickinson for 313 yards on 55 carries (5.7 average).

Looking ahead
Salisbury (1-0) will play its first conference game as a member of the Empire 8 when it hosts Ithaca (1-0) at noon this Saturday. Salisbury looked dominant, albeit against an inferior opponent. The Bombers, however, looked vulnerable against a Brockport squad they have traditionally had little trouble with in the past.

Union (0-1) will try to get in the win column following the loss at the buzzer to Salve Regina when it travels to Utica (1-0) for a 7 p.m. kickoff Saturday. Utica showed in the opener it can put up points against the upper-echelon Liberty League teams. Union must focus on eliminating mistakes -- turnovers and unforced penalties did them in against Salve Regina.

Is Widener (1-0) for real? While it's certainly too early to tell, the Pride looked dominant in their 44-6 opening win over Moravian. The offense, led by quarterback Chris Haupt and a balanced running attack that piled 218 yards on 41 carries, was solid, if not spectacular. But the obvious sparkplug was freshman wide receiver Anthony Davis, who returned a pair of fourth-quarter punts for touchdowns. The Pride will face Thiel (0-1) on the road at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Contact me
I'm always happy to hear from you, whether its questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com. You can also follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell), and be sure to get involved in the discussions on the Around the East thread on the message board.

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Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is an associate news editor for ESPN.com and a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has contributed freelance work to ESPN Rise and has been a regular contributor to D3football.com since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing. A native of Hyde Park, N.Y., Andrew currently resides in New Britain. 

2006-10 columnist: Adam Samrov 

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