Salisbury voted NJAC preseason favorite, Kean "dark horse" in conference

Salisbury picked up six first-place votes as they sit atop the New Jersey Athletic Conference football preseason poll that the conference announced on Tuesday. The poll consists of votes from the seven coaches in the NJAC.

The Sea Gulls come into the 2022 season ranked 22nd in the national preseason poll. Salisbury went 6-0 in NJAC play last season (8-2 overall) as they ran away with the title. Even with the previous year's result, the Sea Gulls know they have a target on their back this season. 

The team that received the other first-place vote was Montclair State. The Red Hawks struggled last season, finishing with a 3-7 record (2-4 NJAC). While they had flashes of brilliance in 2021, the defense struggled throughout the season. Going into the 2022 season, Montclair State returns major cogs on defense, including defensive backs Brennan Ray and Mike Ramos. The offense will be a focal point as moving the ball down the field and costly turnovers marred many drives for the Red Hawks. 

Kean was picked to finish third but was referred to as the dark horse in the conference. They finished at 4-2 last season in the conference, and although they fell to Salisbury 38-6 in 2021, they were the closest to the Sea Gulls in quality of play throughout the season. The X-Factor for the Cougars will be 2021 NJAC Special Teams Player of the Year Dante Jamison, who finished with 1,512 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns, including three punt returns for scores. In the season's final game, the Preseason All-American rushed for 167 yards, which could spell trouble for the conference if head coach Dan Garrett uses him in the backfield with that kind of success. 

William Paterson is beginning a new era as former New York Giant Shaun Williams takes over as head coach of the Pioneers. He has been with the school since 2009 and has worked as the team's defensive coordinator since 2013. Williams has a thoroughbred on the defensive side of the ball, with All-NJAC First Team linebacker and Paterson native Nazier Wright returning to lead the unit. Spencer Lee leads the offense as the quarterback threw for 2,200 yards and 17 touchdowns for William Paterson. 

Rowan is second in the preseason poll and, for many, seems to be the team that can unseat Salisbury. They played the Sea Gulls and Kean very close last season and seem to be on the upswing this season. The defense was the issue for the Profs as they allowed 414 yards of total offense, and teams converted third downs at a 53 percent clip. James Fara and wide receiver John Maldonado, who combined for 11 touchdowns in 2021, return to the fold as Rowan looks to rebound from their 2-7 record last season. 

TCNJ finished with a 2-4 record in NJAC play (3-6 overall) as they picked to finish sixth in the conference. The Lions return four of their leading tacklers to the fold and a defense led by All-NJAC first-team defensive lineman Nick Celli after racking up 12.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks, good for fifth in the conference. They also have experienced pass catchers for a team that played five different quarterbacks last season, so the offense will be looked upon to improve for the team to compete this season. 

Five of the seven teams in the NJAC finished at .500 or under in the 2021 season. That will not happen this season as all seven teams have a lot of experience returning, which should make for an exciting campaign as the NJAC has been one of the more competitive conferences locally over the last few years.

2022 NJAC Football Preseason Poll (first-place votes in parentheses)

 1. Salisbury (6)

 2. Rowan

 3. Kean (dark horse)

 4. Montclair State (1)

 5. Christopher Newport

 6. TCNJ

 7. William Paterson

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