08/21/08 — N.C. Wesleyan strengthening program

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N.C. Wesleyan strengthening program

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 21, 2008 1:35 PM

ROCKY MOUNT -- After graduating its first-ever senior class a year ago, North Carolina Wesleyan isn't expected to defend its USA South Athletic Conference football title this season.

The Battling Bishops are picked fourth.

Just 12 starters return off last year's record-setting team and a new coach, Mark Henninger, is calling the shots in 2008. Ranked No. 18 in Lindy's preseason NCAA Division III poll, N.C. Wesleyan received one first-place vote and 30 points in ballots submitted by the league coaches.

Christopher Newport (Va.) University collected five first-place votes and 47 points. In-state rival Ferrum (Va.) College garnered two first-place nods and 40 points. Maryville (Tenn.) was selected third, followed by the Battling Bishops.

Methodist (28 points), Shenandoah (20), Greensboro (11) and Averett University (9) round out the eight-team conference.

N.C. Wesleyan logged a 9-3 worksheet in 2007 and became the first-ever USA South team to go unbeaten in regular-season play. The Battling Bishops followed that historical run with a stirring opening-round upset of top-seeded Washington & Jefferson (Pa.) in the playoffs.

"The key to our success this season will be replacing leadership," said Henninger in a preseason release. "We graduated our first senior class last season, and many of those 25 young men were four-year starters. Fortunately, we have a good number of guys that have waited their turn behind them."

Among that group is LeRon Boykin, who has been tabbed a preseason All-American by D3Football.com. The former James Kenan standout enjoyed a breakout year as a sophomore and established himself as a formidable force on defense.

Boykin posted a school-record 16 tackles-for-loss and added four sacks, the second-most in the program's four-year history from his defensive end position. He finished with 29.5 tackles and one fumble recovery.

N.C. Wesleyan opens the season at home Sept. 6 against Hampden-Sydney (Va.) College.