FAIRFIELD, CT (July 20, 2011) - Five Sacred Heart Pioneers were named to the 2011 Preseason All-Northeast Conference team by Phil Steele's 2011 FCS College Football Preview. Senior linebacker Chris Mandas (Mission Viejo, CA) led the group with a spot on the All-NEC first team defense. Senior Ahmad Covington (Clementon, NJ) and junior Niko Sierra (Longmeadow, MA) were placed on the second team defense and seniors Rich Rossi (Moosic, PA) and Justin Martel (Manchester, NH) were named to the second team offense.
Mandas returns for his senior season in the middle of the SHU defense having led the Pioneers in tackles the past two falls. He posted 88 tackles (52 solo/36 assisted) in 2010, ranking seventh among Northeast Conference leaders. He had 10.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks and a forced fumble. In pass coverage, Mandas had five pass break-ups and intercepted one pass last year. Over his three year, Mandas has appeared in all 32 games, starting 21-straight games at inside linebacker, and has posted 211 career tackles.
Rossi is coming off a junior campaign where he earned second team All-Northeast Conference honors splitting time at wide receiver and tight end. Rossi finished the season with 51 catches for 704 yards (13.8 yards per catch) and five touchdowns, all career-highs. He ranked second in the NEC in catches per game (4.64) and second in receiving yards per game (64.0 ypg). His 51 catches rank as the fifth highest season total in SHU history. Rossi, moving to tight end full time this fall, heads into his senior season iwth 108 career catches, fifth all-time at SHU, and 1,185 career receiving yards.
Covington has been a mainstay in the Sacred Heart secondary since his sophomore season, making 20-straight starts at corner. He had 41 tackles in 2011, 29 solo stops, and had a pair of picks among his six pass break-ups. He came up with a key interception and 54-yard return to set up a score in the Pioneers 26-25 upset win at Monmouth last season. Covington posted 44 tackles in 2009 and heads into his senior season with 97 career tackles and five career interceptions.
Sierra stepped into the starting line-up last season at outside linebacker and finished fourth on the team in tackles with 49 (36 solo/13 assisted). He led the team and was tied for the league lead with 10 passes defended in 2011. Over his first two years, Sierra has collected 89 total tackles, 63 solo, and posted three sacks and 9.0 tackles for a loss.
Martel has helped anchor the SHU offensive line, starting every game at right tackle over the past two seasons. Protecting the quarterback, he helped lead the SHU passing attack average 268.7 yards per game, tops in the Northeast Conference in 2010. SHU ranked second in total offense (368.6) among league leaders. He also helped lead an offensive attack that set a new school record for yards passing (2,956) and first downs (232) last fall and post the third highest total yards (4,055) in program history. In 2009, the Pioneer passing attack led the NEC averaging 218.2 yards per game.
The Pioneers will open training camp on Monday, August 8th and kick-off the 2011 season on Saturday, September 3rd hosting the Marist Red Foxes at 7 pm on Campus Field.