The Pioneers of Sacred Heart University will enter the upcoming fall 2021 football season as the team to beat in the Northeastern Conference (NEC).
Sacred Heart, which finished its spring campaign with a 3-2 record, secured four of seven first-place votes in the league’s preseason poll. Duquesne University (two first-place votes) and Central Connecticut State University (one first-place vote) secured a two-way tie for second place while Bryan University checked in fourth on the poll.
“The NEC is an outstanding conference and any team can win the championship in any given season,” Coach Mark Nofri said in a statement. “Our league is competitive from top to bottom and there are no easy games.”
Sacred Heart, which will begin its upcoming season at home against Bucknell University on Saturday, September 4 at 6 p.m., will be led by halfback Julius Chestnut, who led the country this past spring in rushing-yards, all-purpose yards, and touchdowns. Chestnut was one of eight Pioneers to secure a spot on the conference’s preseason team — joining him on the offensive team were Naseim Brantley (wide receiver), JD DiRenzo (offensive line) and Josh Sokol (offensive line).
Following the team’s season-opener against the Bison, the Pioneers will visit Bryant University on Saturday, September 11 for their initial league tilt, which will then be followed by three consecitive non-conference matchups against Morgan State (Sept. 18), Dartmouth College (Sept. 25), and Howard University (Oct. 2).
“It’s an honor to be picked to win the conference by your peers, but all that matters is who is the top team come the end of November,” said Nofri. “We had a very good spring season, earning the NEC Championship, and we look forward to defending our championship this fall.”
Sacred Heart, which has won the NEC outright twice (2001 and 2020-21), has shared the league crown three times, including twice with Duquesne in 2013 and 2018.