The Urbana University football team will know the way to West Virginia after this season.
In the Blue Knights’ first season in the Mountain East Conference, they will play four games in the Mountain State. Eight of the 11 football-playing schools in the new conference — it officially began competition this week — are from West Virginia.
“Our travel is going to be different,” said sixth-year head coach David Taynor. “We’ve been traveling west most of the time with an occasional trip to West Virginia.”
Urbana stays in state for its opener, however, playing at Findlay at 7 tonight.
This is Urbana’s third conference in the last three seasons. After stops in the Great Lakes Football Conference and the Great Lakes Valley Conference, Urbana hopes it has found a more permanent home in the Mountain East.
“It’s a great thing for the athletes in general,” Taynor said. “We have one conference to hang our hat on. It’s not the lacrosse team playing in this conference and the football team playing in this conference. Everyone has a conference they can call home. The competition is going to be relatively similar to what we faced in the GLVC. The conference is a little deeper. It’s going to be tougher from top to bottom.”
The eight West Virginia schools in the conference are more familiar with one another because they played together previously in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. That may be one reason Urbana was picked to finish sixth, and the other two new schools from outside the state, Notre Dame College in Ohio and Wise College in Virginia, were picked to finish eighth and ninth, respectively.
Urbana is coming off a 7-4 season. It has won 26 games in the last four seasons, which is more than it won in its first 13 seasons combined.
The Blue Knights look poised for another strong season because they have one of the best quarterback-receiver combos in the conference: seniors D.J. Mendenhall and Joe Webb.
Mendenhall, a four-year starter from West Jefferson, has a chance to become the third quarterback in NCAA Division II history with more than 10,000 career passing yards and 2,000 career rushing yards.
“He’s probably one of the most experienced, if not the most experienced, quarterback in the country,” Mendenhall said. “He’s started 32 of the 33 games he’s been here. His freshman year, he didn’t start his first game, and he started the next 10. He’s our all-time leading touchdown scorer and also the all-time leading passer.”
Mendenhall’s favorite target is senior Webb, a Mechanicsburg graduate who is already the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards (2,413), TD receptions (18) and yards per catch (18.01).