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Penn football will begin its 2017 season with a matchup against NCAA Division II member Ohio Dominican. 

Credit: Zach Sheldon

Football is back at Franklin Field.

Penn football will open its season on Saturday against Ohio Dominican, a member of the Division II Great Midwest Athletic Conference. The Quakers are coming off two consecutive shared Ivy League championships in coach Ray Priore’s first two seasons, and return eight starters on defense and six on offense.

Saturday will mark the first collegiate start for senior Will Fischer-Colbrie, who beat out sophomore Nick Robinson and freshman Ryan Glover for the Week One honor. With two years of experience with the Red and Blue, Fischer-Colbrie’s familiarity with the system and teammates was one of the reasons behind his selection.

“I’ve been throwing them balls for three years now, and it’s easy to go up to Justin [Watson] or [Nicholas] Bokun and anyone and talk to them about a play,” Fischer-Colbrie said.

As Fischer-Colbrie takes over for Alek Torgersen, the dual-threat quarterback and the first-team All-Ivy selection at his position in both 2015 and 2016, he’ll look to settle in on the field and not try to do too much.

“We run a great offense and I have a lot of players I can lean on, so taking care of my responsibilities, taking care of the football, getting the ball in the hands of our playmakers,” Fischer-Colbrie said.

Torgersen’s top three receivers from 2016 are all returning and figure to remain key targets. Senior wide receiver and captain Justin Watson’s 111.5 receiving yards per game topped the Ivy League charts – Harvard’s Justice Shelton-Mosley was a distant second with 71. A finalist for Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year in both 2015 and 2016, Watson has been named 2017 FCS National Performer of the Year Watch List, STATS FCS Walter Payton Award Watch List, and preseason STATS FCS first-team All-American. He forms a scary duo with junior wide receiver Christian Pearson, who caught 7 touchdown balls in 2016.

Senior running back Tre Solomon led the Ivy League in rushing volume and production with 176 for 907 yards in 2016 and is looking to repeat his first-team All-Ivy selection. He could potentially see a sizable workload to ease the pressure on Fischer-Colbrie in his debut.

Ohio Dominican’s (0-2) defense, having allowed 47 and 36 points to California (Pa.) and Ashland, has 3 sacks and no turnovers forced. Linebacker Cameron Kohl leads the unit with 21 tackles.

The Panthers have leaned heavily on the passing game thus far, with quarterback Grant Russell averaging 374 yards per game and 2.5 passing scores. 634 of his 748 passing yards have been funneled to three wide receivers – David Turner, Cory Contini and Cedric Washington. Priore praised Russell, who is in his third season starting for Ohio Dominican.

“He can throw the ball,” Priore said. “He’s a tall drink of water, 6-foot-4, can throw all the passing routes.”

Starting running back Brandon Schoen has rushed 19 times for 70 yards, but is hoping to regain his form after missing the past two seasons. He rushed for 3,246 yards and 30 touchdowns from 2012-14.

With the Panthers having fallen behind early in both of their 2017 games, they largely abandoned the running game, and Priore said the Quakers will try to achieve the same effect.

“If you can make teams one-dimensional, then you’ve got the best of them,” Priore said.

The Penn defense allowed just 16.7 points per game to conference opponents, second-best in the Ancient Eight, and was a key factor in repeating as Ivy champs. But with so much continuity, senior defensive end and captain Louis Vecchio thinks the unit has yet to see its ceiling.

“We’re ready to showcase what this defense is all about and that we’ve improved from last year,” Vecchio said.

While conference play does not begin until September 29, when Penn will host Dartmouth, Vecchio is just excited for the games to count again.

“Everyone’s itching to play.”