BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. - It was a day of firsts for the Mountain East Conference on Tuesday.
The conference, which was officially recognized by the NCAA on July 1, welcomed coaches and players from its 11 football playing institutions from three states - West Virginia, Ohio and Virginia - to meet the media and unofficially begin its first season of competition.
"We've had a lot of firsts for sure," Mountain East Commissioner Reid Amos said. "There has been so much work by so many people in preparation for the start of the season and now we're less than a month away. My hope is that this event, with such a good turnout, gives (the football coaches) the feel that this group is now come together in the establishment of a new conference.
"Until you play that first game there's probably a certain amount of it that doesn't feel real."
Each coach had a turn at the podium to address the assembled media, and while some took the time to talk about individual players or to highlight a particular part of their team, the common theme through the afternoon was one of a new beginning.
Not only is the league in its first year of existence, but a handful of schools - notably West Virginia State, West Virginia Wesleyan and Fairmont State - will also have new head coaches for their first seasons in the Mountain East.
"Everything we do is for the first time," West Virginia State Coach Jon Anderson said. "That's good because we get to be very deliberate in how we do things. Knowing that, we have minimum expectations in everything we do and we need to meet those. We're at the point now where we just need to play football. We've been here for six months as a staff and we've done everything we can do up to this point.
"Football is a crazy sport because you train year-round for 11 opportunities. Now it is time to take those opportunities and see where we are at."
Urbana quarterback DJ Mendenhall, a four-year starter for the Blue Knights and a preseason third-team All-American by Beyond Sports Network, said having a home in the MEC was especially nice for his school from a stability standpoint after several years of jumping between conferences.
"We've played a couple of these teams," he said. "I think there's only three or four teams that we haven't played yet. It'll be exciting come Saturdays."
Mendenhall said the Urbana campus in Urbana, Ohio is starting to embrace its new conference affiliation.
"There's definitely a good vibe (on campus)," he said. "A real good vibe. Everyone is excited to join an actual conference and have a home for once."
* * *
SHEPHERD WAS SELECTED by league coaches as the preseason favorite to win the inaugural Mountain East football championship.
The Rams received eight of the 11 first-place votes while Charleston was picked second and received two first-pace votes.