Crusader Football Prepares For Start Of 2010 Season

Bill Edger

By Charles Bare
Special to

Coming off a 2009 campaign in which it won its first Patriot League championship since 1991, the Holy Cross football team enters the 2010 season with high expectations. The Crusaders posted an overall record of 9-3 last season, tying for the fifth-most victories in school history. Holy Cross also went 5-1 in the Patriot League, to tie the school record for the most conference wins ever. Having posted a winning record in each of the last five seasons, the Crusaders should once again be among the best in the Patriot League in 2010.

On the offensive side of the ball, Holy Cross returns five starters and 13 total players from last season's final two-deep chart. That group will look to build on the success which they had a year ago, when they led the conference in scoring offense (32.2 points per game), and ranked second in both total offense (433.6 yards per game) and passing offense (314.9 yards per game). Even though six starters need to be replaced, Holy Cross looks to once again have one of the league's top offensive units this season.

"We have a number of talented players returning on the offensive side of the ball, and if we can make the appropriate adjustments to best take advantage of their skills, this should be a productive and successful unit," said head coach Tom Gilmore. "We are very confident that our offense will find ways to move the ball effectively this season."

As for the defense, the Crusaders have five starters back on a unit which looks to be one of the top defenses in the Patriot League. Holy Cross allowed 23.2 points and 389.5 yards per game in 2009, and will look to improve upon those numbers with a number of experienced players returning to the lineup.

"With the experience and physical capabilities that we have on defense, we expect to make huge improvements," said Gilmore. "The biggest challenge we have had over the last few seasons has been losing key players to injury. If we can stay relatively healthy this year, we should be significantly better on the defensive side of the ball."

Here is a position-by-position breakdown of how the Crusaders should look in 2010.

Ryan Taggart Quarterback
A new face will be at the helm of the Holy Cross offense, following the graduation of quarterback Dominic Randolph, a four-year starter. Three talented players look to compete to win that spot prior to the start of the season. Junior Kevin Watson began the 2009 campaign as the back-up quarterback, and had a seven-yard touchdown run against Sacred Heart before suffering a season-ending injury two weeks later. Senior Ryan Taggart then took over as the back-up and completed both of his pass attempts, before he went down for the rest of the season due to an injury suffered at Fordham. Watson and Taggart will contend with junior Mark Tolzien in the battle to become the Crusaders' starting signal caller.

"Kevin Watson and Ryan Taggart were two and three on the depth chart last year, and both of them have shown lots of promise," said Gilmore. "We also have Mark Tolzien, another skilled player who has developed during his time here. All three of those guys have done some good things for us, and we expect to see more good competition among them until a starter emerges."

Freshmen Max Librizzi and Joe Barber also join the competition this fall, and will look to push the returning quarterbacks for playing time.

Freddie Santana Wide Receiver
Whoever becomes the starting quarterback should have a number of excellent targets to hit, as Holy Cross returns seven of its top eight wide receivers from last season. Leading the way is senior Luke Chmielinski, who totaled a team-high 63 catches for 807 yards and four touchdowns last season while earning second team All-Patriot League honors. Senior Freddie Santana was also named second team All-Patriot League in 2009, after recording 46 receptions for 601 yards and a team-best eight scores. Rounding out the starting lineup at receiver will be senior Bill Edger, who returns for a fifth-year after leading the team with 818 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 49 catches last year.

Four other players who saw a great deal of action last season should also be key contributors at wide receiver. Senior Rob Koster caught 19 passes for 258 yards and three scores a year ago, while junior Charles McCall added 14 receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Gerald Mistretta chipped in with five receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown, while sophomore Nick Mercurio caught two passes for 21 yards.

"We have a very solid nucleus coming back at receiver, and we have a lot of confidence in these guys," said Gilmore. "They have a lot of experience running routes, reading coverages and making the appropriate adjustments, which will allow our offense to keep clicking even though we will have a new quarterback."

Junior Clinton McCabe will also look to earn playing time, along with freshmen Mike Fess, Jimmy Jordan, Jon Smith, Ross Smith and Nate Stanley.

Alex Schneider Tight End
At tight end, the Crusaders return another second team All-Patriot League selection in junior Alex Schneider. Last season, Schneider ranked fourth on the team with 33 receptions for 275 yards and six touchdowns.

"Alex Schneider has a lot of potential at tight end, both as a receiving threat and as a blocker," said Gilmore. "He has really been improving physically, and as he matures and gains more experience, we expect him to fully realize his potential."

Sophomore Josh Hauser, sophomore Reed Apfelbaum, senior Mike Argillander and junior Mike Wright will look to compete for playing time behind Schneider.

Eddie Houghton Running Back
Holy Cross looks to be strong in the offensive backfield as well, with the return of junior Matt Bellomo and sophomore Eddie Houghton at tailback. Last season, Bellomo rushed 91 times for 442 yards and four touchdowns, while catching 32 passes for 251 yards. Houghton also had a productive season in 2009, carrying the ball 68 times for 389 yards and five scores, in addition to totaling 10 receptions for 78 yards.

"Both Matt Bellomo and Eddie Houghton had some great games for us last season," said Gilmore. "Bellomo is the most versatile back we have, with his ability to run, catch and block. Houghton showed a lot of potential as a freshman, and we expect him to keep getting better."

Others who will look to break into the rotation at tailback include junior Francis Camara, sophomore Sam Auffant and freshman Reggie Woods.

Mike McCabe Offensive Line
On the offensive line, the Crusaders will need to replace four out of five starters from the 2009 season. Leading the way will be the lone returning starter, senior Mike McCabe at left tackle. McCabe, who was a second team All-Patriot League selection a year ago, is expected to be the leader of this young but talented group. Last season, McCabe led a line which paved the way for Holy Cross to average 433.6 yards of total offense and 32.2 points per contest. The Crusaders also allowed just 16 sacks during the 2009 season, while the team attempted 488 passes (just one sack for every 31.5 times the team dropped back to pass).

Senior Mike Bernazzani looks to join McCabe in the starting lineup at left guard. Bernazzani started five games for Holy Cross during the 2009 campaign, and has now started seven games during his collegiate career. Senior Scott Wise and junior Sean Whited, who both saw action as reserves in 2009, are also favorites to win the starting spots. The final position on the line will likely go to either sophomore Casey Bessemer or sophomore Kyle Pedretty.

"Both Mike McCabe and Mike Bernazzani have started a lot of games for us, and we are confident in their ability to lead the offensive line," said Gilmore. "The other guys may not have started for us, but they are very familiar with our system and we anticipate them being able to become very good players for us."

Others who will look to push starting roles or earn minutes as back-ups include senior Graham Gawryszewski, juniors Andrew Jameson and Kyle Seddon, and sophomores Fred Hilow and Billy Lang. Freshmen Blake Berresford, Mike Chieco, Kyle Holland, Jake Keller and Emanuel Mendoza also look to compete for playing time.

Sean Lamkin Linebacker
The linebackers look to be a strength for Holy Cross, with a number of experienced players returning. Senior Sean Lamkin is back for a fifth year at one of the outside linebacker spots, after missing the majority of the 2009 campaign due to injury. Lamkin totaled 12 tackles, two tackles for loss and an interception in just three games a year ago, before missing the rest of the season. He previously recorded 71 total tackles and six tackles for loss in 2008, while earning second team All-Patriot League honors.

"Sean Lamkin had been one of our top defensive players before he was injured," said Gilmore. "He is a great leader who has been working very hard, so we are excited to have him back."

Junior Jimmy Thomas should also see a great deal of action at outside linebacker, after emerging as a key player a year ago. Thomas totaled 67 tackles in 2009, including four sacks and nine tackles for loss. Senior James McLaughlin could also break into the starting lineup, after recording six tackles and a pass breakup as a reserve last season.

"Jimmy Thomas really stepped up last season when Lamkin was injured," said Gilmore. "He had some outstanding games for us, and we expect him to continue to develop this season. James McLaughlin is another guy who has an awful lot of experience on the field. He is one of the hardest workers on the team, and we have high expectations for him as well."

Sophomore David Herman and sophomore Erik Wachter will also contend for playing time at outside linebacker, along with freshmen Gary Acquah, Daryl Howell and Mike Tucker.

On the inside, three players look to be part of a strong competition for the two starting roles. Junior Ricky Otis developed into a key player in 2009, totaling 20 tackles and a pass breakup for the Crusaders. Junior C.J. Martin is also coming off a strong year with 31 tackles and two tackles for loss in 2009, while senior Perry Townsend totaled 26 tackles last season.

"Both Ricky Otis and C.J. Martin had a chance to get on the field and gain some experience last season, and that was what they needed the most," said Gilmore. "We anticipate both of them having big years for us in 2010. Perry Townsend is another guy who has been on the field a lot, and we expect him to once again play a key role for us."

Senior Brian Mauthe, sophomore Roman SanDoval and sophomore Pat O'Connell will look to earn more playing time at inside linebacker, in addition to playing key roles on special teams. Freshmen Pete Anastasio, Brendan McGovern, Mike Mirabella, Scotty O'Donoghue  and Tyler Zeoli will provide added depth.

Anthony DiMichele Secondary
The secondary should once again be strong this season, with a pair of starters returning. Senior Anthony DiMichele is back at strong safety, after earning first team All-Patriot League and third team All-America honors in 2009. DiMichele totaled 82 tackles, two interceptions, five pass breakups and five tackles for loss a year ago. Playing alongside DiMichele at free safety will be senior Alex Johnson, who was a second team All-Patriot League selection last season. Johnson recorded 55 total tackles, five pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble during the 2009 campaign.

"It is great to have two experienced players like Anthony DiMichele and Alex Johnson back to lead our secondary," said Gilmore. "They are really good players and great leaders, and we expect them both to be major factors for our defense.

Senior Pat Haidon (22 tackles in 2009) and senior Dakota Allosso (three tackles in 2009) also look to earn playing time for the Crusaders at the safety spots, along with junior Colby Husby. Sophomore Chris Entrup and freshman George Sessoms will provide added depth.

At cornerback, a number of players look to compete for the top spots following the graduation of both starters. Junior Chandler Fenner totaled 24 tackles as the top backup in 2009, while seeing a good deal of action in the nickel package. Junior Cav Koch should also be a factor after making three tackles last season, along with sophomore Tom Mannix, who had nine tackles in 2009 while playing mostly on special teams. Senior Kyle Smith, who missed the entire 2009 campaign due to injury, could also work his way into the lineup.

"Chandler Fenner is a very talented player, who has the physical tools necessary to be successful in this league," said Gilmore. "He was able to gain some experience last season, and we expect him to have a breakout year this fall. Cav Koch and Tom Mannix are two other guys we have confidence in, and we expect the competition for the starting spot will help both of them to get better."

Freshmen Philip Gough, Chris Higgins, Irvin Scott and Andrew Zitnik will also provide depth for the Crusaders at cornerback.

Mude Ohimor Defensive Line
The defensive line will be led by senior Mude Ohimor, who was named first team All-Patriot League in 2009. Last season, Ohimor led the team with seven sacks and nine tackles for loss, while his 34 total tackles were the most of any Holy Cross defensive lineman. A number of other players will compete for starting spots or play key roles as reserves. Senior Anthony Ruoti totaled 12 tackles with two tackles for loss a year ago, while senior Matt Ferrel recorded eight tackles. Sophomore Schuyler Waterhouse chipped in with nine tackles in 2009, senior Marcus Morgan added five tackles and senior Rory Sullivan had three tackles.

Sophomore Jack Maliska, junior Ryan McGinn and junior Eric Oldiges, should also become factors, after seeing limited action last season.

"Mude Ohimor has improved each year throughout his career, so we expect him to be even better and to lead our defensive line," said Gilmore. "There will be some heated battles for playing time at the other two spots on the defensive front. We have a number of players back with experience who are capable of playing key roles for us. We feel that this should be the deepest group we have had along the defensive line in years. "

Freshmen Joe Bell, Matthew Boyd, Jay Knighton and Michael White will provide added depth on the defensive front.

Rob Dornfried Special Teams
The Crusaders look to be strong in the kicking game, where they return both of their starters from last season. Senior Rob Dornfried is back at placekicker, after earning first team All-Patriot League honors in 2009. Dornfried led the team in scoring with 61 points last season, hitting seven of nine field goals and 40 out of 41 extra points. At punter, senior Don Lemieux returns following a 2009 campaign in which he was named second team All-Patriot League. Lemieux averaged 38.4 yards on 25 punts a year ago, in addition averaging 61.3 yards with 11 touchbacks on kickoffs.

"Both Rob Dornfried and Don Lemieux are capable of being very good placekickers and punters," said Gilmore. "The competition with each other helped them both to improve last year, and with the experience they gained in 2009, we expect both of them to have excellent years."

Junior Corey Page, junior Llazar Cuko, junior Pat Lowe, junior Paul Tearson and freshman John Macomber will provide depth at the kicking positions.

Holy Cross also returns its top kick returners from last season, in Johnson and Santana. Johnson averaged 22.1 yards on 31 kickoff returns in 2009, to rank fourth in the Patriot League. Santana ranked second in the conference with an average of 7.5 yards on 15 punt returns a year ago, in addition to averaging 18.0 yards on a pair of kickoff returns.

Fitton Field Crowd The 2010 schedule looks to be tough, as it includes six Patriot League games, three contests against top teams from the Ivy League, and a pair of non-conference games against full-scholarship opponents. The Crusaders will open the season with a home game against Howard on Sept. 4. Holy Cross then hits the road for games at Massachusetts on Sept. 11 and at Harvard on Sept. 18, before traveling to Georgetown for its Patriot League opener on Sept. 25. The Crusaders will return to Fitton Field for their next two contests, facing Fordham on Oct. 2 and Brown on Oct. 9.

Holy Cross will be back on the road for its next two games, heading to Dartmouth on Oct. 16 and Colgate on Oct. 23. Following a bye week, the Crusaders come back home to play Lehigh on Nov. 6. After heading to Lafayette on Nov. 13, Holy Cross closes out the season with a home game against Bucknell on Nov. 20.

"This is going to be a very challenging schedule," said Gilmore. "We open up the season with a new opponent in Howard, which is a full scholarship program with a lot of talent. We follow them up with two more tough games against UMass and Harvard, then we have two more difficult non-conference games later in the season with Brown and Dartmouth.

"In the Patriot League, this could be the most competitive year for the conference title in quite a long time, top to bottom. Every team in the league has a chance to win it all heading into the season."