WORCESTER, Mass. – Since the middle of March, the Holy Cross football team has been hard at work, taking part in spring practice. The Crusaders have shown a good deal of improvement throughout the spring, which should make them a much better team come the start of the 2013 season.
"If you look at just the spring, I think we have improved in every area, which you hope as a coach is the case," said head coach Tom Gilmore. "We are seeing a lot of younger guys, or guys that were just getting their first chance last season, really starting to come into their positions, understanding the techniques, understanding their reads and their assignments a lot better. So I think overall we have seen an improvement just about everywhere."
One key position the coaches have kept their eyes on this spring is at quarterback, where junior Ryan Laughlin (Glen Mills, Pa.) and junior Steven Elder (San Antonio, Texas) are battling for the starting job.
"First of all, when you look at where they were at the beginning of last season to where they ended last season, there was a huge improvement," said Gilmore. "And that is partially because they were getting all of the reps in practice and getting game experience. So by the end of the season, I thought both of them were playing pretty well. They have kind of picked up where they were at the end of the season, and they have improved from there. So I think that is going to be one of the biggest strengths on our team, at the quarterback position, because we have two capable guys that can step in there and do a great job for us."
Holy Cross also looks to be better along the offensive line. A number of key players were injured last year, but the line has been coming together this spring as the Crusaders have begun to get those experienced players back on the field.
"I think that is another strength on the offensive side of the ball," said Gilmore. "We got down to a point in preseason camp where we only had seven or eight players going on a consistent basis. It was an unfortunate development for us as a team, and it really caused a lot of ripple effects because we had to move Jack Maliska over there, and unfortunately he is graduating now. But we are getting three fifth-year seniors back, so we have a lot of experience. And there are a lot of other guys that played an awful lot lost year, started some games or played a significant amount. So those guys are used to working with each other. I have seen a huge improvement over the course of the spring."
Several key players also return at linebacker, another area where the Crusaders were impacted by injuries in 2012.
"Well the linebacker corps obviously was devastated late in the season," said Gilmore. "Later in the year we lost both of our inside linebackers, and that was a big blow to us. It caused us to have to rotate some players in different positions. But both of those guys coming back is going to really help solidify that position, and it has also allowed some younger guys and other guys who we moved there to learn the position a lot better. Getting those two guys to be the leaders in that position group is going to help, but I think we have made a lot of strides with the other guys as well."
Now at the conclusion of spring practice, coach Gilmore believes the Crusaders have the potential to be a much improved team this fall.
"Once we got the experience at the quarterback position, we were more than competitive and we were right in every game," said Gilmore. "And we just have to do some things a little bit better obviously in order to win those close games, and hopefully have situations where the games are not so close. But I think learning how to win is something that starts with an attitude, and work ethic, and gaining that confidence with what we are doing. We are going to be a little bit more experienced and mature football team this year overall, as compared to what we were through the majority of last season. I think all of those factors will help us."
If Holy Cross can continue to get better throughout the 2013 season, just like it did this spring, expect the Crusaders to be back in contention with the top teams in the Patriot League.