By Charles Bare
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Coming off a 2012 campaign in which it finished with an overall record of 2-9 and a 2-4 mark against Patriot League foes, the Holy Cross football team enters the 2013 season looking to rebound. Last year, the Crusaders faced the hardest regular season schedule in the nation according to the NCAA. Five of Holy Cross' nine losses in 2012 came by four points or less, with the opposition putting the deciding points on the board in the final two minutes of each of those contests. This season, the Crusaders will look to build off what they learned in 2012 in hopes of contenting for the Patriot League title.
On the offensive side of the ball, Holy Cross returns six starters and 16 total players from last season's final two-deep chart. That group will look to build on what they did in the second half of last year, averaging 28.2 points, 413.0 yards of total offense and 23.2 first downs per game over the final six contests of the season. Even though five starters need to be replaced, Holy Cross has the potential to put one of the top offenses in the Patriot League on the field in 2013.
"Our offense will come into this season with a lot of confidence," said head coach Tom Gilmore. "We finished last year on a high note, and a number of players now have significant game experience due to all of the injuries we suffered through last season. We expect the offense to continue improving as the year goes along."
As for the defense, the Crusaders have nine starters back on a unit that could be one of the top defenses in the Patriot League. Holy Cross gave up 415.6 yards and 28.8 points per game in 2012, and held three of its opponents to 13 points or less. The Crusaders will look to improve upon those numbers in 2013, with several experienced players returning.
"Our defense did some good things last season, and our players kept battling even as the injuries mounted," said Gilmore. "Having a lot of guys back with significant experience at every position is certainly going to make us a lot stronger as a unit."
"Our goal is to develop good consistency, while getting the right players on the field in the right positions. That will allow us to develop confidence, and have a much better year in every phase of the game."
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of how Holy Cross should look in 2013.
Junior Ryan Laughlin and junior Steven Elder will compete for the starting quarterback job, after both players gained significant experience last season. Laughlin played in all 11 games with four starts in 2012, completing 81 of 132 passes for 752 yards and six touchdowns. He was also the team's third-leading rusher with 144 yards and a score on 42 carries. Elder also showed signs of promise a year ago, when he played in seven contests with five starts. He hit on 106 of 173 passes last season for 1,281 yards and seven touchdowns.
"Ryan Laughlin and Steven Elder have been battling neck and neck since the middle of last season," said Gilmore. "Both of them have a lot of game experience now, and performed well toward the end of last year. We are confident that either one of them can have success in leading our offense."
Junior Michael Shewchuk could also become a factor under center for Holy Cross. Junior Michael Reardon will provide added depth, while freshman Pete Pujals will join the competition for playing time.
Whoever wins the starting quarterback spot will have a number of excellent targets to hit, as the Crusaders return six of their top seven wide receivers from last season. Senior Mike Fess leads the way, after catching 80 passes for 795 yards and four touchdowns a year ago. Senior Kyle Toulouse also had a strong season in 2012, totaling 27 receptions for 244 yards.
"Mike Fess and Kyle Toulouse are both very good players," said Gilmore. "We anticipate them being the best two receivers on our team, with the potential to be two of the best in the Patriot League. They are both working hard to improve their play, and we expect them to only get better as the season goes along."
Junior Jereme Murray should also be a key player, after posting 12 catches for 141 yards last season. Seniors Jon Smith and Nate Stanley are two other wide receivers who will look to play significant roles. Smith had 10 receptions for 105 yards last season, while Stanley caught 12 passes for 128 yards. Junior Tyler Artim (six catches, 52 yards) looks to also become more of a factor in 2013, along with sophomore Kalif Raymond, who saw action exclusively as a kickoff and punt returner last year.
"We should have outstanding depth at wide receiver, with numerous players who will be a big part of the equation," said Gilmore. "We have a strong combination of talent and experience which should only make our offense better."
Others who will look to break into the rotation at wide receiver include seniors Jimmy Jordan and James Lizotte; junior Shane Taylor; and sophomores Zach Buzzard and Don Webber. Freshman Jake Wieczorek will also have a chance to contribute.
The Crusaders do not return much experience at tight end, but some talented players will look to develop and make contributions. Junior Ted Deily, who played in four games last season, leads the way. Senior Max Librizzi (who moves over from quarterback), junior Andrew Mizzoni (who spent the last two years at outside linebacker) and junior Aaron Lewis (a former offensive lineman) could also become a key players.
"Ted Deily has improved significantly over the last two years, so we anticipate him being a big part of things," said Gilmore. "Max Librizzi and Andrew Mizzoni did some good things after moving to the position in the spring, and they should both be able to contribute if they continue to improve."
Freshmen Mark McGuire and Lucas Nikolaisen could also break into the rotation at tight end.
In the offensive backfield as well, senior Reggie Woods looks to take over as the starter for Holy Cross at tailback. Woods was the team's second-leading rusher last season, carrying the ball 65 times for 290 yards and a touchdown. He will be pushed by junior Kyle Robbins and sophomores Elad Covaliu and Alex Waked, three players who saw action mostly on special teams last season.
"We are anticipating a big year for Reggie Woods," said Gilmore. "He was performing well last season, before suffering a fluke knee injury at Wagner. But he is fully recovered, and will be strong and healthy for the start of the season. Kyle Robbins, Elad Covaliu and Alex Waked are three other talented players who continue to develop, and they all will have the chance to compete for legitimate playing time."
Freshman Gabe Guild could also become a factor at tailback.
Junior Michael O'Dwyer should once again play a key role at fullback, after appearing in all 11 games last season with three starts. O'Dwyer was a key blocker for the Crusaders last year, and also caught four passes for 18 yards out of the backfield.
"Michael O'Dwyer is a real dedicated player, who has improved his game quite a bit," said Gilmore. "We anticipate being able to work him into the offense a lot more this year."
On the offensive line, the Crusaders return three starters from a year ago. Last season the line paved the way for Holy Cross to average 343.5 yards of total offense and 21.2 points per contest. Leading the way will be fifth-year seniors Casey Bessemer and Kyle Pedretty. The versatile Bessemer looks to be the starter at left guard, after starting all 22 of the Crusaders' games over the last two seasons. He has moved around the line quite a bit during that time, starting games at every position except center. Pedretty, who has also started 22 career games, is expected to be in the lineup at left tackle. He hopes to stay healthy this year, after missing time in both 2011 and 2012 due to injury.
"We are excited to have both Casey Bessemer and Kyle Pedretty back for one more year," said Gilmore. "They are experienced, knowledgeable players who are physically in great shape. With the two of them on the field, we anticipate the left side of the line to be very strong."
Senior Blake Berresford also returns to the starting lineup, at right tackle. Berresford started 10 games at that position last season, and has now made 13 career starts. Senior Jay Knighton looks to take over as the starting center this year, after playing in nine games with six starts at guard in 2012. The top candidates to earn the fifth starting spot at right guard are fifth-year senior Billy Lang, who saw action in nine games with two starts last season, and junior Ryan Schnieber, who missed all of 2013 due to injury. Others who look to push for starting roles or earn playing time as key backups include seniors Mike Chieco and Emanuel Mendoza, and junior Pat Restrepo.
"We have a number of talented players returning along the offensive line, and the majority of them have significant game experience," said Gilmore. "If we are able to stay healthy this season, the offensive line can be a major strength for us."
Senior Jake Keller, junior Cain Lamper and sophomores Conor Hopewell and Sam Ranieri will provide added depth, along with freshmen George Griffin, Hunter Hudgins, Rob Kosharek, James Murray and Nick Piker.
The defensive line looks to be a strength for Holy Cross, with all three starters from last season returning. Leading the way is senior Gary Acquah, who earned second team All-Patriot League honors a year ago. Acquah totaled 54 tackles in 2012, including 35 solo stops, two quarterback sacks and seven tackles for loss. Sophomore Mike Galantini returns at another defensive line spot, after finishing last season with 30 tackles and three quarterback sacks. The third defensive line position will once again be manned by senior Matthew Boyd, who had 34 tackles, a quarterback sack and three tackles for loss a year ago.
Several other players should push the incumbents for starting spots or play key roles off the bench. Sophomore Kobe Osei-Boaten played in 10 games last season with two starts, totaling 14 tackles, a quarterback sack and two tackles for loss. Senior Daryl Howell also saw a significant amount of action in 2012, making 14 total tackles and forcing a fumble.
"A number of key players are back to give us strong experience and depth on the defensive line," said Gilmore. "Gary Acquah is a great player and a great leader, who we are expecting to have a big senior year. Matthew Boyd and Daryl Howell are two other veterans who have continued to improve and will be regular parts of the lineup. Mike Galantini and Kobe Osei-Boaten were both able to gain experience as true freshmen, and we look for both of them to play bigger roles now that they have spent a year in our system."
Sophomores Richard Barber, Dewayne Cameron and Jacob Gonzales will also look to become significant contributors for the Crusaders. In addition, senior Jack Daly and sophomore Clint Jackman could work their way into the rotation, along with freshman Dean Doe.
At outside linebacker, senior Mike Tucker returns for his third season in the starting lineup. Tucker totaled 28 tackles and a pass breakup in 2012, to go along with two quarterback sacks and nine tackles for loss. Senior George Sessoms looks to take over as the starter at the other spot on the outside, after totaling 24 tackles, two quarterback sacks and two pass breakups a year ago.
"Mike Tucker is a very dedicated player, and a great leader who is very tough," said Gilmore. "He had to play some on the defensive line last year due to injuries, but his natural position is on the outside, and we anticipate him being even more effective this year. George Sessoms gained good experience last season after moving over from safety. He is a very athletic linebacker, and now that he is more comfortable at the position we expect him to have a very productive year."
Junior Chase Ullman also has a good deal of experience at outside linebacker, and should push for a starting spot or play a key role off the bench. He earned six starts in 2012, while recording 19 tackles and a quarterback sack. Others who will push to work their way into the lineup at outside linebacker include senior Pete Anastasio, junior Charlie Murphy and sophomores J.T. Frank and Ryan Smith.
Fifth-year senior Roman SanDoval returns to one of the starting spots for Holy Cross at inside linebacker. SanDoval totaled 75 tackles, three quarterback sacks, five tackles for loss and two pass breakups in 2012, despite missing two games due to injury. Senior Scotty O'Donoghue will also be back in the starting lineup for the Crusaders. O'Donoghue recorded 36 tackles, a quarterback sack and two pass breakups in the first five games last year, before suffering a season-ending injury at Colgate.
"Both Roman SanDoval and Scotty O'Donoghue are athletic, knowledgeable players, who the whole defense looks to for leadership," said Gilmore. "They are coming off injuries, but we expect them both to be fully healthy when preseason practice starts. They should play a huge role in the success of our defense this year."
Senior Tyler Zeoli could push SanDoval and O'Donoghue for a starting spot after making 15 tackles in 2012. Others who will look to work their way into the rotation include juniors Ryan Neumann and Shane Thompson, and sophomores Kenny Acquah, John Turner and John Zakrzewski.
In the secondary, junior Logan Silver returns to the starting lineup for Holy Cross at free safety. Silver totaled 36 tackles last season, with two interceptions, six pass breakups and two tackles for loss. Junior Sam Jones, who started at cornerback in 2012, looks to move to safety this spring. Last year, Jones recorded 31 tackles and broke up three passes.
"Logan Silver was in the starting lineup for most of last season, so he brings back a lot of experience," said Gilmore. "Sam Jones is also a very experienced player, who made a solid transition from cornerback to safety in the spring. We expect both of them to continue to improve this year."
Senior Philip Gough, junior Diego Quintanar and sophomore Matt Bhaya could also contend for starting spots at safety. Gough had eight tackles and one interception a year ago, while Quintanar posted 18 tackles with three pass breakups, and Bhaya made eight tackles.
"Philip Gough, Diego Quintanar and Matt Bhaya have all seen significant action for us," said Gilmore. "They have all made physical improvements, and their experience obviously gives them a lot of confidence heading into the season."
Junior Ben Coffaro returns to the lineup at cornerback, after starting 10 games in 2012. Coffaro totaled 50 tackles with two interceptions and two pass breakups a year ago. Seniors Irvin Scott and Andrew Zitnik are two other experienced players who should compete for starting cornerback spots. Scott had 23 tackles and two pass breakups last season, while Zitnik totaled 22 tackles with two pass breakups.
"It is always good to have experience at cornerback, so we are really anticipating great things from Ben Coffaro, Irvin Scott and Andrew Zitnik," said Gilmore. "We know they are all capable of performing at a very high level, and we have confidence in them heading into the season."
Sophomores Dabness Atkins, Coan Calabrese and Steven Martinez will also push for playing time at cornerback, along with freshman Ronald Millhouse.
Senior John Macomber returns for Holy Cross, after handling virtually all of the team's kicking duties in 2012, and earning second team All-Patriot League honors as both a placekicker and a punter. Macomber finished last season with 55 points scored, connecting on 10 of 13 field goals and 25 of 26 extra points. He also averaged 40.9 yards on 62 punts with 23 kicks downed inside the opponents' 20 yard line, and averaged 62.4 yards on 47 kickoffs with 21 touchbacks.
"It is great to have a player with John Macomber's experience back," said Gilmore. "He is one of those guys who you see constantly improving. He is coming off a great year, and we expect him to be very consistent this fall, both as a kicker and a punter."
At kick returner, Raymond earned first team All-Patriot League honors for the Crusaders last year. He averaged 24.3 yards on 32 kickoff returns with one touchdown, in addition to averaging 5.3 yards on 19 punt returns. Fess, Silver, Toulouse and Zitnik also have experience returning kickoffs, while Coffaro and Toulouse could factor in as punt returners.
"I think we are loaded in the return game," said Gilmore. "We have a lot of talented players, who are big time threats any time they get the ball in their hands in the kicking game."
At long snapper, junior Matt Fava returns after handling all of the snapping duties for Holy Cross in each of the last two seasons.
"Matt Fava is very confident and very consistent," said Gilmore. "He seems like he gets better every year and is a veteran at that position, even though he is only a junior."
The 2013 schedule looks to be challenging, as it includes six Patriot League games and six tough non-conference contests. This season will mark only the third time in school history Holy Cross will play 12 regular season games.
The Crusaders begin the season at Bryant on Aug. 31, then play host to Towson in their home opener on Sept. 7. Holy Cross will next travel to Central Connecticut on Sept. 14 and face Monmouth at Fitton Field on Sept. 21. Following a road date at Dartmouth on Sept. 28, the Crusaders wrap up the non-conference portion of their schedule by playing host to Harvard as part of Homecoming Weekend on Oct. 5.
"Harvard and Dartmouth are two of our traditional rivals, who we always look forward to playing," said Gilmore. "Towson is a top program in the Colonial Athletic Association, and could be one of the most talented teams we have faced in recent years. And Bryant, Central Connecticut and Monmouth are all scholarship programs which are on the rise. They are all competitive teams that we are going to have to play well in order to beat, and I think they will prepare us for the Patriot League season."
Holy Cross will open Patriot League play at Bucknell on Oct. 12, before playing host to Colgate (Oct. 19) and Lafayette (Oct. 26, Family Weekend). The Crusaders will then hit the road for contests at Fordham on Nov. 2 and at Lehigh on Nov. 9. Holy Cross wraps up the 2013 slate at home against Georgetown on Nov. 23.
"Colgate and Lehigh have been at the top of the league for the last few years, and we expect them both to be very tough again this year," said Gilmore. "But I think the rest of the teams have caught up to them, which will make for a very competitive season. We know when we go into a Patriot League game, it is always going to be difficult. So they are all intense games, and none of them are going to be easy."