Aug. 4, 2005
Despite going 3-8 overall and 1-5 in the Patriot League last season, there is reason for the Holy Cross football team to be optimistic heading into the 2005 campaign. After losing their first five games in head coach Tom Gilmore's inaugural season, the Crusaders came back to post a 3-3 record over their final six contests of the year. This season, the majority of the players who led to that second-half turnaround will be back on the field for Holy Cross.
On the offensive side of the ball, 10 of 11 starters and 17 of the 22 players on the final two-deep from 2004 return. This group, which averaged 334.9 total yards and 21.8 points per contest last season, looks to develop into one of the top offensive attacks in the Patriot League.
As for the defense, the Crusaders return six out of 11 starters, including the entire starting secondary. Under the direction of new defensive coordinator David Kotulski, this unit looks to show significant improvement heading into the 2005 season.
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of how the Crusaders should look in 2005.
"John O'Neil is a very experienced quarterback, and he has all the physical and mental tools to be an outstanding player," said Gilmore. "He really looked good at times last year, and has worked very hard during the offseason on improving his consistency. We expect him to take control of the offense and have a great season."
"Steve Silva and Gideon Akande are both so talented, that the biggest challenge we face at tailback is finding ways to use both of them as much as possible at the same time," said Gilmore. "In addition to being outstanding running backs, they are also great receivers out of the backfield. Because they are both so versatile, we could also split either one of them out as a wide receiver."
The starting fullback position will be manned by junior Frank Herlihy, who took over as the starter midway through last season. After making the transition from linebacker to the offensive side of the ball, Herlihy totaled 13 receptions for 87 yards and two touchdowns.
"Because he made a late move from defense to offense, we did not see what Frank Herlihy was capable of until midway through last season," said Gilmore. "Once he had the opportunity, he really showed that he is a physical, tough football player. Not only is he a great blocking fullback, but he is also capable of catching the ball to make some things happen on the perimeter."
"Sean Gruber will be our leader at wide receiver," said Gilmore. "He is a playmaker who has great hands and a knack for getting open. Bob Turkovich and Bryan Anderson both started a number of games last year, and they are steady performers with good hands who have been very reliable for us. Thomas Harrison and Ryan Maher are two other extremely talented young players who could really have breakout years. And if Jichael Griffin can come back at full strength, he is going to round out a very talented group of receivers. Overall, O'Neil is going to have a number of options when he throws the ball."
At tight end, fifth-year senior Luke Dugan returns to the starting lineup, where he should once again be among O'Neil's top targets. Last year, Dugan caught 17 passes for 202 yards, while ranking second on the team with three receiving touchdowns. Competing with Dugan for playing time will be senior Matt Lane, who saw action in all 11 games last season.
"Luke Dugan is without a doubt the most athletic tight end in the Patriot League," said Gilmore. "He has great hands and good size, and has put in a lot of time in the offseason to improve his blocking. And Matt Lane is one of the hardest working players on the team. In addition to seeing action at tight end, he will be one of our leaders on special teams." Sophomore Ryan McGuire will also look to break into the Crusaders' rotation at tight end.
"The offensive line really came together last year," said Gilmore. "They are a tough, physical group, and the returning players gained a great deal of valuable experience. David Cannon, who is a very consistent performer, will be the one that the rest of the linemen will look to for leadership.
Others who will look to compete for playing time or supply added depth include juniors Bill McCarthy and Matt Soleau, sophomore Rob Kerbstat, and freshmen Tyrone Billingsly, Luke Botting, R.J. Buchholz, David Gang, Garrett Nolan, Mason Olson, Chris Poole, Brian Rusate and Chris Smith.
"Tyler Nugent and Casey Gough performed well at times last year, and they have both made improvements in the offseason," said Gilmore. "They have really matured a lot, and we are looking for big years out of them. Darran Davis is another experienced player who will contribute, and Seun Bayode has improved a great deal and will see more action."
At strong safety, sophomore Kent Flanders returns after totaling 42 tackles and two pass breakups during his rookie season. Playing alongside Flanders at free safety will be fellow sophomore Obi Green, who recorded 38 tackles, three pass breakups and two fumble recoveries in 2004. Also competing for playing time at safety will be senior Kevin Dunn (27 tackles), senior Mark Balestracci (21 tackles) and junior Marc Crosby (two tackles).
"Obi Green and Kent Flanders are only going to get better, and they have both worked very hard to improve during the offseason," said Gilmore. "We are excited about the fact that they are both only sophomores, and will be key parts of our secondary for the next three years. Kevin Dunn, Marc Crosby and Mark Balestracci are also guys who we have confidence in, and they will see a lot of action in the nickel and dime packages."
"We have some talented linebackers who we expect to develop this season," said Gilmore. "Matt Dugan has a year of experience as a starter, and we expect him to be the leader of this group. Dan Adams also has some starting experience from last season, and he is slated to be the starting guy in the middle. Chris Nielsen has also improved quite a bit, and can become a key player for us. In addition, both Jesse Loubier and Mark Kelliher have improved, and will look to push for starting positions."
|John Markus Pinard|
"John Markus Pinard spent most of last season at tackle, but we feel that he can really be a force for us at end this fall," said Gilmore. "Garett Roberts is another guy who played a lot last year, and we expect him to be fighting for a starting role. We also look for Adam Carroll and Dana Buglione to develop into contributors this year."
Looking to take over as the starting defensive tackles are senior Garrett Hunt and junior Matt Lemire. Last season Hunt recorded eight tackles and Lemire had four stops, but both players missed significant time due to injury. Sophomores Doug Grasier, Adam Sadowski and Will Collins will also be looking to earn playing time in the middle of the line.
"Garrett Hunt really developed during spring practice, so we expect him to step into a starting role this year," said Gilmore. "Matt Lemire is another guy who is coming off a tough year from an injury standpoint, but he also has the ability to take over as a starter. Some of the young guys, like Adam Sadowski, Doug Grasier and Will Collins, have improved dramatically and will also be vying for more playing time."
"Mike DeSantis has continually improved throughout his college career, and we look for him to have another strong season for us this fall," said Gilmore. "Ryan McManaway has an incredible amount of potential, and we expect him to be one of the top punters in the Patriot League this year."
As for kick returners, the Crusaders seem to have an unlimited number of options. Holy Cross returns three players who ranked in the top 35 in the nation in kickoff returns last season in Gough (28.9 yards per return), Silva (25.9 yards per return) and Akande (23.6 yards per return). All three players should once again be involved on the kickoff return team in 2005. On punt returns, Silva (14.2 yards per return) and Gruber (4.4 yards per return) look to battle for the starting spot.
"We have a number of outstanding kick returners back this season," said Gilmore. "We feel that any of them can be a threat to go the distance whenever they have the ball in their hands."
|The Crusaders will play six games at Fitton Field this year.|
The Crusaders then hit the road for three straight games, beginning with a trip to 2004 NCAA quarterfinalist Delaware on Sept. 24. After visiting Yale on Oct. 1, Holy Cross then must head to 2004 Patriot League co-champion Lehigh on Oct. 8. The Crusaders return home for a pair of games against Dartmouth (Oct. 15) and Colgate (Oct. 22), before hitting the road once again for a trip to Fordham (Oct. 29). Holy Cross plays it final home game of the season on Nov. 12 against 2004 Patriot League co-champion Lafayette, before concluding the year on Nov. 19 at Bucknell.
"We are playing a much more competitive schedule this year, and we look at that as a great challenge," said Gilmore. "We know that we are going to have to prepare and play at a very high level to be successful, but we look forward to that opportunity."