Aug. 9, 2006
By Charles Bare
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Coming off a 2005 season in which it went 6-5 overall and 3-3 in the Patriot League, the Holy Cross football team has high hopes heading into the 2006 campaign. The team has shown constant improvement during its first two years under the direction of head coach Tom Gilmore, and will look to continue its rise toward the top of the Patriot League.
On the defensive side of the ball, Holy Cross returns eight starters and 15 of the 22 players on last season's final two-deep chart. The Crusaders allowed 23.9 points and 400.8 yards per game in 2005, and those numbers are down nearly 16 points and 75 yards per game from the year before Gilmore's arrival. With an experienced group returning on the defensive side of the ball, Holy Cross could have one of the better defenses in the Patriot League this season.
As for the offense, the Crusaders return only three starters, but there are a number of talented young players who should be ready to contribute. All three of the returning starters are on the offensive line, which should make things easier for the new backs and receivers who will be on the field.
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of how the Crusaders should look in 2006.
Holy Cross will look to break in a new starting quarterback, following the graduation of three-year starter John O'Neil. The three candidates who will battle for the job prior to the start of the season are junior Brian McSharry, senior Mike Finucane and sophomore Dominic Randolph. McSharry has the most experience of the three, after serving as O'Neil's back-up during the last two seasons. He has played in six career games, completing 22 of 40 passes for 211 yards and one touchdown. Finucane has seen action in six games as a Crusader, hitting on two of 10 passes for 29 yards. Randolph has not appeared in any regular season contests, but was impressive in the 2006 spring game, completing 10 of 16 attempts for 110 yards and a score.
"Brian McSharry is a well rounded quarterback with a good arm and athletic skills, as well as good football savvy," said Gilmore. "Mike Finucane has the best arm in the group, and is the most mature of the quarterbacks, having been around the program for three years. And Dominic Randolph is a very competitive player, who has great football awareness on the field. I can see all three of those guys potentially getting playing time this season."
The Crusaders graduated their top two running backs in All-American Steve Silva and Gideon Akande. Holy Cross will look to a pair of sophomores to fill the void at tailback, in Terrance Gass and Mike Kielt. Gass played in six games last season, rushing for 99 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Kielt saw action in nine contests a year ago, and finished the campaign with 32 yards and two scores on 15 carries.
"Terrence Gass and Mike Kielt are both good backs, and I expect both of them to be very productive this season," said Gilmore. "Kielt is an explosive runner, who has good size and strength. Gass is more of a slashing, elusive runner, who has a knack for breaking tackles and making things happen after contact."
The starting fullback position will be manned by senior Frank Herlihy, who has been a key player over the last two seasons. An excellent blocker, Herlihy has totaled 21 career receptions for 167 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing six times for 25 yards. Senior Ryan Morosky and sophomore Kevin Golden will also look to earn playing time at fullback.
"Frank Herlihy is a tough, competitive player, and is very experienced," said Gilmore. "He has gained strength and speed over the years, which has raised his performance significantly. Ryan Morosky is another competitive player who has improved a great deal. Both he and Kevin Golden have a chance to break into the lineup this season."
Wide receiver is another position where Holy Cross will look for new starters to step up this season, following the graduation of Sean Gruber and Bob Turkovich. But a number of players who saw action as part of the regular rotation return, led by junior Thomas Harrison. Over the course of his first two years with the Crusaders, Harrison has caught 28 passes for 356 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Ryan Maher, who has four career catches for 38 yards, is another experienced player who should step into a starting role. Senior Matt Fanning and sophomores Brett McDermott and Jon Brock are also expected to be key contributors, while fifth-year senior Jichael Griffin will look to crack the lineup, after missing most of the last three seasons due to injury.
"We have great depth at wide receiver this season, with a number of talented players," said Gilmore. "Thomas Harrison is an athletic receiver, who is very capable of making acrobatic-type catches and turning them into big plays. Ryan Maher is one of our fastest wide receivers, with tremendous athleticism and great potential. Matt Fanning and Jichael Griffin are two other experienced players who should be major factors for us this year. And Brett McDermott and Jon Brock are a pair of big, fast receivers who are ready to step into more significant roles."
Senior Joe Hogan and junior Justin Maher will also look to break into the rotation at wide receiver, along with sophomores Danny Bluth, Jake Hurst and Joe Strezempka, and freshmen Bill Edger, Mike Frawley, Quentin Liggins and Michael Wright.
At tight end, junior Ryan McGuire will look to take over the starting duties following the graduation of Luke Dugan. McGuire saw action in 10 games last season, serving primarily as a blocker, and will look to become more of a receiving threat this season.
"Ryan McGuire understands our offense and has some playing experience, so we expect him to really develop and become a legitimate factor at the tight end spot this year," said Gilmore. "We will also look to some freshmen to provide depth at tight end."
Even though the Crusaders need to replace the majority of their starters at the skill positions, a number of veterans return along the offensive line. Last year, the line paved the way for Holy Cross to average 329.8 yards of total offense and 28.8 points per contest. Leading the way is senior right guard Andrew Schoepfer, a second team All-Patriot League selection who has started 22 consecutive games for the Crusaders. Senior left guard Eric Gendron (10 starts in 2005) and senior left tackle Hall McMillan (11 starts in 2005) also return to the starting lineup this year.
"Andrew Schoepfer is a very talented player," said Gilmore. "He is the fastest lineman on the team, and has tremendous speed and agility. Eric Gendron is a tough, competitive player, and Hall McMillan is one of the most improved players on the team. With the return of those three players to the lineup, along with some talented young guys looking to win starting spots, we expect to have a strong offensive line this year."
Junior Dan Nolan is the favorite to take over as the starting right tackle, while sophomores Luke Botting and Chris Smith will compete to be the starting center. Senior guard Bill McCarthy, junior guard Rob Kerbstat and sophomore tackles Mason Olson and Chris Poole could also become factors in 2006.
Others who will look to play key roles as back-ups include sophomores R.J. Buchholz, David Gang and Garrett Nolan, and freshmen Matt Brady, Chris Fucillo, Aaron Jones, Justin Johnson, Rob Petrosino and Brandt Tierney.
The secondary looks to be a strength for the Crusaders, as three out of four starters from the 2005 season return. At one cornerback spot, senior Casey Gough will be back in the starting lineup after earning second team All-Patriot League honors last season. Gough totaled 45 tackles, six pass breakups and three interceptions last fall, while returning an interception for a touchdown against Harvard. Junior Seun Bayode and sophomore Kyle Mushaweh will compete for the other starting cornerback spot.
"Casey Gough has the potential to be the best defensive back in the Patriot League," said Gilmore. "He is fast and athletic, and also has great football skills and instincts, so we expect a big year out of him. Seun Bayode and Kyle Mushaweh will also be key players at cornerback. Bayode is one of our more physical cornerbacks, while Mushaweh is one of the fastest players on the team."
At strong safety, junior Kent Flanders returns after totaling 35 tackles and three pass breakups during the 2005 season. Playing alongside Flanders at free safety will be fellow junior Obi Green, who recorded 18 tackles, five pass breakups and a fumble recovery a year ago. Also competing for a starting spot at safety will be senior Marc Crosby, who made 14 tackles and posted one interception last season.
"Kent Flanders and Obi Green both have two years of starting under their belts, and that is a tremendous advantage, because they have all that game experience and they are only juniors," said Gilmore. "Flanders has not only improved his knowledge of the game, but he has worked hard to become faster and more athletic. Green really understands the game and has been our general on defense. And Marc Crosby is another experienced player who consider a starter, so he will be on the field a lot this year."
Added depth in the defensive backfield will be provided by senior Blake Potolicchio, junior Demetrick Perkins, sophomores Daryl Brown, Mike Holloway and Ty Shaw, and freshmen Dakota Allosso, Pat Haidon, Jachin Leatherman and John Myrick.
Holy Cross looks to be strong at linebacker as well, with three out of four starters returning. Senior Dan Adams looks to be among the top linebackers in the Patriot League this season, after leading the nation with 97 solo tackles last year, while posting 115 total tackles. Senior Chris Nielsen will also be a candidate for All-Patriot League honors, after totaling 72 tackles and a team-best eight tackles for loss last season.
Junior Mark Kelliher should also be a key player, after starting three of the last four games in 2005, and recording 23 total tackles. Senior Jesse Loubier looks to win back the final starting spot, after redshirting last year due to an injury suffered in the season opener. Sophomores Brian Billman, Evan Byrd and Ryan Stewart also look to push for starting spots, after learning the system last year.
"Dan Adams and Chris Nielsen both showed that they can be among the top linebackers in the Patriot League last season," said Gilmore. "Jesse Loubier gives us a third very experienced player at the position, and Mark Kelliher gained some starting experience last year as well. In addition, Ryan Stewart, Evan Byrd and Brian Billman are good young players who are capable of starting for us. With that kind of depth, the linebacker position should be a real strength for us."
Junior Nate Langelier, sophomore Andrew Sherwood, and freshmen Anthony Campbell, Andrew Cialino, Sean Lamkin, Wayne Nesbit, Marcus Rodriguez, Niko Williams and Randy Wright will supply additional depth.
The defensive line will be led by senior John Markus Pinard, who will be in the starting lineup for the third straight year. Last season, Pinard posted a team-high four sacks, in addition to leading all defensive linemen with 40 total tackles. Another returning starter is senior Matt Lemire, who totaled 38 tackles last season, and has started 19 games over the course of his career. Sophomore Bryan Walwyn and junior Adam Sadowski will compete to earn starting spots at defensive end, while sophomore Brenton Good and junior Will Collins will compete to start at defensive tackle.
"John Markus Pinard and Matt Lemire both started for us last year, and we expect them to realize their full potential as seniors," said Gilmore. "Bryan Walwyn, Brenton Good, Will Collins and Adam Sadowski are other guys who gained a good deal of experience last year, and should play key roles. Overall, we have a great deal of depth on the line this year. We will be able to rotate more guys up front to keep them fresh, and that is a tremendous advantage on the defensive line."
Junior Doug Graiser and senior Kyle Nelthorpe, who has missed the last two seasons due to injury, could also be factors along the defensive front. Junior Dana Buglione, sophomore Rory Glowik and freshmen Alex Carson, Nicholas MacDonald, Don Matheney and Pat McCoy will also look to contribute.
Holy Cross returns all of its kickers from last season, led by seniors Mike DeSantis and Ryan McManaway. DeSantis, who earned second team All-Patriot League honors in 2004, ranked third on the team in scoring a year ago with 51 points. Over the course of his career as a Crusader, he has connected on 18 of 25 field goal attempts and 101 of 111 extra points, for 155 total points. McManaway was a second team All-Patriot League selection last year, after averaging 36.0 yards per punt. He will be in his fourth year as Holy Cross' starting punter, and has averaged 34.5 yards per kick during his collegiate career. Sophomore Matt Partain looks to once again handle the kickoff duties, after averaging 52.6 yards per kickoff with three touchbacks in 2005. Senior Mike Allen and sophomore Kyle DiLella will provided added depth in the kicking department.
"We have a great deal of experience at the kicking positions, as Mike DeSantis and Ryan McManaway will both be in their fourth year as starters," said Gilmore. "DeSantis is very dependable and accurate, and has improved his leg strength over the years. McManaway has a strong leg, gets great hang time on his kicks, and could be the best punter in the Patriot League this year. And Matt Partain should be better on kickoffs, in addition to being a factor on long-range field goals."
As for kick returners, the Crusaders seem to have a number of good options. Gough averaged 33.9 yards per kickoff return in limited duty last season, and could be one of the nation's top kick returners in 2006. Mushaweh, Gass, Brown, Kielt, McDermott and Brock could also become threats for Holy Cross returning kickoffs. Fanning looks to win the top spot returning punts, after averaging 13.5 yards per return as a backup in 2005. Gough may also contribute as a punt returner.
In addition, the Crusaders return their top long snapper in McCarthy, and their top holder in Fanning.
|The Crusaders will play five games at Fitton Field this year.|
The 2006 schedule looks to be tough, as it includes three teams which finished last season ranked in the Division I-AA Top 25 (No. 15 Brown, No. 21 Lafayette and No. 23 Colgate). Holy Cross begins the season with its Patriot League opener at Georgetown on Sept. 2, then plays host to Northeastern in the home opener on Sept. 9. Following back-to-back road games at Harvard (Sept. 16) and Marist (Sept. 23), the Crusaders return home to face Fordham on Homecoming Weekend (Sept. 30).
Holy Cross remains at home the following week, as it plays host to 2005 Ivy League champion Brown (Oct. 7). The Crusaders then hit the road for a pair of games at Dartmouth (Oct. 14) and 2005 Patriot League co-champion Lafayette (Oct. 21). Holy Cross plays host to Lehigh on Family Weekend (Oct. 28), then plays its home finale against Bucknell on Nov. 4. The 2006 regular season will conclude with a trip to 2005 Patriot League co-champion Colgate on Nov. 11.
"We are playing a very strong, competitive schedule this season, and we look at it as a great challenge," said Gilmore. "In order to have success, we have to take it one game at a time, treating each game like it is a season in itself."