Aug. 18, 2008
By Charles Bare
Special to GoHolyCross.com
After posting overall records of 7-4 and 4-2 marks in the Patriot League during both the 2006 and 2007 seasons, the Holy Cross football team has high hopes as it prepares for the 2008 campaign. The team has shown constant improvement during its four years under the direction of head coach Tom Gilmore, and has now finished with a winning record during each of the last three seasons. This fall, the Crusaders will attempt to win their first Patriot League title since 1991.
On the offensive side of the ball, Holy Cross returns eight starters and 17 of the 22 players on 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 (35.9 points per game), total offense (463.4 yards per game) and passing offense (335.2 yards per game). With all of this experience returning, Holy Cross should once again have one of the top offenses in the nation this season.
As for the defense, the Crusaders have six starters back from a unit which will look to become one of the best defenses in the Patriot League. Holy Cross allowed 24.0 points and 373.4 yards per game in 2007, and will look to improve upon those numbers with a number of talented young players ready to break into the lineup. The strength of the defense could come from the linebackers, where three of four starters from 2007 return.
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of how the Crusaders should look in 2008.
The Holy Cross offense will be led by senior quarterback Dominic Randolph, who earned Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year honors and finished 12th in the voting for the Walter Payton Award last season. In 2007, Randolph completed 297 of 482 attempts for 3,604 yards and 30 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. He set school single-season records for completions and total offense (3,741 yards), and ranked second in the nation in passing yards, total offense and completions. This fall, Randolph will be one of the favorites to win the Walter Payton Award, after he finished higher in last year's voting than any other returning quarterback in the nation.
"Dominic Randolph is coming off a tremendous junior season, and he was elected team captain for the second year in a row," said Gilmore. "It is not only his playing ability, but his leadership ability which makes him such a great asset for us. If he continues to progress and improve at the same pace, which could easily happen due to his great work ethic, he will be an even better player this year."
Four players will be competing for the backup job behind Randolph this fall. Juniors Joe Kosich and Taylor Glor, and sophomores Rob Koster and Ryan Taggart will all look to establish themselves in the second spot on the depth chart. Freshmen Mark Tolzien and Kevin Watson also join the program this fall, and will provide added depth.
Randolph should have a number of excellent targets to hit, as Holy Cross returns two of its starting wide receivers from last season. Leading the way is senior Brett McDermott, who totaled 56 catches for 727 yards and five touchdowns last season. Senior Jon Brock is also coming off a strong year in 2007, when he totaled 45 receptions for 537 yards and two scores.
"Brett McDermott and Jon Brock have both been outstanding performers for us, and we expect them to be an even more significant part of our offense this year," said Gilmore. "They both have good size and speed, and will be big-play threats any time they are on the field. I expect both of them to be go-to guys for us in the passing game this year."
Sophomore Josh Jenkins could also become one of the team's top receivers, following a freshman season in which he made six catches for 52 yards, while junior Nick Cole makes the move from tailback after totaling 152 yards from scrimmage in 2007. Juniors Bill Edger and Mike Frawley and sophomores Luke Chmielinski and Freddie Santana will also compete for starting spots or play key roles off the bench. In addition, seniors Danny Bluth, Tommy Fleming and Joe Strzempka; sophomore Rob Turner; and freshmen Matt Bosnjak, Charles McCall and Paul McKelvey will look to earn playing time.
"We have a lot of talented players at wide receiver, but most of them have had limited opportunities due to the depth we have had at the position," said Gilmore. "This year, those guys will finally have their chance to get on the field, and I am confident a number of them will rise to the top and be productive players for us."
At tight end, senior Ryan McGuire returns as a fifth-year senior after earning first team All-Patriot League honors in 2007. Last season, McGuire totaled 12 receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown. Junior Paul Nielsen and senior Kevin Golden are also expected to play important roles this year, giving the Crusaders outstanding depth at the position.
"Ryan McGuire missed some time due to injury early in his career, but last year he showed he is not only a capable blocker, but also a guy who can stretch the field vertically," said Gilmore. "Paul Nielsen is another guy who has had some injury issues, but he has outstanding physical skills and athletic ability, and can also be an effective blocker. And Kevin Golden is a versatile guy who can help us at both tight end and fullback. All three of those guys will play key roles this year and give us tremendous depth."
The Crusaders look to be strong in the offensive backfield as well, with the return of seniors Terrance Gass and Mike Kielt at tailback. Gass started 10 games last season, and was selected second team All-Patriot League. He led the team in rushing with 563 yards and six touchdowns on 101 carries, while posting 27 receptions for 318 yards and four touchdowns. Kielt ranked second on the team in rushing last season with 367 yards and six touchdowns on 73 carries, in addition to catching 16 passes for 150 yards.
"Last season, Terrance Gass showed he has the ability to make big plays, both running the ball and catching the ball," said Gilmore. "He is going to be a legitimate threat as both a runner and a receiver, and that makes him hard to defend. Mike Kielt is another experienced guy who can do it all, so we do not have to change anything we are doing offensively when he is in the game. It is great to have two running backs who we can rely on, and we expect both of them to be key weapons for our offense."
In addition to all of the talent returning at the skill positions, the Crusaders return four out of five starters on the offensive line. Last year, the line paved the way for Holy Cross to average 463.4 yards of total offense and 35.9 points per contest. The Crusaders also allowed just 14 sacks during the 2007 season, while the team attempted 497 passes (just one sack for every 36.5 times the team dropped back to pass).
Leading Holy Cross this season will be four players who started all 11 games during the 2007 campaign. Senior Chris Smith will be back for his third year as the starting center, while senior Chris Poole and junior Aaron Jones return as the starting guards, and senior Mason Olson is back as the starting left tackle. Sophomore Mike McCabe, who played in all 11 games off the bench last season, looks to take over as the fifth starter at right tackle.
"We have high expectations of Chris Smith, Chris Poole and Aaron Jones, and we expect Mason Olson to continue to progress after starting all of last year," said Gilmore. "The guy who emerged in the spring was Mike McCabe, who has good size, good feet and is extremely motivated. His emergence is really helping things out in that spot."
Senior Luke Botting, juniors Chris Fucillo and Rob Petrosino, and sophomore Mike Bernazzani are also expected to push for starting spots or play key roles off the bench. In addition, seniors R.J. Buchholz and David Gang; juniors Matt Brady, Justin Johnson and Brandt Tierney; sophomores Graham Gawryszewski and Scott Wise; and freshmen Andrew Jameson, Joseph Ramos, Kyle Seddon and Sean Whited will look to win playing time.
"Not only do we have four of the five starters coming back on the line, but they have all progressed both mentally and physically," said Gilmore. "They are all bigger and stronger, they understand what we are doing, and they work well together as a group. We also have good depth this year, which will provide us with some competition for playing time. There are multiple guys who are capable of going out there and performing, without the offense missing a beat."
The linebackers looks to be a strength for Holy Cross, with three out of four starters returning. Junior Marcus Rodriguez is back at one of the inside linebacker spots, after leading the team with 69 tackles in 2007, despite missing two games due to injury. Senior Ryan Stewart returns as the other starter on the inside, after ranking second on the team with 65 tackles last season, while posting six tackles for loss and three pass breakups. Senior Brian Billman and junior Andrew Cialino should also see a good deal of time off the bench at inside linebacker.
"We expect both Marcus Rodriguez and Ryan Stewart to have big years," said Gilmore. "Stewart is the leader of that group. He is one of our most experienced guys, and he really understands the defense. Rodriguez has some great physical tools and has really progressed mentally, and that is what is really going to elevate his game this year. And we have two backups in Andrew Cialino and Brian Billman who are more than capable of stepping in whenever we need them."
On the outside, senior Evan Byrd will be back in the starting lineup, following a 2007 campaign in which he posted 27 tackles, six tackles for loss and three sacks. Junior Sean Lamkin is the favorite to take over as the other starter on the outside, after recording 22 tackles and four tackles for loss off the bench a year ago.
"Both of our outside linebackers are really versatile guys, and we are looking for them to have great seasons," said Gilmore. "Evan Byrd is a great run defender as well as an outstanding pass rusher, and we expect him to continue performing at a high level. Sean Lamkin played an awful lot for us off the bench last year, and we expect him to get even better as he steps into a starting role."
Four other players have emerged as solid backups at outside linebacker, and will push for playing time this fall. Juniors Anthony Campbell and Niko Williams and sophomores James McLaughlin and Rory Sullivan will all provide great depth for the Crusaders. Freshman Jimmy Thomas also looks to compete for playing time.
The secondary needs to replace three starters, but has a number of talented young players ready to step up. At one cornerback spot, senior Kyle Mushaweh will be in his third season as a starter. Mushaweh totaled 57 tackles and five pass breakups last fall, while tying for the team lead with four interceptions. Sophomore Anthony DiMichele, who made six tackles off the bench in 2007, will look to take over as the other starting cornerback. Juniors John Myrick (nine tackles in 2007) and Michael Wright (nine tackles in 2007), and senior Ty Shaw will also compete for playing time at cornerback.
"Kyle Mushaweh is an outstanding player," said Gilmore. "He has the speed and the coverage skills to be the best corner in the Patriot League, and we have a lot of confidence in him. At the other corner, Anthony DiMichele stepped up and had an outstanding spring, after playing a significant amount as a freshman. He not only has the speed, but is a very physical player, and he is a guy who we think can have a breakout year."
Additional depth at cornerback will be provided by sophomore D.J. Kernisant.
At strong safety, senior Daryl Brown will take over as a starter, after totaling 36 tackles and two interceptions as the first defensive back off the bench last season. Playing alongside Brown at free safety will be sophomore Alex Johnson, who posted five tackles and an interception as a reserve a year ago. Junior Pat Haidon, who missed the 2007 season due to injury, looks to push Johnson for the starting spot.
"Daryl Brown has played a lot on both defense and special teams, and the fact that he was elected team captain tells you that he brings a lot to the table," said Gilmore. "He has both the physical skills and the leadership skills needed to be successful. The other guy who has really emerged is Alex Johnson, who began seeing action toward the end of last season and really has a lot of potential. Pat Haidon also had a very productive spring, and we expect him to play a key role now that he is fully healthy."
Others competing for playing time at safety include senior Mike Holloway; juniors Dakota Allosso, Jachin Leatherman and Quentin Liggins; sophomore Kyle Smith; and freshmen Chandler Fenner, Colby Husby, Cav Koch and Clay Swigert.
The defensive line will be led by senior Bryan Walwyn, who returns as a starter at one defensive end spot. Last season, Walwyn recorded 31 tackles and tied for the team lead with four sacks. Junior Nicholas MacDonald will look to take over as the other starting defensive end, after posting 13 tackles and two sacks as a reserve in 2007. Sophomores Marcus Morgan, Mude Ohimor and Kevin Regan should also play key roles as backups at defensive end.
"Bryan Walwyn is an experienced guy who has played in every game since he has been at Holy Cross," said Gilmore. "He is very steady and capable of performing at a high level, so we are looking for a big year out of him. At the other end position, Nicholas MacDonald played a lot last year, and we expect him to step into a bigger role as a starter. Mude Ohimor is another guy who gained some experience last year, and should become a key part of the rotation."
Junior Alex Carson returns as the starter at nose tackle, after recording 22 tackles a year ago. He will be pushed for the starting spot by junior Don Matheney, who started the first three games in 2007 before suffering a season-ending injury. Senior Steve Buller, who missed all of 2006 and part of 2007 due to injury, could also be a factor.
"Getting Don Matheney back is going to have a big impact on our overall line situation," said Gilmore. "He played very well the first two games last year before his injury. Alex Carson then came in and took over as the starter and did a good job. Those two, along with Steve Buller, can give us outstanding depth at nose tackle."
The Crusaders look to be solid in the kicking game with the return of their top placekicker and punter. Senior placekicker Matt Partain earned first team All-Patriot League honors last year, after leading all kickers in the conference with 86 points scored. He connected on 12 of 16 field goal attempts in 2007, including a school-record 49-yarder, in addition to hitting all 50 of his extra point attempts.
"Matt Partain has an outstanding work ethic," said Gilmore. "He has worked hard to improve his range and consistency, and I can only see him becoming a better kicker as a senior. He has good experience and his confidence is growing, and that is a huge part of being an effective kicker."
Holloway is back as the team's top punter, after averaging 37.5 yards on 42 kicks a year ago. Holloway dropped nine punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line, while booting a long punt of 73 yards. Sophomores Rob Dornfried and Don Lemieux will look to push Holloway for the starting spot at punter, in addition to backing up Partain.
"Mike Holloway might have shown the best improvement of anyone on the team last year," said Gilmore. "He became a lot more consistent as the season went along, and I expect him to get even better as a senior. Rob Dornfried and Don Lemieux have also made a lot of progress as punters, and I can see both of them being factors for us."
As for kick returners, the Crusaders have a number of experienced players. Jenkins led the team by averaging 8.0 yards on 28 punt returns last season, in addition to posting a 20.1 yard average on 10 kickoff returns. McDermott and Mushaweh have also shown outstanding ability as kickoff returners. McDermott averaged 24.8 yards on 12 returns last year, while Mushaweh brought back seven kicks for an average of 17.0 yards in 2007.
|The Crusaders will play five games at Fitton Field this year.|
The 2008 schedule looks to be tough, with six contests against schools which won at least seven games in 2007. The Crusaders open the season with their Homecoming game on Sept. 6 against 2007 Colonial Athletic Association co-champion Massachusetts. After an off week, Holy Cross will travel to 2007 Ivy League champion Harvard on Sept. 19. The Crusaders stay on the road to take on Georgetown in their Patriot League opener on Sept. 27, before heading to Yale on Oct. 4.
Holy Cross returns to Fitton Field to face Brown on Oct. 11, before traveling to Dartmouth on Oct. 18. The Crusaders then begin a three-game homestand against Lehigh, as part of Family Weekend on Oct. 25. Holy Cross next plays host to Bucknell on Nov. 1, before facing 2007 Patriot League champion Fordham on Nov. 8. The Crusaders conclude the 2008 season with a pair of road games, at Lafayette on Nov. 15, and at Colgate on Nov. 22.
"We are playing another strong, competitive schedule this season, and we look at it as a great challenge," said Gilmore. "The Patriot League is a great conference with a lot of parity, where if you do not come ready to play, anyone can beat you. Along with those six tough league games, we take on four of the top teams in the Ivy League and a UMass squad that won the Colonial Athletic Association last year. We have no easy contests on our schedule this year."