Crusaders preparing to kick off 2019 season
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After closing out the 2018 season with a four-game winning streak, the Holy Cross football team heads into 2019 ready to contend in the Patriot League. The Crusaders return a number of key players this fall, including seven offensive starters and four defensive starters, and Holy Cross believes it has the ability to be one of the best teams in the conference.
“Right now, we are in a position where I think we feel pretty confident in what we are able to do,” said head coach Bob Chesney. “Now it is just a matter of us continuing to come out here and execute it.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Holy Cross will look to build around a line which includes two first team All-Patriot League selections from a year ago, Brett Boddy and Brian Foley. That duo will lead the charge for a unit that brings back all five starters and most of the key backups from 2018.
“The offensive line is huge,” said Domenic Cozier. “It is not every day you see five offensive linemen coming back. All of them are older, all of them have that experience under their belt. So having that is going to be great, we are excited for it in the pass game and the run game. So it is going to be really fun having all of them coming back.”
The Crusaders will be breaking in a new starting quarterback this fall, but have a number of other offensive weapons already in place. Cozier, a second team All-Patriot League selection in 2018, leads a talented backfield. The receiving corps also brings back several key players including wide out Tenio Ayeni and tight end Derek Mountain.
“We had weapons last year, and now it is just a matter of trying to up the talent level each and every year,” said Chesney.
“All of us have been doing really well in the offseason,” said Cozier. “We all gained weight, we all got stronger, we all got faster, we all worked on our weaknesses.”
With everyone Holy Cross has returning, the Crusaders should field one of the top offenses in the Patriot League.
“The sky is the limit,” said Boddy. We are extremely talented. We definitely have a lot of returning players and we would like to carry this team to a Patriot League championship.”
The defensive side of the ball should also be strong in 2019. Mark Ebo is the only returning starter along the line, but a number of other players are ready to step into bigger roles this fall.
“We are really progressing well, I see a lot of growth in a lot of the young guys as well as myself,” said Ebo. “We are just trying to get better each day we are out here.”
“We lost a lot of guys up front, but at the same time, that is where some of these younger guys have to step up,” said Chesney. “We see some names that last year were a lot of times on the scout team, and now those guys still stuck with it throughout all the winter and the spring, through running on scout team. And all of the sudden here they are now with their time to shine, and I think they are doing a pretty good job of it.”
The secondary brings back a number of key players, including safeties Joe Lang and Alex Johnson, and cornerback John Smith. They will look to be the backbone of the defense this fall.
“I think the secondary is going to be really strong this year. We have a lot of experienced guys coming back,” said Lang. “I think our back five or six should be really strong.”
“I look are where we are at now. They know what this is. This is their show now,” said Chesney. “They now what they have to do to correct formations and correct different blitzes and change different calls. That is all in their hands and they are doing an unbelievable job of it.”
As with the offense, the Crusader defense has the pieces necessary to be one of the best in the Patriot League.
“As a unit, this is kind of the the best we have been in a while,” said Ebo. “I am looking forward to a lot of big things this year. We have to take it day by day and game by game, but I am looking for a lot of production. We will be at the top of the league.”
Special teams should also be a strength for the Crusaders in 2019. Last season, Holy Cross set a school record by blocking six punts, four of which were returned for touchdowns. Several key players return to that unit, along with the team’s top placekicker and punter.
“We have to continue to get better at the specialist positions,” said Chesney. “Derek Ng did a nice job kicking as a freshman last year. As a punter, Cody Wilkinson did a really nice job last year. We expect a lot more out of both of them this year. It is about continuing to elevate everybody’s play.”
When the Crusaders hit the field, they will be going up against an extremely challenging schedule.
“We have one of the toughest FCS schedules in the country,” said Lang. “We have Navy in week one and Syracuse in week four. We also play teams like UNH, Yale and Harvard. Out of conference it is going to be tough, but I think we are up to the challenge.”
“It is a really good chance for us to prove ourselves, not only as the best team in the Patriot League but as a national contender,” added Boddy.
The experience that Holy Cross gains in non-conference play should have it ready to contend in the Patriot League when conference play rolls around in October.
“Our team is a lot more confident this year,” said Lang. “We are a lot stronger at some positions and a lot more experienced at some positions. In year two with the new staff, we should have a really good chance to win.”
“This year is wide open,” said Cozier. “Anyone can win the league and we know that. Colgate won it last year, but we feel anything under a Patriot League title is going to be a disappointment. We know every game is going to be like a Patriot league championship, and we can’t take any team lightly.”
This looks to be a very exciting year on top of Mount St. James, and it will all begin for the Crusaders on August 31, when they kick off the season at Navy.