August 4, 2005

Crusaders Prepare For Start Of 2005 Season

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.

Quarterback

John O'Neil
Senior John O'Neil is back for his third season as Holy Cross' starting signal caller. Last season, O'Neil led the offense by completing 193 of 356 passes for 2,022 yards and 18 touchdowns. Over the course of his career as a Crusader, he has now hit on 409 of 731 attempts for 4,596 yards and 37 scores. In addition, to his passing skills, O'Neil has also shown an ability to run, rushing for 198 yards and a touchdown last fall.

"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."

Competing for the back-up spot behind O'Neil will be sophomore Brian McSharry, junior Jarrod Betz, junior Mike Finucane, junior Joe Hogan and freshman Dominic Randolph.

Running Back

Steve Silva
At tailback, Holy Cross has two of the top rushers in the Patriot League with fifth-year senior Steve Silva and senior Gideon Akande. In 2004, Silva led the conference with 1,663 all-purpose yards, while scoring a team-best 11 touchdowns. He ran 161 times for 708 yards, in addition to catching 60 passes for 507 yards. Entering the 2005 campaign, Silva has career totals of 1,733 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns on 426 carries, to go along with 100 catches for 826 yards and a score. Akande, who served as Silva's back-up last fall, ran for 324 yards on 83 carries, while catching 17 passes for 85 yards. Over the course of his Holy Cross career, Akande has now rushed for 1,557 yards and nine touchdowns on 351 carries.

"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."

Others who will look to contribute or add depth at the running back positions include juniors Jeff Ahmadi, Kevin Kelly and Ryan Morosky, and freshmen Terrance Gass, Kevin Golden and Mike Kielt.

Receivers

Sean Gruber
Wide receiver should be a huge strength for the Crusaders, with the top four players from last season all returning. Senior Sean Gruber should once again lead the way, after posting team-highs of 720 yards and eight touchdowns last year, while making 48 catches. He will be joined in the starting lineup by senior Bob Turkovich, who caught 20 passes for 211 yards and a score in 2004, despite missing four games due to injury. Senior Bryan Anderson (17 catches for 185 yards) and sophomore Thomas Harrison (12 receptions for 160 yards and a touchdown) also return, and will look to push Gruber and Turkovich for playing time. Sophomore Ryan Maher should also see a good deal of action, along with senior Jichael Griffin, who suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of 2004.

"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."

Supplying added depth at wide out will be junior Matt Fanning, sophomores Justin Maher and Adam Molnar, and freshmen Danny Bluth, Jon Brock, Jake Hurst, Brett McDermott and Joe Strzempka.

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.

Offensive Line

Justin LaGrenade
On the offensive line, Holy Cross returns four out of five starters from a unit which looks to develop into one of the best in the Patriot League this season. Last year, the line paved the way for the Crusaders to average 334.9 yards of total offense and 21.8 points per contest. Leading the way is senior David Cannon, a second team All-Patriot League selection who has started 21 consecutive games at center. Junior left tackle Andrew Schoepfer and senior right guard Justin LaGrenade also started all 11 games for Holy Cross last season, while junior left guard Eric Gendron (six starts in 2004) rounds out the returning starters. Junior Hall McMillan and sophomore Dan Nolan are expected to compete for the final starting spot.

"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.

Secondary

Obi Green
The secondary looks to be a strength for the Crusaders, as all four starters from the 2004 season return. At one cornerback spot, junior Casey Gough looks to be back in the starting lineup after totaling 47 tackles, eight pass breakups and an interception last fall. He is joined by senior Tyler Nugent, who recorded 40 tackles, six pass breakups and an interception in 2004. Pushing Gough and Nugent for playing time will be senior Darran Davis (21 tackles, one pass breakup) and sophomore Seun Bayode (two tackles, two pass breakups).

"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."

Added depth in the defensive backfield will be provided by senior Adam Verdugo, sophomore Demetrick Perkins, and freshmen Daryl Brown, Mike Holloway, Kyle Mushaweh, Ty Shaw and Cole Wadhams.

Linebacker

Matt Dugan
Holy Cross returns only one starter at linebacker, in senior Matt Dugan. Last season, Dugan led the team with seven tackles for loss, in addition to totaling 32 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and two blocked kicks. Another key player at linebacker will be junior Dan Adams, who ranked second on the team with 57 total tackles last season, while earning four starts. Junior Chris Nielsen, who recorded 22 tackles during the 2004 season, will look to win the third starting position. Other players who will push for playing time include senior Jesse Loubier (five tackles) and sophomore Mark Kelliher (five tackles).

"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."

Senior Brad Grinna, sophomores Will King, Nate Langelier and Kyle Tinsley, and freshmen Ben Bergholtz, Brian Billman, Evan Byrd and Ryan Stewart will supply additional depth.

Defensive Line

John Markus Pinard
The defensive line will be led by junior John Markus Pinard, who made the move from tackle to end in the spring. Last season, Pinard posted a team-high five sacks, in addition to leading all defensive linemen with 41 total tackles. Looking to join Pinard as the other starting defensive end is senior Garett Roberts, who recorded six tackles, two sacks and three pass breakups in 2004. Also pushing for playing time at end are junior Adam Carroll and sophomore Dana Buglione.

"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."

Junior Kyle Nelthorpe and freshmen Steve Buller, Rory Glowik, Brenton Good, Frank Masters, Bobby Stapleton and Bryan Walwyn will also look to contribute along the defensive front.

Special Teams

Mike DeSantis
Holy Cross returns both of its starting kickers from last season, in juniors Mike DeSantis and Ryan McManaway. DeSantis earned second team All-Patriot League honors last season, after ranking second on the team in scoring with 50 points. He connected on seven of 10 field goal attempts and 29 of 30 extra point tries in 2004, and has now scored 104 points during his career as a Crusader. McManaway averaged 34.4 yards per punt last fall, while placing 11 of his 55 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Competing with DeSantis and McManaway for playing time will be junior Mike Allen and freshman Kyle DiLella.

"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."

Schedule

The Crusaders will play six games at Fitton Field this year.
The 2005 schedule could be one of the toughest in school history, as it includes four teams which finished last season ranked in the Division I-AA Top 25 (No. 7 Delaware, No. 13 Harvard, No. 15 Lehigh and No. 19 Lafayette). Holy Cross opens the season with a home game against Sacred Heart on Sept. 3, then plays host to Georgetown in the Patriot League opener on Sept. 10. The season-opening three-game homestand then concludes on Sept. 17 against Harvard, a team which posted a perfect 10-0 record last 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."