Aug. 10, 2007
By Charles Bare
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Coming off a 2006 season in which it went 7-4 overall and 4-2 in the Patriot League, the Holy Cross football team has high hopes heading into the 2007 campaign. The team has shown constant improvement during its first three years under the direction of head coach Tom Gilmore, and will look to compete for the Patriot League title this season.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Crusaders return seven starters and 13 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 total offense (384.4 yards per game), passing offense (271.5 yards per game) and third down conversions (46.3 percent). With all of the experience returning, Holy Cross could develop one of the top offenses in the nation this season.
As for the defense, the Crusaders have six starters back from a unit which began to establish itself as a force in the Patriot League. Holy Cross allowed just 21.4 points and 335.4 yards per game in 2006, which ranked as the team's best numbers since the 2000 campaign. The Crusaders should remain strong against the pass this season with three starters returning in the secondary, after leading the conference in pass efficiency defense (108.4 rating) a year ago.
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of how the Crusaders should look in 2007.
The Holy Cross offense will be led by junior quarterback Dominic Randolph, who established himself as one of the top signal callers in the Patriot League last season. In 2006, Randolph completed 184 of 299 attempts for 2,237 yards and 19 touchdowns with just six interceptions. Now that he has a year of collegiate experience under his belt, Randolph should lead the Crusaders to even more success in 2007.
"Dominic Randolph has established himself as an outstanding player, and we are counting on him to perform at a very high level, based on what he was able to do last year and the experience that he gained," said Gilmore. "He understands the offense, he knows how to read defenses, he recognizes things very quickly, and he does not get rattled. He has also done a great job being a leader, and that is why he was elected as one of our captains."
Senior Brian McSharry proved to be a solid backup last year, and should return to that role this season. During the 2006 campaign, McSharry connected on 71 of 118 passes for 727 yards and six touchdowns, including three starts when Randolph was injured.
"Brian McSharry is a competitor who has performed well when he has played, and we expect him to push for playing time, always looking for opportunities to get on the field," said Gilmore. "We have a lot of confidence in his ability to produce when he is on the field."
Randolph should have a number of excellent targets to hit, as Holy Cross returns what could be the top group of receivers in the country. The Crusaders have four of the top five wide outs back from last year's team, and all of them had over 20 catches for at least 250 yards in 2006. Leading the way is senior Ryan Maher, who led the Patriot League with 69 catches for 797 yards and six touchdowns last season. Senior Thomas Harrison is also coming off a strong year in 2006, when he totaled 46 receptions for 569 yards and four scores. Both players were named All-Patriot League last year, with Maher being selected to the first team and Harrison making the second team.
"Ryan Maher and Thomas Harrison are two players who have a lot of experience under their belts," said Gilmore. "Maher has really matured and taken his game to the next level, and we expect him to improve even more with all of the hard work he put in during the off season. Harrison has great hands, adjusts to the ball well and is capable of making big plays, and we look for him to continue improving this season as well."
Two other key players who will return to the starting lineup are junior Brett McDermott and junior Jon Brock. McDermott totaled 39 catches for 518 yards and four touchdowns last season, while Brock posted 24 receptions for 257 yards and three scores. Senior Justin Maher should also see a good deal of action, after recording nine catches for 110 yards and one touchdown in 2006.
"Both Brett McDermott and Jon Brock are physically very talented players," said Gilmore. "McDermott is the fastest player on the team, and is capable of making big plays. Brock is one of the best athletes on the team, with good speed and size, and may be the most versatile guy in the group. And Justin Maher is possibly the quickest player we have on the team, so we expect him to play an expanded role this season as well."
Several other players will also look to break into the rotation at wide receiver, including junior Danny Bluth, sophomores Bill Edger, Mike Frawley and Joe Strzempka, and freshmen Luke Chmielinski, Chris Coriasso, Josh Jenkins, Freddie Santana, Nick Saraceni and Rob Turner.
The Crusaders look to be strong in the offensive backfield as well, with the return of juniors Mike Kielt and Terrance Gass at tailback. Kielt led the team in rushing last season with 524 yards and six touchdowns on 108 carries, in addition to catching 15 passes for 90 yards. Gass was also very effective, running for 450 yards and four scores on 107 carries, while posting 15 receptions for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
"Both Terrance Gass and Mike Kielt gained a lot of experience last season, and they are both talented backs who we think are going to have breakout years," said Gilmore. "The biggest problem we had last year was that they were both hampered by injuries. Hopefully they will both stay healthy and provide us with a great one-two punch on a consistent basis throughout the season."
Junior Kevin Golden and sophomore Matt Jackson both showed promise in limited action last year, and will look to play expanded roles for the Crusaders in 2007. Sophomore Nick Cole will also look to earn playing time, along with freshmen Jo Jo Moore, Karl Van Wygerden and Drew Volkmann.
At tight end, senior Ryan McGuire will look to take over the starting duties, after missing all of last season due to injury. McGuire saw action in 10 games during the 2005 campaign, serving primarily as a blocker, and will look to become more of a receiving threat this season. Sophomore Paul Nielsen, who also sat out in 2006 due to injury, should push McGuire for the starting spot or be a key player off the bench.
"Ryan McGuire is an extremely hard worker and a very dedicated young man," said Gilmore. "As long as he can stay healthy, we expect him to have a great year for us. And Paul Nielsen is one of the fastest players on the team, so we expect him to be a factor at tight end as well."
Even though the Crusaders return the majority of their starters at the skill positions, three spots will need to be filled along the offensive line. Last year, the line paved the way for Holy Cross to average 384.4 yards of total offense and 25.0 points per contest. Leading the Crusaders this season will be senior right tackle Dan Nolan and junior center Chris Smith, who both started all 11 games during the 2006 campaign.
"Both Chris Smith and Dan Nolan started every game last year, and they steadily improved throughout the season," said Gilmore. "They are two guys who bring a lot of experience to the table, and will certainly be the anchors of the offensive line. We are really expecting big seasons out of both of them."
Junior Mason Olson looks to win the starting spot as the other tackle, after seeing action in all 11 games in 2006 with one start. Junior Chris Poole is the favorite to start at one of the guard positions, while junior Luke Botting and sophomores Justin Johnson and Aaron Jones will all compete for the final starting spot or play key roles as backups.
"We have a number of talented players who are ready to contribute on the offensive line, even though many of them do not have much game experience," said Gilmore. "We are confident that a number of them will emerge this season to be key parts of our offense."
Others who will provide depth along the offensive line include juniors R.J. Buchholz and David Gang, sophomores Matt Brady, Chris Fucillo, Rob Petrosino and Brandt Tierney, and freshmen Mike Bernazzani, Graham Gawryszewski, Mike McCabe and Scott Wise.
The secondary looks to be a strength for the Crusaders, as three out of four starters from the 2006 season return. At one cornerback spot, fifth-year senior Casey Gough will be in his fourth season as a starter, after earning first team All-Patriot League honors in 2006. Gough totaled 54 tackles, seven pass breakups and three interceptions last fall, in addition to posting eight tackles for loss. The other cornerback spot will be manned by junior Kyle Mushaweh, who recorded 54 tackles and six pass breakups as the starter last season. Seniors Seun Bayode and Demetrick Perkins provide solid depth and experience for the Crusaders at cornerback. Bayode recorded 25 tackles and six pass breakups last year, while Perkins had eight tackles and one interception.
"Casey Gough is not only the best cover corner that we have, he is also one of the best athletes on the team," said Gilmore. "He is very aggressive and has good speed, and comes up with a number of big plays. Kyle Mushaweh is one of the fastest players on the team, and we expect him to really emerge this year, after finishing the 2006 season strong. And Seun Bayode and Demetrick Perkins are two other veteran players who have the ability to rotate in at any time."
At strong safety, senior Kent Flanders returns after totaling 37 tackles, an interception and three pass breakups during the 2006 season. Playing alongside Flanders at free safety will be fellow senior Obi Green, who looks to win back the starting spot he held in 2004 and 2005. Green recorded 11 tackles and three pass breakups a year ago, despite missing time due to injury. Junior Daryl Brown, who made 15 tackles in 2006, should also see a good deal of time at safety.
"Kent Flanders is a four-year starter who has really improved the athletic part of his game, so we expect him to have a big year for us," said Gilmore. "Obi Green is an outstanding leader for us on the field, and we look for him to really step up this season now that he is 100 percent healthy again. And Daryl Brown is another guy who we think of as a starter, who will see significant action in many of our packages."
Holy Cross looks to be strong at linebacker as well, with two out of four starters returning. Senior Mark Kelliher is back at one of the outside linebacker spots, after totaling 37 tackles, three tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries in 2006. Junior Evan Byrd looks to win the other starting spot on the outside, after making seven tackles and breaking up a pass last season. Sophomore Sean Lamkin also looks to see a good deal of playing time, along with senior Dana Buglione.
"Mark Kelliher is a big, physical player who has a lot of game experience, so we are expecting him to have a really big year," said Gilmore. "Evan Byrd has great athletic ability - he is good in coverage and can also rush the passer - so he could have a real breakout season for us. And Sean Lamkin and Dana Buglione are two guys with experience on special teams, who we expect to push for significant playing time."
On the inside, juniors Brian Billman and Ryan Stewart look to be the starters, after splitting starting duties at one of the spots last year. Billman totaled 40 tackles and five tackles for loss a year ago, while starting six times. Stewart added 30 tackles and three tackles for loss, while earning the starting nod in five games.
"Ryan Stewart and Brian Billman both gained a lot of experience and confidence last season," said Gilmore. "We believe that they are both going to have breakout years because they are a lot more comfortable and confident in what we are doing. They understand the defensive scheme and have grown in the mental part of their game, which will allow them to play more aggressively this season."
Several other players will look to push for playing time or provide added depth, including junior Andrew Sherwood, sophomores Andrew Cialino, Wayne Nesbit, Marcus Rodriguez and Randy Wright, and freshmen Brian Mauthe and Perry Townsend.
The defensive line will be led by senior Adam Sadowski, who totaled 31 tackles and three tackles for loss from his defensive end spot last season. The favorite to start at the other defensive end position is junior Bryan Walwyn, who made six tackles in 2006 while splitting time between end and tackle. Junior Steve Buller and sophomore Don Matheney are expected to battle for the starting role at defensive tackle.
"Adam Sadowski has good athletic ability and has done a good job of adding size and strength, so we have a lot of confidence in him," said Gilmore. "Bryan Walwyn also has some experience, and we expect him to elevate his production and gain more consistency this year with increased playing time. On the inside, Steve Buller and Don Matheney are big, physical tackles, and we expect both of them to play key roles this season."
Also looking to play key roles as back-ups along the defensive front will be seniors Will Collins and Doug Graiser, junior Rory Glowik, sophomores Alex Carson and Nicholas MacDonald, and freshmen Matt Ferrel, Marcus Morgan, Mude Ohimor, Kevin Regan, Anthony Ruoti and Rory Sullivan.
Following the graduation of four-year starters Mike DeSantis and Ryan McManaway, Holy Cross will need to find a new placekicker and punter this season. Junior Matt Partain looks to be the favorite to take over the placekicking job, after handling the kickoff duties for the Crusaders each of the last two seasons. A year ago, Partain averaged 55.2 yards per kickoff with two touchbacks. He will be pushed for the starting spot by junior Kyle DiLella and freshmen Rob Dornfried and Don Lemieux.
"Matt Partain has the advantage for the placekicking and kickoff duties," said Gilmore. "He did kick off for us all of last year, and he also had an outstanding spring as our placekicker and showed that he has great range. Kyle DiLella has also improved tremendously, and Don Lemieux and Rob Dornfried were both outstanding high school kickers, so they will all be given a chance to win the placekicking job."
At punter, Dornfried and Lemieux both have high school experience and will compete to win the starting spot. Several other returning players may compete to win the punting role prior to the start of the season.
As for kick returners, the Crusaders have a pair of experienced players. Gough has averaged 25.4 yards per kickoff return over the course of his career, and could be one of the nation's top kick returners in 2007. Ryan Maher also has experience as a return man, averaging 22.0 yards on kickoff returns and 6.3 yards on punt returns last season.
"Both Casey Gough and Ryan Maher are threats to break off long returns on kickoffs and punts," said Gilmore. " They give us a great one-two punch on kickoff returns, because teams can not kick away from both of them."
|The Crusaders will play six games at Fitton Field this year.|
The 2007 schedule looks to be tough, as it includes four teams which either won or shared their conference title in 2006. The Crusaders will open the season on Sept. 1 with a trip to 2006 Atlantic 10 champion Massachusetts, which advanced to last year's NCAA championship game. After an off week, Holy Cross will then play host to Harvard in its home opener on Sept. 15. The Crusaders stay at home to take on Georgetown in their Patriot League opener on Sept. 22, before facing off with 2006 Ivy League co-champion Yale on Sept. 29, as part of Family Weekend.
Holy Cross hits the road for a contest at Brown on Oct. 6, before returning to Fitton Field to face Dartmouth on Oct. 13. The Crusaders then begin a three-game road trip at 2006 Patriot League co-champion Lehigh on Oct. 20. Holy Cross next travels to Bucknell on Oct. 27, before heading to Fordham on Nov. 3. The Crusaders conclude the 2007 season with a pair of home games, against 2006 Patriot League co-champion Lafayette on Nov. 10, and Colgate on Nov. 17.
"We are playing another strong, competitive schedule this season, and we look at it as a great challenge," said Gilmore. "In addition to our traditional Patriot League rivals, we will face four of the top teams in the Ivy League, and a UMass team which made it to the national championship game last season. In order to have success, we have to take it one game at a time, and play with great consistency and maturity."