In 2009, Springfield played tough behind the stellar play of quarterback Josh Carter, fullback Baldwin Cunningham, offensive lineman John Carlson, defensive back and All-American kick returner Jarred Burrell, defensive end Cody Flanigan, and linebacker Ken Goodwin, among others.
Carter, Carlson, Flanigan, and Goodwin all return – and hope to provide the core of a unit that will lead Springfield College to an Empire 8 Championship, matching SC’s automatic NCAA tournament berth that it earned in 2006.
The goal is to maintain this recent upsurge. It appears that SC possesses the primary tools to do exactly that.
Springfield will be seeking another winning season, and will hope to improve upon last campaign’s 8-2 mark that culminated with an ECAC Division III Northeast Championship Bowl victory, its third such win in three tries (1995, 2004, and 2009). Last year, Springfield participated in its eighth post-season contest in the past 15 years. Besides appearing in those three ECAC championship games, it has also appeared in five NCAA tournament games (1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2006) in those 15 seasons.
With head coach Mike DeLong entering his 27th season stalking the Springfield College sidelines, the Pride will once again prepare to make a run at the conference title. It must be noted that the Pride will only have two more seasons to vie for the Empire 8 crown as Springfield will join the Liberty League as an associate member only in the sport of football beginning with the 2012 season. This year, SC is predicted to finish fourth in the extremely competitive Empire 8. Last year, the top four teams in this league finished with a combined record of 30-10. Springfield finished tied for third (with Ithaca) with a 3-2 conference mark. SC’s only two losses all year were to Empire 8 co-champions Alfred and St. John Fisher.
“I thought we matured a great deal last season,” explained Delong. “I thought we did a really nice job of coming together, and our maturity showed as the season progressed. We played some strong defense throughout, and offensively, we were very consistent.”
The Pride ended its season a year ago on a high note as it captured the ECAC Northeast Championship Bowl by downing Plymouth State, 42-13. The game was a milestone on several fronts as DeLong won his 150th game at Springfield (he owns 162 victories overall, making him the winningest active head football coach in New England Division III), and it marked the 1,000th football game in Springfield College history dating back to 1890. The game also produced two of the longest plays in Springfield College history –- a 100-yard interception return by Burrell, and an 88-yard pass play for a TD from Carter to Antoine King. Both were school records.
Springfield, which ranked second in the country last season in rushing with 347 yards per game, brings back an experienced and talented backfield. After a very strong sophomore season, Carter will once again be the conductor of Springfield’s vaunted triple-option attack. In his second season under center, Carter showed tremendous poise and talent as he rushed for 966 yards and 15 TD's last year. He also had success in the air as he completed 40 passes in 84 attempts for 719 yards and 10 scores.
First in line backing up Carter could be Brian Staub. We say “could be” because Staub spent part of the offseason developing as a possible wide receiver. A handful of additional newcomers to the program will also be competing for a legitimate chance at the backup QB role.
Carter has plenty of support behind him as a bevy of returners stock the Pride backfield. After showing several glimpses of power and speed last season, Alex Mendez is viewed as the key piece to the all-important fullback puzzle, and is the heir apparent to Cunningham. The junior had a standout spring according to DeLong, and will carry a heavy load as long as he stays healthy. Other fullback hopefuls include junior Joe Bonano and sophomore Erik Chiarella, both of whom have improved during the offseason.
At the halfback spot, which was a priority during the recruiting process this offseason, DeLong will have his pick of several athletic players. Senior tri-captain Joe Myhren had several standout games a year ago and ended the year sporting an 8.3 yards per carry average. There are several others who will join the mix as well, including junior Mark Safer, a speedy playmaker who can get to the outside for big chunks of yardage. Senior Antoine King, and sophomores Joel Altavesta and Mike Davis will all battle for time as well, with each showing the potential to move the sticks. Several newcomers could also be in the mix.
Senior Tim Brady will continue to be the Pride’s main target in its aerial attack. Of the 43 receptions Springfield had last season, Brady was responsible for 19, totaling 329 yards and five touchdowns in the process. Sophomore Phil Baier has developed a great deal and, with his size, has the ability to go and find the ball in the air. Two-sport athlete John Schmaltz will also line up at wideout and will look to have a great senior season.
As for the offensive line, the Pride has three returning starters, including New England Football Writers Division II/III All-New England selection John Carlson, a senior tri-captain, and Empire 8 Football All-Conference Second Team honoree Sean Meagher, a junior. Junior Tim Tuttle also returns and has a great deal of experience after missing just one game during his first two years. Delong says that Mike Mavropoulos, Matt Dugan, and Connor Devlin are all in the wings and ready to go and will vie for the remaining spots on the line. Junior Brian White also returns at tight end where he has gained some experience. Under the direction of offensive coordinator Mike Cerasuolo, there is no doubt that what this group lacks in size, it makes up for in toughness and grit.
Much in part to the return of a pair of fifth-year seniors who earned Empire 8 All-Conference honors a year ago, the Springfield College defense has a solid foundation for the upcoming season. Add to that four other returning starters and you have the several puzzle pieces in place for a strong defensive unit.
Defensive coordinator Jack Holik has the luxury of returning four of his top five tacklers in Ken Goodwin, Cody Flanigan, Ryan Gunningsmith, and Tim Schumacher; a group that accounted for 31% of all of SC’s tackles last season.
Flanigan will serve as captain for a second straight season and returns as an all-conference first-team selection. A force off the end, Flanigan led the team with 13.5 tackles-for-loss and posted 48 total tackles.
The Pride will see plenty of production from its defensive line with senior Chris Kulcsar, sophomore Rob Ruggiero, and juniors Paul Freeman and Brandon Brailsford all returning. The trio of Kulcsar, Ruggiero, and Flanigan established themselves as a very talented group who could attack the opposing backfield, evidenced by their combined 27 tackles-for-loss. Freeman’s toughness will make him an asset on the inside of the line, while Brailsford has great speed rushing off the edge, and should be fine as he comes back from injury.
Arguably the keystone to Springfield’s defense, Goodwin was granted a medical hardship waiver and will be a stalwart at inside linebacker. His return at linebacker will be a welcomed sight after he posted 78 tackles to go along with 10 tackles-for-loss and five pass break ups. Sophomore Jamey Mroz and junior Scott Christy will also compete for time.
At outside linebacker, Gunningsmith, a senior rover, is a returning veteran with great instincts who totaled 48 tackles and 5.5 tackles-for-loss. Senior Anthony Scarpetti will bring his hustle and experience to the field for one final season. The Pride also had some real success on the recruiting trails and the coaches feel that they have several very talented newcomers who will compete at linebacker.
In the secondary, there are holes to fill, but several returners are in the wings to make their mark.
Sophomore Niall Murphy is expected to step up after his freshman year in which he recorded 26 tackles and tied for the team-lead in interceptions with three. Schumacher, a senior, finished third on the team last year with 51 tackles and has high expectations at corner after what he learned from a year ago.
Junior James Kikel is ready to step into a key position at free safety. Kikel, who is a great open field tackler and has good instincts, will be joined by junior Phil Davis in the secondary. Davis, who started as a freshman and played in eight games last season, is a solid cover corner and will be vying for another starting role. Junior Will Turner is also expected to make a mark.
The graduation of All-American return-man Jarred Burrell leaves the Springfield special teams unit without its most dangerous weapon. However, Delong feels confident in the likes of Myhren, King, and/or Safer to make an impact in the return game. Sophomore Ricky Peacock appears to have a hold on the kicking duties, as he worked primarily on kick-offs and extra points during his freshman season. The punting chores could fall to freshman James Poggio.
. The season begins with a Friday night contest as Springfield hosts King’s College of Wilkes-Barre, Penn. on September 3. That will mark the first of five non-conference games that will end when SC hosts Union on Saturday, November 13.