2004 Football Season Preview
It’s the regular-season record of the 2003 Springfield College football team, the standard by which all future SC teams will be measured. The ’03 campaign was a spectacular season of firsts in the proud 111-year history of the program. Not only did the Pride navigate the regular season unblemished, it posted an amazing 6-0 road record that included victories at Montclair State, Western Connecticut and Union. SC achieved its highest national ranking ever at No. 6, and was the No. 1 seed in the East Region for the NCAA Division III Tournament. Not even a disappointing 40-34 loss to RPI in the second round could diminish what the team accomplished.
With success comes expectation, and while a repeat of last season’s performance is too much to ask, the ’04 Pride is certainly well armed for a run at its fifth NCAA Tournament berth since 1998. Head coach Mike DeLong
and his staff welcome back 16 starters, including a stunning array of offensive talent. Nine starters return to a unit that led Division III in rushing at 398.5 yards-per-game, and set a school record with 432 points in the regular season. Senior quarterbacks Ryan Sylvia
and Michael Judge
, who have shared snaps for the better part of three seasons, would start on most teams. Seniors Tim Lutgens,
an a pre-season All-America fullback who racked up a team-best 118.8 yards-per-game in ’03, and Kevin Domurat
, a lightening-quick senior halfback who’s averaged over nine yards-per-carry in his college career, return. Paving the way is an imposing offensive line anchored by first-team All-American Brian Dewey
, a senior right tackle.
SC’s nationally ranked defense remains intact with seven starters returning. The front seven are particularly impressive. DeLong expects junior defensive end Nick Burdett
to have a breakout campaign, and senior Brian McLellan
is a run-stopper at tackle. There is plenty of speed and depth at linebacker. Senior inside linebacker Justin Fletcher
garnered all-region honors last season, while seniors Mark Bartelini
, Curtis Schmidt
and Mike Clark
, and junior R.J. Perkins
are nightmares for opposing quarterbacks. The secondary consists of senior cornerback Mike Kimmel
and senior free safety Jeremiah Goodnow
, who are both entering their third seasons in starting roles, and junior corner Mitch Dupuis
, an exceptional athlete who is at the top of the depth chart for the second-straight year.
The only major change SC faces is the transition to the Empire 8 Football Conference from the Freedom Football Conference, a league that the Pride dominated by winning five conference titles in eight seasons. The Empire 8 is a seven-team conference comprised predominantly of New York-based institutions, including traditional-rival Ithaca. It also includes newcomer Norwich, which competed in the FFC with the Pride for much of that league’s existence.
“It’s always our goal to win the conference championship and reach the NCAA Tournament,” says DeLong, who enters his 23rd season as a head coach, and 21 at his alma mater. “Playing in the Empire 8 is a new challenge for us, one that we are all looking forward to.”
There’s no secret to what the Pride does on offense: it runs the ball. Stop the run, and you can slow the Pride. The catch is that SC runs the ball more effectively than any team in college football. The Pride’s multiple-option attack has yielded three NCAA Division III rushing titles since 2000. Besides possessing the top-running game of the 618 Division I, II and III teams that play college football, SC ranked fourth in D-III in scoring (42.4 ppg) and 16th in total offense (447.4 yards-per-game) in ‘03. The Pride cracked the 40-point mark eight times, and scored 181 points in consecutive victories over Plymouth State (Oct. 18), WPI (Oct. 25) and Norwich (Nov. 8).
As with most programs, all eyes are on the quarterback, and Sylvia and Judge are remarkably efficient at moving the Pride’s precision offense down the field.
“Ryan and Mike are going to compete again this season, but it’s worked so well I’m not inclined to change much,” DeLong states.
Nor should he. Sylvia enjoyed a spectacular junior season, earning FFC and ECAC Division III Northeast Offensive Player of the Year awards. He established a D-III record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 20, and piled up an average 102 yards per game. Judge has rushed for 14 touchdowns since ’02, and will gain his 1,000th-career rushing yard early this season. Sylvia and Judge also combined for 10 passing scores in ’03.
Talented junior Damian Gunningsmith
, who will also see time at split end, and sophomore Zach Wurz
, are waiting in the wings.
At fullback, Lutgens leads a solid group. He totaled 1,307 yards, teaming with Sylvia, who had 1,002 yards, to mark just the second time in school history that two SC backs eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in the same regular season. This bruising workhorse carried the ball 215 times and rushed for 100 yards-or-more on six occasions. In a battle at Western Connecticut (Oct. 11), Lutgens registered career bests with 195 yards and 35 carries, including two touchdowns, leading the Pride to a crucial 21-7 triumph. He scored twice in the first 4:04 and ended up with five touchdowns in a 63-32 victory over Norwich (Nov. 8).
When Lutgens needs a breather, juniors Andre Clayton
(4.9 yards-per-carry in ‘03) and Mike Fiscella
(5.0 ypc) are outstanding reserves. Sophomore Mark Hatch
, a transfer from Colgate, could earn some snaps.
Domurat owns the big-play capability that any halfback should envy. An all-conference selection in ’02 and ‘03, he’s run for 1,185 yards on just 129 carries in his career for a school-record average of 9.2 yards. Joining Domurat is another veteran, senior Will Davis
, who has solid numbers, including 686 rushing yards (6.1 ypc) and five touchdowns over the last two seasons. Junior Brandon Hinman
, a converted quarterback, is a tremendous athlete with explosive speed.
, a four-year starter at split end who caught six touchdown passes, is a notable loss. The return of senior Mike Grendal
however, secures that spot. A starter before an injury ended his ’03 season after just four games, he is a reliable pass catcher and return man. Opposite Grendal is Gunningsmith and his game-breaking speed. Junior Matt Norris
will also contribute.
The question haunting the coaching staff entering the ’03 season was the offensive front, which was decimated by the graduation of five seniors, including All-American Andrew MacFadyen
. Under the direction of offensive coordinator Mike Cerasuolo
, a former all-region center at SC, they quickly jelled into a cohesive run-blocking unit.
“There was some uncertainty regarding the offensive line early on, but these guys really came together last season,” DeLong says. “They practice hard, and they’re a tough physical group. They’ve become a strength of our team.”
All five offensive linemen are back, and there is tremendous depth especially at tackle. Senior right tackle Brian Dewey, a first-team D3football.com All-American, is a key holdover. At left tackle, seniors Tom Attanasio
and Devon Robinson
, and junior Jason Benguche
, are in the mix. Regardless of who starts, all three are integral elements of the offensive front and will see significant action. Junior Dan Tanguay
, who saw limited action on defense in ‘03, may move to the offensive line.
The center spot is critical to the success of SC’s deceptive offense, and senior Donald Marini
developed into a front-line snapper in ’03. Sophomore Dan Connors
, who will spell Marini and could also take some snaps at guard, is a promising young player, as is sophomore Mike Mestieri
, a 280-pound junior entering his second season as a starter at right guard, and senior Alex Longinotti
, who won the starting nod at left guard last season, are excellent interior linemen. Junior Ryan Curran
and sophomore Adam Feit
are also viable options at guard.
At tight end, senior Louis Conte
should earn the starting spot. Conte caught three TD passes in '03. Junior Jim McCarthy
, an excellent blocker who started in ’03, and sophomore Ryan Bossie
With a host of experienced talent back on defense, DeLong is comfortable with his unit, especially the front seven.
“We’ve been very strong up front for the last few seasons, and this year is no exception,” DeLong explains. “With the speed we have, we anticipate being able to put pressure on the quarterback.”
Ends Nick Burdett
and Curtis Schmidt
anchor coordinator Jack Holik’s
3-4 set from the edge. Burdett, a junior, is a dominant force who should garner all-conference consideration this season. He utilized tremendous power and athleticism to rank second on SC with eight tackles-for-loss and three sacks in ’03. Schmidt, a senior, is a smart, veteran defender who preserved the Pride’s 10-0 season by forcing a fumble with :30 left in the regular-season finale at Union. He recorded three sacks a year ago as an outside linebacker and end, and could be used in both spots again. Junior Shawn McMillan
, who had 12 tackles and a sack in ’03, expects to play a more significant role, and sophomores Ed Yakubian
and Mike Nicol
are budding front-line defensive lineman.
Senior Brian McLellan
is a steady, hard-nosed veteran at tackle. McLellan, who is entering his third season as a starter and made 11 tackles-for-loss and four sacks in the last two campaigns, should benefit from a strong off-season conditioning program. Senior Jeff Page hopes to make an impact up front, as well.
Swarming best characterizes the Pride’s linebackers, who racked up 21.5 tackles-for-loss and 10.5 sacks as a group in ’03. The headliner is pre-season All-American Justin Fletcher
, the team’s top returning tackler (59) and an Academic All-America candidate who carries a 3.5 grade-point average. A two-time All-FFC selection, Fletcher racked up 110 tackles and 13 tackles-for-loss since breaking into the starting line-up as a sophomore.
Vying to start alongside Fletcher is up-and-coming sophomore Andrew Madigan
. He will try to move into the spot vacated by Jesse Baker
, who graduated as SC’s second-leading career tackler with 301. The coaching staff feels that Madigan has a high ceiling, and will build upon a strong inaugural season in which he made 21 tackles. Senior Brett Cardillo
(seven tackles in ’03) and junior Jacob Treadwell
(20 tackles), both seasoned veterans who responded well when called upon last season, will also compete for the starting nod.
Coach Holik has plenty of options at the two outside linebacker spots. Senior Mark Bartelini
fulfilled the promise of a solid sophomore campaign in ’02 by registering a three sacks, 7.5 tackles-for-loss and 36 tackles last season. Bartelini and Schmidt, both unyielding pass rushers, could rotate between end and outside linebacker.
There’s excellent competition at the other linebacker spot between senior Mike Clark
and junior R.J. Perkins
. Clark, who was limited to seven games due to injury in ’03, still managed to finish 12th on the team with 25 tackles. Perkins, a big-time hitter who has 52 stops over the last two campaigns, is a defensive stalwart and a valuable special teams contributor.
Three starters are back in the secondary. Senior Mike Kimmel
and junior Mitch Dupuis
shore up the corners. Kimmel made 25 tackles and two interceptions despite missing four games. Dupuis was ninth on the team with 28 stops. Junior Brian Adamaitis
and sophomore Paul Zalenski
are capable reserves who saw action last season.
Senior Jeremiah Goodnow
is a two-year starter at free safety. Goodnow, who lists all-conference accolades in ‘02 along with plenty of big-game experience on his resume, has 61 tackles and four interceptions over the last two seasons. Senior Chris Whidden
, a valuable back-up in ’02 and ’03, expects to battle for a starting spot at corner or safety. Filling the shoes of former team captain and strong safety Ryan Santo
the ’03 squad’s emotional leader, is a major undertaking. DeLong is confident that the right man is junior Shawn McGowan
, who registered 35 tackles, including 4.5 tackles-for-loss as a back-up last fall. Rising sophomore Kevin Fessette
did a solid job as a role player in ’03 with eight tackles, and veteran David Jenkerson
, a senior, are also in the mix.
Place-kicker Greg Switaj
, who graduated last spring and was a first-team All-American in ’02, will be hard to replace. Over the last two seasons, he drilled 11-of-15 field goals and converted 103-of-108 point-after touchdown attempts. Junior Ryan Boyd
, who handled kick-offs in ’03, will get a shot but will be pushed by senior Nick Cicak
. Boyd will also punt, and sophomore Mike Nicol
, whose father, Steve, is the head coach of Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, is an option.
Long-time return man Luke Quigley
has graduated, but Hinman, Gunningsmith and Grendal are all long-distance threats.
DeLong sums up his team’s prospects for the upcoming season with proper discretion.
“We’ve got a strong group coming back, but games are not won on paper,” DeLong cautions.
A quick glance at the depth chart shows that the Pride is loaded. With nine starters and nearly 4,500 yards of total offense back, don’t rule out a run at the D-III single-season rushing record of 4,275 yards set by SC in 2000. A gritty, underrated defense that allowed just 9.3 points in six road games in ’03 is the perfect complement to the Pride’s ball-control offense.
Even the uncertainty plaguing DeLong entering last season, specifically a daunting schedule that featured six games away from Benedum Field, is somewhat diminished. In fact, the ’04 slate begins with three-straight home games. Difficult late-season trips to St. John Fisher (Oct. 23) and Ithaca (Oct. 30), though, will be pivotal in deciding the E-8 crown and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
In DeLong’s eyes, the Pride’s fortunes rest with its extraordinary senior class, of which 16 members start.
“These seniors have been a significant part of a couple of league championship teams,” he explains. “They are very strong athletically, and they have high expectations. A lot of our success depends on how they handle themselves.
“It’s a new season and we are in a new league,” DeLong continues. “I’m sure a lot of teams are looking forward to playing us, so it’s going to be challenge.”
With a wealth of talent and a senior class that knows how to win, the Pride is ready for that challenge.