Football to Open Against Monmouth Saturday

Football to Open Against Monmouth Saturday

Bill Stoklosa

Last season was a memorable one for the Colgate Raiders. After their final home game against Holy Cross, snow fell on Andy Kerr Stadium as the team hoisted the Patriot League Championship trophy. As head coach Dick Biddle and his squad know well, however, past performance does not guarantee future results. Indeed, despite Colgate’s performance against Holy Cross last year, the Crusaders edged the Raiders in the Patriot League pre-season coaches’ poll this year.

The 2009 Raiders look to continue the successes of their last campaign, returning a great set of skill players on offense. Quarterback Greg Sullivan is coming off an exceptional sophomore season in which he passed for 1,695 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was equally dangerous on the ground, averaging 74.8 yards per game (fifth in the Patriot League) and scoring seven times. Sullivan has looked very sharp in preseason practices, and appears to be a more accurate passer than last year. Expect another standout year from him.

At first glance the loss of Jordan Scott, Colgate and the Patriot League’s all-time leading rusher, would appear to be devastating. However, Scott missed much of last season and his replacement, sophomore Nate Eachus, filled his role particularly well. Eachus rushed for 932 yards and scored 10 times. Eachus twice ran for over 200 yards during the year and, on three occasions, ran for over 100 yards.

Though Colgate figures to lean heavily on the run again this year, their receiving corps, led by senior Pat Simonds, is not to be overlooked. Colgate’s offensive MVP last year, Simonds caught 65 balls for 1,136 yards receiving and nine touchdowns. Also competing for the ball this season will be junior Doug Rosnick, who was second on the team with 23 receptions for 254 yards last year. First-year John Schademan, however, is not to be overlooked. Schademan, though still a little green, has shown that he has a lot of talent this pre-season. Working as a compliment to the Raiders wide receivers will be tight end Adrien Schriefer, who caught three touchdowns last year. Schriefer works primarily as a blocker, but his ability to catch the ball in space makes him another target for Sullivan.

The big question mark on offense is the offensive line. There will be four new starters on the line this year, and it is imperative that these new players step up, especially at the tackle position. Colgate lost two very talented tackles last off-season in Steve Jonas and Nick Hennessey, both of whom signed with NFL teams in the spring. Replacing them will be senior Ryan Gross, a former interior lineman who has bulked up considerably, and sophomore Brian Merrifield, who previously worked as a blocker on the special teams unit. According to Gross, having new personnel on offense will not change the team’s run heavy offense.

“We don’t do a lot of things on offense, but what we do, we try to do well,” Gross said. “You can’t be a good team if you can’t run the ball. Our philosophy is to pound and keep pounding the ball.”

On defense, Colgate returns most of their key players from last year, but the unit still has room for improvement.

Struggling at times last year, Colgate gave up 29.1 points per game and had trouble defending the run, allowing 172.0 yards per game on the ground. Their pass defense, however, was exceptional, giving up just 206 yards per game. In practice, sophomore safety Vinnie Nicosia appears to have improved significantly and should help bolster the secondary. However, the loss of one of last year’s starting cornerbacks, Wayne Moten, could hurt the Raiders. Moten left the team in the offseason due to injury problems. In his absence, first-year corner Demitri Diamond will be asked to step up to the task.

According to Biddle, his defensive line, which returns all four starters from last year, will be the defense’s biggest strength. Expect big years from defensive end Austin Douglas, who had 45 tackles and six sacks last year, and defensive tackle Paul Mancuso, who recorded 28 tackles and three sacks.

When it comes to improving the defense, Colgate’s linebacking core will be crucial. The heart of that unit is senior Greg Hadley, who led Colgate with 80 tackles in 2008. Hadley’s leadership and skill figure to be key pieces of the puzzle on defense again this year. The defense will be under new management this year with position coaches Ryan Knowles and Nick Monroe taking over the coordinating duties after the off-season departure of Steve Szabo. With a new coordinator, there is inevitably a new system for the players to learn.

“With this system you really have to study,” Hadley said. “We really have to know what defense we’re running, what formation we’re playing against. You need to know your responsibility and the responsibilities of those around you.”

One large area of concern for Colgate is special teams. Colgate lost its kicker and punter, Jacob Stein, this off-season. Replacing him will be a pair of first-years: kicker Evan Colborne and punter Evan Goldszak. While Coach Biddle believes both have a lot of potential, he admits that you cannot tell for sure until the season starts.

“We’ve got a lot of untested players who will be out there,” Biddle said. “We’ve got four new starters on the offensive line, and it will be the first game for our two freshman kickers. It will be interesting to see how they will handle themselves. The key will be for our experienced players to go out there and play like they really are experienced players.”

Colgate’s first challenge will be on Saturday in its season opener against Monmouth, under the lights of Andy Kerr Stadium at 6 p.m. The Hawks finished 7-4 last season after an 0-3 start. Monmouth had a solid offensive attack last year, averaging 26.2 points per game. Like the Raiders, their offense revolved around the run. Last season, they averaged 192.7 yards per game on the ground versus 165.4 in the air. The key to their success was David Sinisi, who rushed for 152.2 yards per game and scored 22 times. Unfortunately for Colgate, he is returning for a fifth year at Monmouth. The Hawks’ defense was solid last year as well, especially on third down, where they held opponents to a conversion rate of 38 percent. Last time the teams met, in 2006, Monmouth won an ugly 17-12 contest. Colgate is hoping to avenge that loss and in the process get their season started on the right foot.