Seniors anchor strong football program

For the average football team, losing the two-time NESCAC Offensive Player of the Year and ECAC Offensive Player of the Year to graduation would spell rebuilding for this season. But given the strength of this fall’s football program – which boasts four returning First Team All-NESCAC selections and two returning Second Team members – the absence of game-breaking QB Pat Lucey ’08 may be less crippling than many would expect.

Back for his fifth season, Head Coach Mike Whalen (26-6, .813) will have a squad of 15 seniors to pilot the team, a group that has never lost to archrival Amherst. Last year, the squad silenced the Jeffs, 20-0 in front of a Homecoming crowd of over 10,000. The team routed Amherst in 2006, 37-7, while the Class of 2009 got their first taste of the rivalry in 2005 with a 34-23 victory.

The experienced senior core provides a strong balance for whoever will be taking the snaps this season. The four quarterbacks vying for the job boast minimal experience, having thrown only thrown one varsity pass between them. Although Patrick Moffitt ’11 saw action in the 2007 preseason, classmate Bryce Bennett ’11 and first-years Chris Cleary ’12 and Matt Coyne ’12 could also get the nod. The starting position will be determined after this Saturday’s scrimmage against Amherst.

Fortunately for whichever young player steps into the role, he will have a veteran line in front of him. The All-NESCAC twins will anchor the offensive line. Two-time first team guard John Szawlowski ’09 and Second Team tackle Henry Szawlowski ’09 bring veteran presences to the front five. Guards Simon Kloeckner ’10 and Kevin Rose ’11 will also see action up front. Who will step into the starting center role remains an open question.

“The strength of our offense will be the same as it’s always been, and that’s our offensive line,” tailback Brian Morrissey ’09 said. “As a group our O-line has a lot of talent and experience and they’re going to lead the offense this year.”

Morrissey has seen the effectiveness of the line first hand for the past three years. The NESCAC’s leading rusher last fall, Morrissey averaged 117.4 yards per game, chalking up a total of 13 touchdowns and 939 yards on 214 carries. Brian Egan ’09, Ryan Lupo ’11 and Elijah Weeks ’09, back for his senior season, will also likely get carries.

Leading the receiving corps will be Ryan Powell ’09 who led the conference last year with 54 receptions for 742 yards and four touchdowns. “[Powell] is the best athlete in this conference and part of our game plan every week is going to be finding ways to get the ball in his hands as much as possible,” Morrissey said. Nick Caro ’10, along with Stew Buck ’09, Jamal Jefferson ’11 and Tommy Tysse ’11 may also be favorite targets.

Defensively, Whalen has a few spots in the roster to fill. Tim Kiley ’11, Andrew Knez ’11 and Ben Halbower ’11, as well as Colin Curzi ’12 and former quarterback Greg Johnson ’12 will vie for time at tackle or end. Likely starters Charlie Birns ’09 and Devin McLaughlin ’09 will provide veteran leadership on the defensive line.
The graduation of Jon Pritchard ’08 and former captain Jordan O’Reilly ’08 will leave big holes at linebacker. Fortunately for the Ephs, Trevor Powers ’09, last year’s team leader in tackles (72, 27 solo), returns to anchor the squad. Dan Johnson ’11, Alex Bain ’11 and Dylan Schultz ’11 are likely to see time at the position. Pat Barren ’11 may be in the mix at either linebacker or in the secondary.

In the secondary, the Ephs will be led by cornerback Tim Batty ’09 and safety Sean Milano ’09. Last year, Batty notched 52 tackles and a team-high 38 solo. Playing opposite Batty in the other cornerback position will be Ikenna Iheoma ’10, Matt Zanedis ’10 or Rob McDonald ’11. Candidates for the other safety spot include Tyler Ware ’10 and Will Cronin ’10.

The Ephs will kick off the regular season when they host Colby on Sept. 20. “Right now our team is focused on Colby,” Whalen said. “The last time we played them in 2005, they beat us up pretty good. Our seniors remember the long bus trip home from Maine and understand that we have to take this season one game at a time. Colby is a very well coached football team, and I know they will come to Weston Field ready to play.”