Football powers up to defend 8-0 season with retooled offense

With the addition of Head Coach Aaron Kelton and a stellar performance from quarterback Pat Moffitt ’11, football ripped off a perfect 8-0 season to claim the NESCAC crown last year. Now preparing to take the field with a target on their backs, the men seek to repeat their dominance and claim their eighth perfect season since 1989.

JC Stickney '12
Co-captain wide receiver JC Stickney ’12 will look to lead the team to another NESCAC crown. Photo courtesy of Sports Information.

The men will have to build off last season’s dominance with a new look this year and are seeking to prove themselves based on their own merit. “We must realize that we are a much different team than last year,” co-captain defensive back Dan O’Mara ’12 said, “and that we haven’t yet accomplished anything this season. We must work even harder because we have that bulls-eye on our backs now.”

Kelton agreed that the team faces new challenges and competition this season. “We think we’re the team out front right now,” Kelton said. “We know everybody is basically gunning for us, so all the games are challenging. Our league is getting more competitive. It’s a different team, it’s a different year.”

With the ultimate goal of protecting the NESCAC Championship, the men have some key holes to fill in their roster, most notably the vacancy created by the graduation of NESCAC Offensive Player of the Year Moffitt. In total, the men graduated 13 seniors last season, including three other First Team All-NESCAC players: wide receiver and co-captain Bryce Bennet ’11, running back Ryan Lupo ’11 and lineman Kevin Rose ’11.

Despite the loss of these standouts, Kelton is confident that he has the men on his roster to step into the seniors’ positions. “We returned a lot of good juniors, and certainly we have to replace the QB. Right now, Chris Cleary [’12] is the heir apparent to be the QB, but Adam Marske [’14] and Tommy Stephens [’14] both are sophomores that are doing a great job. We at some point will get them in some games in some situations,” Kelton said.

Additionally, Kelton is looking to replace his trio of graduated senior tight ends. “We’re going to be young at tight end because the three seniors we had last year graduated,” he said. “We actually moved a couple of guys there this offseason and KC Murphy [’13], Sam Krieg [’13] and Ryan Prokesch [’14] are the three upperclassmen and Ryan Barry [’15] is the freshman who we brought in at that position,” Kelton said. “That’ll be a big position for us in terms of trying to find guys who are ready to go. Those guys have done a great job all preseason.”

Co-captains Steve Denza ’12, Dylan Schultz ’12, JC Stickney ’12 and O’Mara will lead the team, as O’Mara and Schultz return as fifth-year seniors for their final years of eligibility. “We have to lead by example and keep working hard to get better,” O’Mara said. “We have to ingrain in their minds that last season was last season and it has nothing to do with the success of the upcoming season.”

With the upperclassmen competing to replace the seniors, Kelton has been impressed with his 22 rookies’ performances in the preseason and stressed that the team has healthy competition for starting roles. “Our recruit group is really athletic, one of the more athletic classes that has been here,” Kelton said, “and they have a drive to want to be good and play football … We want to create competition in practice every day. We love the fact that guys are out competing to win a job.”

While the Ephs will sport fresh talent at several key offensive positions, the team boasts a strong core of returners on defense. “I see our defense as a whole being very strong this year,” O’Mara said. “We’re bringing back eight starters, with five of them being All-Conference players last season.”

Additionally, O’Mara stressed that the team’s wide receivers will play a big role this season. “I think we have the best receivers in the league,” he said. “Teams have a very hard time matching up against our big [wide receievers].”

The men open up the season with a challenging road trip to Bowdoin that will test their strong defense and new offensive look. “It’s very tough to start out the season with a trip to Maine,” O’Mara said. “Whenever our daily routine is transformed, it’s hard to stay focused. We [have to] come mentally and physically prepared. Bowdoin is a solid team, and we can’t take them lightly.”

The team will travel to Bowdoin on Saturday for a 1 p.m. game, hoping to kick off the season with a statement victory. “Our main goal is to repeat and have another undefeated season. We definitely have the tools to do this and have to continue to work hard towards this goal,” O’Mara said.

“We want to win all of the games,” Kelton said. “We play the games to win them. We want to make it fun and have fun while we’re doing it.”