WESTMINSTER, Md. – Even coming off its worst season in two decades and entering camp without a quarterback who has more than 20 collegiate pass attempts, there is reason for optimism as McDaniel enters the 2008 football season.
The 114th campaign will have nearly as many questions to answer when it opens at St. Vincent on Sept. 6 as the 113th did when it opened at Bridgewater a year ago. However, this year’s edition has more experience on both sides of the ball – and as long as the Green Terror can avoid the injury bug that has bitten the squad recently, there is reason to believe that an upswing is possible after a five-year downswing.
Some of the unknowns from the 2007 season have been answered. However, as is often the case, those unknowns are just replaced by new questions for a new campaign.
Now sitting squarely on 500 program victories – a milestone on everyone’s mind as last year commenced – and a year into the new nine-team Centennial Conference (CC), McDaniel can fully focus its attention on what it can control and not dwell nearly as much on the peripheral.
“We need to go out every week and be ready for a fight,” head coach Tim Keating said. “There was a time in the past when we were the top dog. We’ve slipped a little bit in the last few years but I think more of it is that the rest of the league has caught up to us. Hopefully, though, we are taking the right steps to change that and get back to the top.”
The rest of the CC apparently didn’t get the memo that the Green Terror is ready for a return to the top, picking McDaniel to finish 2008 in the same spot it finished 2007 – eighth. In the annual poll of the head coaches and sports information directors, the Green Terror garnered 29 points. Juniata was the only team tabbed to finish worst, earning 11 fewer points. Muhlenberg, coming off an 11-1 season and ranked eighth in the d3football.com preseason poll, was picked to repeat with 14 first-place votes and 126 total points to easily outdistance second-place Dickinson (98). Johns Hopkins and Gettysburg split the other four first-place nods. The Blue Jays (86) finished fourth in the balloting while the Bullets (72) were tabbed sixth. Ursinus (90) was third and Moravian (77) was fifth. Franklin & Marshall grabbed the seventh spot with 52 points.
Keating, who enters the season with a 96-57-3 record at the helm of the Green Terror, will have one major hurdle to leap if his squad is going to make that leap this year. The 16th-year mentor needs to find a quarterback.
“We have some really talented skill players coming back,” Keating disclosed. “Our offensive line has another year of experience with four starters returning from last year. If we can find a quarterback, I think we’re going to be very solid on the offensive side of the ball.”
Among those returning skill players is junior running back Eric Zwilsky (Knoxville, Md./Brunswick), who found the end zone 10 times and carried for 542 yards. Having an experienced backfield that not only has Zwilsky but also T.J. Develin (Boyertown, Pa./Boyertown Area), Sean Urbany (Crofton, Md./Arundel) and Raymond O’Hara (Yardley, Pa./Conwell-Egan Catholic) could take some of the immediate pressure off the inexperience under center.
Even though Keating has five of his eight-member coaching staff back, only three coaches will have the same responsibilities in 2008 as they had in 2007, adding an additional learning curve to the start of camp.
Eric Van Heusen returns as defensive coordinator but returns only Greg Fuhrman (defensive line)as a position coach on the defensive side.
Omar Phillip retains control of the wide receivers but responsibilities across the rest of the offense switch. Todd Parsons, in his second season on the squad after quarterbacking Averett, will shift from the running backs to the signal callers while Aaron Bartolain takes over the backs after three years with the offensive line. Bartolain also garners the title of offensive coordinator in 2008 and will assume play-calling duties.
There is little question that running back is the most solidified position in the Green Terror offense for 2008. The three tailbacks with the most carries a year ago all returning to the backfield as does fullback Sean Urbany.
As a team, McDaniel recorded 334 rushes for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns. Three players hit the 100-yard mark for the season, including departed four-year starting quarterback Brad Baer, who did it in just three games before missing the remainder of the season with injury.
Eric Zwilsky, a captain in 2008, carried the lion’s share of that load in 2007, rushing 131 times for 527 yards with 10 scores. Starting nine of the 10 games a year ago, Zwilsky notched no fewer than 10 carries in seven games, including a season-high 20 against Juniata on Sept. 29. That game also saw the then-sophomore’s first collegiate 100-yard performance, going for 110 yards and a touchdown. A week earlier at Dickinson, he amassed just 36 yards on 14 carries but found the end zone three times.
T.J. Develin finished second on the squad with 245 yards on 54 attempts. Starting all 10 games in 2007, Develin was as much a target in the passing game as he was a runner. He only saw double-digit carries once a season ago, touting an 18-carry, 62-yard performance against Ursinus on Oct. 20. Develin racked up a season-high 72 yards on nine carries against the Eagles on Sept. 29.
Compared to Zwilsky’s 16 receptions for 101 yards, Develin snagged 12 passes out of the backfield 133 yards, averaging a team-best 11.1 yards per reception.
Raymond O’Hara and Urbany both lined up in the backfield at times in all 10 games last season. Urbany, primarily the lead back, only picked up five carries and will likely reprise his role as being the first through the line and a short-yardage back.
O’Hara, a sophomore, saw more carries as his rookie season progressed. After picking up just three rushes in the first five games, he carried the ball no fewer than four times in four games after the bye week. O’Hara reeled off a season-best 25 yards on four carries at Gettysburg on Nov. 3. O’Hara also saw key action in the receiving game, catching eight passes for 71 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown in his debut at Bridgewater on Sept. 1.
Conversely, the most inexperienced position on offense is clearly at quarterback.
Losing both Brad Baer and Tom Wenrich, who have combined to start 43 of McDaniel’s last 47 games under center, to graduation, leaves a huge void for Keating to fill.
However, if the answer doesn’t come from either Joe Lapkowicz (Harrisburg, Pa./Susquehanna Twp.) or Zach Swope (Jessup, Md./Hammond), the two returning quarterbacks on the roster, it could still come from a familiar location.
One of the rookie signal callers coming to camp in 2008 hails from Riverview High School in Sarasota, Fla. – the same high school program that produced former Green Terror standout Jamie “Boo” Harris. Harris’ name is still etched in the record book among the leaders in nearly every passing category. In two years as the starting quarterback, he recorded eight 200-yard passing performances to go with six 100-yard rushing outings.
Vinny Corona (Sarasota, Fla./Riverview) is the rookie who will look to follow in Harris’ shoes. However, Corona does not have the same obstacles to overcome that Harris did as a freshman – beating out a three-time CC Player of the Year for the starting quarterback job. When Harris arrived in 1998, Ron Sermarini was coming off his first year of earning the conference’s top honor after guiding then-Western Maryland to a 10-1 season and first of seven CC titles. Ten years later as Corona arrives on the Hill, the job is wide open, giving Corona as likely a shot as anyone to start his own dynasty.
Corona will not be without competition among the rookies, however. Freshman Thomas Massucci (Tabernacle, N.J./Seneca) and sophomore Skyler Fultz (Gratz, Pa./Upper Dauphin), who missed his entire freshman campaign with injury, also enter camp with aspirations to unseat the two incumbents.
Due in large part to same fate that awaited Harris when he arrived, neither Lapkowicz nor Swope has had the opportunity to assert himself as the starting signal caller with Baer and Wenrich on top of the depth chart.
Swope does have one start to his credit, getting the nod against Ursinus on Oct. 20. In his four appearances under center, he had three completions in 19 attempts.
Lapkowicz, who also served part of the season as the team’s holder, appeared in seven games but only attempted passes in three of those. He finished the season 5 of 9 for 18 yards, including a 13-yarder against Gettysburg on Nov. 3.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
If the coaching staff can answer the quarterback question with any amount of success, McDaniel has the talent in the receiving corps to uphold the other end of the connection.
The Green Terror lose only two of the 15 players who caught a pass in 2007, only one of which made more than one reception. Junior Matt Bergbauer (Westminster, Md./Westminster) returns to anchor the group from his tight end position while Matt Cahill (Haverford, Pa./Haverford Twp.) will be back in his starting role at flanker after missing the last six games a year ago with injury. McDaniel will have to replace Brian Amenta at split end but have a number of options, two of whom made starts last year. Mark Steiding (Laytonsville, Md./Good Counsel) started three times while Pat McCarrick (Myersville, Md./Middletown) made the final two starts of the season.
Bergbauer returns after a team-high 36 receptions a year ago, totaling 307 yards and adding a touchdown against Franklin & Marshall on Oct. 27. The tight end twice caught seven passes, including for a season-best 69 yards against Juniata on Sept. 29.
Cahill, elected a captain in his junior year, returns from injury after pacing the squad a 45.5-yard-per-game average through four games to open his sophomore campaign. He racked up 74 yards on eight catches at Moravian on Sept. 8. Playing only four games, Cahill’s 182 yards and 19 catches still ranked fourth.
Junior Saum Sami (Fruitland, Md./JM Bennett) ranked third on the squad with 26 receptions and 193 yards last year. He also rushed five times for 38 yards, 27 of which came on two carries against the Diplomats. Nearly half of the quarterback-turned-receiver’s receiving yardage (89 yards) came on nine catches in the final three games of the year.
The offensive line returns essentially intact for 2008. The Green Terror returns both starting guards and tackles from a year ago.
McDaniel needs only to replace its starting center from the 2007 but does have five linemen back who made starts.
Joe Bowers (Conawingo, Md./Rising Sun) and Ian Procter (Silver Spring, Md./Blair) added consistency to the left side of the line last year, starting all 10 games at tackle and guard, respectively.
Patrick Floyd (Bethesda, Md./Walt Whitman) made all 10 starts at right tackle while Jason Bryan (Earleville, Md./Bohemia Manor) and Paul Selfinger (Birdsboro, Pa./Daniel Boone) split the starts at right guard. Bryan made four starts while Selfinger got the nod in the other six games.
Junior Austin Herr (Millersville, Pa./Penn Manor), who has seen significant time as a reserve in his first two seasons, will also be in the mix of returners pushing for a starting spot.
Similar to the offensive backfield, the defensive backfield is the most solidified of the defensive positions for the Green Terror in 2008.
McDaniel returns all four members of its 2007 starting secondary – three of whom finished in the top seven tacklers on the team.
Steve Long (Arnold, Md./Broadneck) and Travis Wenrich (Wernersville, Pa./Conrad Weiser) return to hold down the corners while Ryan Blaser (Gaithersburg, Md./Einstein) and Aaron Slaughter (Baltimore, Md./Loyola) are back to likely reprise their roles in the two safety positions.
Long appeared in eight games during his rookie season, including starting the final four games of 2007, and finished with 24 tackles.
Wenrich keyed the pass defense in his first season as the full-time starter, finishing the year with five interceptions and eight pass breakups – both of which were team bests. Among his five picks were two that he returned no fewer than 35 yards, including a 42-yarder in the final game against Johns Hopkins. He also finished with 29 solo tackles and 51 total stops.
Blaser returns to the strong safety position after starting all 10 games in that position a year ago. The junior finished 2007 with 54 tackles, including 36 solo stops. He added three pass breakups.
Slaughter, a junior captain, will lead the defense from the free safety position, where he started eight games after missing the final seven games of his rookie year with injury. He finished the season with 55 tackles, broke up three passes and recovered a fumble.
Patrick Desmond (Frederick, Md./Frederick) and Rick Gonzalez (Columbia, Md./Oakland Mills) both saw significant time in the secondary last year, including making starts.
Desmond started twice at safety, making 20 tackles in 10 appearances. He also had an interception against Ursinus on Oct. 20 and one pass breakup.
Gonzalez appeared in all 10 games, including starts in his first six collegiate games at cornerback. He finished his rookie year with 13 tackles and a pass breakup.
The linebacking corps saw seven different starters and five different combinations during the 10-game slate in 2007. Five of those seven players who made starts return, including three of the four who comprised the most consistent lineup over the final four games.
Sophomore Paul Smith (Woodlawn, Md./Western Tech) stepped into the starting lineup against Juniata on Sept. 29 and remained a fixture on the outside through the final six games of his rookie year. He finished the season with 36 tackles, including four for loss and a sack.
Amine Alaoui (Baltimore, Md./Towson), a sophomore, appeared in nine games at inside linebacker and entered the starting lineup against Ursinus on Oct. 20. Aloui made 18 stops, including 1.5 for loss and a sack.
Seniors Cory Briggs (Frederick, Md./Frederick) and Nick Giusti (Frederick, Md./Linganore) each spent time in the starting lineup a year ago and will once again compete for a starting job. Briggs, a captain, made three starts among his 10 appearances, making 26 tackles. Giusti made four starts among his 10 appearances and finished with 21 stops.
Junior Albert Leech (Frederick, Md./Gov. Thomas Johnson) appeared in all 10 games last year and will be a key part of the defense in 2008.
There is only one thing McDaniel knows for sure when it comes to the defensive line – the starters will all be new in 2008. The Green Terror lost all three of its starting down linemen from last year’s squad and only has two players back who saw time on the field.
Matt Anderson (Miramar, Fla./SHAPE [Belgium]) and Mike Ford (Drexel Hill, Pa./Haverford) are the only defensive linemen on the field with collegiate experience and the duo has combined for only five tackles.
Sam Cox (Towson, Md./Towson) looks to make a run at one of the open spots after impressing the coaching staff early in camp during 2007 but missing the entire season with injury.
There are few special teams questions that need to be answered for 2008. Senior placekicker Jay Leonard (Westminster, Md./Westminster) returns to reprise his role in the kicking game. McDaniel had 13 different players return a punt or kickoff in 2007 – 12 of those return. The Green Terror does lose first-team All-CC punter Tom Wenrich but his younger brother Travis Wenrich averaged 39.2 yards on six punts and will be the likely candidate to replace the elder Wenrich in that capacity.
Leonard converted 15 consecutive extra-point chances after missing his first attempt of the season. He also hit 5 of 11 field goals, including a season-long 34-yarder to force overtime against Franklin & Marshall on Oct. 27. He was also statistically the best kickoff specialist in the conference, averaging 65.3 yards per boot.
Among Wenrich’s six punts was a 65-yarder at Muhlenberg on Oct. 13.
Wenrich was also among those who returned kicks in 2007, averaging a team-best 14.1 yards per punt return – on a team-high 10 returns – that included a 76-yard return for touchdown in his first collegiate return against Ursinus on Oct. 20. He also averaged 16.1 yards on nine kickoff returns.
Matt Cahill spent time as the punt returner before injury kept him out of the final six games. As a sophomore, he returned five kicks for 25 yards.
T.J. Develin saw the most action in the kick return game, taking 17 kickoffs a total of 312 yards while Paul Smith returned nine kickoffs for 134 yards.
Juris Eyler (Middletown, Md./Middletown) will likely return to the deep spot on kickoff return after a strong start to his rookie season. Through eight returns and four games, he paced the CC with a 27.1-yard average before missing the final six games with injury.
After the opener at St. Vincent, McDaniel opens its conference slate at home against Moravian on Sept. 13 before completing the non-conference schedule at Catholic on Sept. 20. On Sept. 27, the Green Terror host Dickinson before traveling to Juniata on Oct. 4, completing half of its schedule before the bye week. McDaniel opens the second half of the season at home against defending CC champion Muhlenberg on Oct. 18. The home schedule concludes with the homecoming game against Gettysburg on Nov. 8. All games begin at 1 p.m.