Here is a quick glimpse at the last ten years of Springfield College Football: five national rushing titles; seven post-season appearances; four NCAA Division III Tournament berths; five conference titles; seventy-two victories; a .700 winning percentage; fourteen All-Americans; and, an undefeated 10-0 regular season.
Pretty good legacy over a decade. Does the cliché “success breeds success" continue to work? Where does the Pride go from here?
“I realize that we’ve lost some key offensive players through graduation," said head coach Mike DeLong, “but don’t count us out just yet. Sure, it’ll be tough to line up without (Ryan) Sylvia at quarterback, (Tim) Lutgens) at fullback and (Kevin) Domurat and (Will) Davis at halfbacks. But we’ve got some pretty talented people back there ready to emerge. This year’s team has some very, very fine football players, many of whom saw playing time a year ago.
“Last year we were 8-2 with both losses (Ithaca and St. John Fisher) on the road. We’ve got those schools at home this year, so that has to be beneficial to us."OFFENSE
Only three starters from a 2004 offensive unit that averaged over 40 points, nearly 400 yards rushing and well over 400 yards in total offense per game return in 2005. All four starters in the Pride’s potent backfield, which produced a three-year record of 26-5 with three postseason appearances, have graduated, along with several key members of the offensive line.
Replacements must be found for quarterback Ryan Sylvia (16 TDs, 850 yds rushing), fullback Tim Lutgens (15 TDs, 1,064 yds rushing) and halfbacks Kevin Domurat (four TDs, 476 yds rushing) and Will Davis (four TDs, 462 yds rushing). The four backs were responsible for 39 of SC’s 56 touchdowns and 2,852 of the 3,896 yards on the ground.
During their four seasons with the Pride, Sylvia and Lutgens rushed for 3,064 and 3,032 yards, respectively, to become only the second and third players in SC history to crack the 3,000-yard plateau. (Kevin Cahill ’01 is the career rushing record holder at 3,209).
Sophomore Joe Deptula and senior Damian Gunningsmith are the leading candidates to replace Sylvia at quarterback. Both have tremendous athletic ability and are solid runners with strong arms. Gunningsmith, one of the most versatile athletes on the team, returned kicks for the Pride last season, and could also see time at split end in 2005. Add to the mix for the QB spot will be juniors Pete Longo and Anthony Papacoda and Kyle Anderson, who could also be considered at split end.
At the top of the list of fullback candidates is Andre Clayton, a 6-1, 215-pound senior who played in all ten games last season, totaling 600 yards, six touchdowns and a team-high 7.1 yards per carry. He compiled a team-high 119 yards and two scores in the Pride’s 53-7 victory over Fitchburg State, a victory that gave SC the ECAC Division III Northeast Championship. Junior Marc Hatch (seven games, 117 yds, 6.5 per carry) is another big back with excellent speed who will compete for time at fullback along with Jason Williams.
DeLong believes that sophomores Chris Sharpe and Derron Walker will more than fill the shoes vacated by starting senior halfbacks Kevin Domurat and Will Davis. Both strong and versatile runners, Walker gained 114 yards in limited action, while Sharpe was credited with 110 yards and a touchdown (15 yards against Utica). Sharpe was also the team’s top kick returner, averaging 23.1 yards per return, including a 93-yarder for a TD against Hartwick.
Jim McCarthy is a big, strong, hard-blocking junior with experience at tight end. Sophomore Tim Flederjohn had a solid off-season. They will be pushed by several talented freshmen.
At split end, senior captain Mike Grendal returns after starting all 10 games for the Pride in 2005. His team-high four catches included a pair for touchdowns. Also returning at the wideout spot are Gunningsmith and senior Matt Norris, both of whom saw plenty of playing time in 2004. Senior Rod Murchie is another talented receiver to be added to the mix.
The offensive line loses All-American Brian Dewey to graduation, but returns a strong, hard-nosed leader in 6-0, 280-pound senior guard Marcello Mancini. Senior Jason Benguche, at 6-3, 270 pounds, is an exceptionally athletic tackle.
Candidates to fill the guard position include junior Adam Feit (6-1, 220), senior Ryan Curran (5-11, 260), and junior Dan Connors (5-9, 275). Senior Justin Hayward (6-0, 260) and junior Nate Germain (6-2, 250) will compete for playing time at tackle.
Two highly regarded athletes at the center position will be Mike Mestieri (6’, 235, Jr.) and Dan Tanguay (5-10, 200, Sr.)DEFENSE
Two of the best athletes on the 2005 team reside on the defensive side of the ball.
Senior Mitch Dupuis is an exceptionally talented cornerback with great speed and incredible instincts. He finished fourth for the 2004 Pride with 37 tackles, while adding a pair of interceptions, six pass break-ups and a fumble recovery for a touchdown against St. John Fisher.
Junior Kevin Fessette is a durable and tough strong safety who tied Dupuis with 37 tackles. He also had 2.5 tackles-for-loss, three pass break-ups and a fumble recovery.
Other candidates for starting positions in the secondary will come from a talented group which includes: junior Lucas Maciarello, a quick free safety, junior Dwight Hazelwood, who can play either free safety or corner, sophomore Joe Harasymiak, a very athletic corner, and Brian Adamatis, whose speed and and athleticism will give him playing time at either corner or safety. Junior Armard Forbes looked very good during spring drills and junior Paul Zielenski should be recovered from a knee injury.
Junior inside linebacker Andrew Madigan led the ’04 Pride with 62 tackles, while senior Jake Treadwell also returns after seeing action in nine games. Sophomores Seth Trunko and Jason Bakoulis bring size and strength to this position. At outside linebacker, sophomore T.J. McGonagle and senior R.J. Perkins are the top two returners from last season’s squad. Mark Bartelini, a 6-1, 220 pound senior who missed the 2004 season with injuries, returns in ’05 .
Although many of the key members of the defensive line graduated, Springfield does return several players who earned a considerable amount of playing time on a unit that only allowed 90 yards a game on the ground, 241 yards in total offense and 17 points per contest.
Seniors Nick Burdett and Shawn McMillan will both return after having their 2004 campaigns limited by injury to supply the defensive line with much-needed experience. Juniors Ed Yakubian and Mike Nicol came on very strong and had their best games late in the season at end and tackle, respectively. Sophomores Dom Ugucionni and Connor Hughes along with senior David Hastings were impressive in the off-season and will push for playing time on the defensive line.SPECIAL TEAMS
SC’s special teams return a pair of key skill players in senior place-kicker Ryan Boyd and sophomore punter Mike Mahoney. Boyd converted 45 of 51 extra point attempts with two field goals in ’04 while Mahoney punted 32 times for a 34.3 average. They will both receive competition from freshman Dan Falvey.
Wide receiver Mike Grendal was the team’s leading punt returner in 2004 and halfback Chris Sharpe averaged over 23 yards per kickoff return.
The 2005 Pride will have several new faces manning the nation’s premier rushing attack, but DeLong is confident that his unit won’t skip a beat in its quest for its sixth national rushing title. Coupled with a solid defense with a host of talented athletes, SC is primed for a run at its first Empire 8 Championship and its fifth post-season appearance in the last six years.
“One of the keys to the success of this team will be how quickly the new people develop," said DeLong. “One of strengths is the offensive line and that unit needs to start quickly and get better each week. We may lack some size at some positions, but our quickness and speed will compensate for that. The secondary, as a whole, will have to mature rapidly.
“The schedule is a good one. The addition of Wisconsin Stout will give our athletes an opportunity to see how they compare to Division III athletes in another part of the country."