The Endicott football program waved goodbye to a star-studded cast of seniors that accumulated numerous All-American, Academic All-American, All-Region, Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, All-Division, and Academic All-Conference awards on graduation day but looking ahead, Head Coach JB Wells, who enters his 10th season at the helm of Gulls football, sees a motivated group of returners and newcomers eager to return to NEFC Championship glory.
"This group is a team," says Wells. "This year will be different because there are no individual stars, no highly decorated guys about to be decorated again. This group is going to play with a chip on their shoulder, anxious to prove we're still a good football program despite losing all those big name players."
At several different positions on the field, players who were waiting in the wings for two or possible three seasons will finally get their crack at a full-time workload. Players that could probably be starters at other programs patiently waited for their turn to represent the Blue and Green as a starter on the gridiron at Endicott Stadium. Despite a crop of fresh new faces to the starting lineup, the goal for the 2012 Endicott football season remains the same.
"Our goal never changes: win games and play in the postseason. As a 10-win team last year that missed out on the NEFC Championship, we learned to win the games you're supposed to win and you'll find yourself competing for a title."
"Our other goal is to focus on bettering ourselves every day and not thinking about who we are playing. Put in the work in the offseason, at preseason, at practice, and then on game day. We have an experienced coaching staff that will prepare for our opponent, but we don't want our guys wrapped up in who it is."
Four senior captains will provide individual strengths and unique leadership methods this season: running back Jared DiBiase, offensive lineman Ian Suter, defensive lineman Oscar Moore, and linebacker Craig Lussier. The coaches go through an extensive search for the next season's captains in the spring semester and Wells praises his four captains for what he expects each of them to bring to the table.
"We have one guy who is great at speaking to the team, another who is good at loosening players up, a guy who we consider to be the enforcer and another who is mature and capable of seeing the big picture. We are lucky to have such a diverse set of high-character captains to lead this team."
With the loss of the 2011 NEFC Offensive Player of the Year and the program's leader in every passing category, quarterback Phil Konopka, the Gulls will take a look a three viable candidates under center hoping to find one that will rise above the rest. Junior David St. Pierre, a NEFC Academic All-Conference honoree last season, showed good leadership and charisma after the spring season. Athletic with a big arm, sophomore Drew Frenette is also in the mix out of the returning players. Ryan McLaughlin, a sophomore transfer from Division II Southern Connecticut has displayed a tremendous amount of physical ability and looks to compete for the job at preseason. The coaching staff will look for the next Endicott quarterback to have physical ability, command of the offense, and the ability to lead the team on the field.
The Blue and Green are loaded at the running back position in 2012 with captain Jared DiBiase and fellow senior Mike Wheeler providing a deadly one-two punch in the backfield. DiBiase, who has served as backup to four-time NEFC All-Conference and Capital One Academic All-American Mike Lane, is a hard runner who Wells says would be a starter on any other team were it not for the talent ahead of him. Wheeler, also a special teams MVP, possesses a ton of speed with the ability to bust out a long run at any moment. Wells plans to use both guys to increase production at the running back position that in 2011 ran for 198.5 yards per game with 23 touchdowns in 11 games.
Senior Mike Murphy returns to headline an Endicott receiving core that is looking at expanded roles after taking over for Ryan Carino and Mike Fimiani who amassed a combined 221 receptions for 2,293 yards and 20 touchdowns over their careers. Murphy, a 2012 Preseason All-American, broke out for 44 catches, 843 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior last season and was named NEFC First Team All-Conference. Seniors Cam Lett and Jimmy Nguyen will take a larger role this fall but will also be pushed by junior Matt Smith for playing time. Ethan Curry, who moves from quarterback to receiver, is a great athlete looking to make an impact as is Nate Lewis, who has worked hard on his route running and catching skills in the offseason.
Taking over the tight end responsibilities from All-American Taylor Allen, who signed an undrafted rookie contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars this summer, will be junior Greg Dellorco, who Wells describes as a "hard-nosed, throwback player." Dellorco is a great blocker and hitter, capable of outworking his opponent on the line, but also makes big plays in the passing game.
Endicott's offensive line took a hit with the loss of four legendary seniors including NEFC First Team All-Conference guard Nick Molinari, NEFC Second Team All-Conference tackle and captain Sean Gaffney, and Capital One Academic All-American center Mike Zupkosky. Wells, however, is happy that senior guard and captain Ian Suter is returning out to prove a point after his play was overshadowed by the strength of last year's offensive line. Pat McMenimen, who played in some Endicott's biggest games in program history over his career, will be injected into the starting lineup as a guard. Junior Casey McDonnell will get first crack at the center duties after learning behind Zupkosky and is poised for a breakout season after a strong spring. Junior Alec Gatzogiannis and sophomore Mike Marini will serve as the team's tackles. Gatzogiannis has shown good technique and athleticism while Marini doesn't wilt under pressure and plays with a chip on his shoulder. Anthony Fullmine and Andrew Edwards will also be in the mix as well as a few freshman lineman expected to have a solid preseason camp.
The defensive line gets a serious shakeup with the loss of Kevin Eagan, one of the best defensive ends to ever come out of New England and all of Division III. Eagan wrapped up his career as an All-American with 371 tackles, 70 tackles or a loss, 23.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles, and seven fumble recoveries. Like Allen, Eagan signed an undrafted rookie contract with the Indianapolis Colts over the summer. Captain Oscar Moore moves from outside linebacker to defensive end and after the spring season, has looked like a natural at the position. Junior Marcell Cooper, who rotated into the defensive line his first two years, comes into preseason in the best shape of his career and will continue to give opposing lineman fits. Tim Murray, a junior transfer from Hobart, has good size and athletic ability and will occupy the other end position. Seniors Kevin Pressey and Juan Fortich as well as junior Alex Filomeno will be rotated into action.
The strength of the Endicott defense lies in their linebacker core with NEFC First Team All-Conference Peter Kallas and NEFC Second Team All-Conference and captain Craig Lussier taking up the inside. Kallas was second on the team as a junior last year with 63 tackles, including 7.5 for a loss of yardage, two forced fumbles and a recovery. Lussier finished right behind his teammate with 52 takedowns. Junior Nick Kozlowski also figures to be an inside linebacker threat. The outside linebackers for the Endicott defense will be senior PJ Bandini and junior Andrew Holfinger. Bandini turned in a career year as a junior, finishing fourth on the team in tackles with 47 with 12.5 going for a loss of yardage. Five of Holfinger's 17 tackles in 2011 were behind the line of scrimmage. Junior Kyle Connolly, who had a good spring, and sophomore Eric Dwinell, slowed by injuries last fall, is expected to be healthy to play a role for the linebackers.
This season's defensive backfield is comprised of experienced safeties that will be in charge of leading relatively inexperienced corners who step into a larger role with the departure of two-time NEFC First Team All-Conference and captain Bill Hickey. Junior safety Jason Silva returns after finishing his 2011 Academic All-American campaign among the NCAA leaders in interceptions. Silva is once again on the national radar as a first time Preseason All-American. He is joined by safeties Andrew Lawson and Mike Lago who gained significant experience last season. At the corner position, junior Sean Griffith looks to take his game to the next level while Davas Wright, Jake Cox, Tyler Redding, and Mike Romanelli will be expected to step up into high impact roles this fall.
The strongest and most consistent aspects of Endicott's game this fall comes from junior Dylan Rushe, an All-American and two-time Fred Mitchell Award nominee, who enters this season as the team's primary placekicker and punter. Rushe has broke and set numerous field goal records within the program, regional and national levels through only two seasons at Endicott. He ranked second in the country in field goals per game and 27th in overall scoring while sitting on top of the NEFC rankings in each of those categories. Wells expects that Jason Mawicki, a transfer from Catholic University, will be mixed in at the punter position to challenge Rushe while Robbie DiTommaso could get some action on kickoffs.
The return game features kickoff specialist and running back Mike Wheeler, and punt return specialist Cameron Lett. Wheeler returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in his first season with the Gulls last year, including a 77-yard return in the ECAC North Bowl Championship. Lett is a reliable punt returner with good hands and does well avoiding losing yardage. Center Casey McDonnell will take over the long snapping duties from Taylor Allen and quarterback David St. Pierre will continue to be the holder. Wells expects younger players to make their presence known in special teams coverage before taking on larger roles on the team. Springfield College transfer, running back Andrew Cummings, could be in the mix in the return game.
Wells, who coaches the offensive line, welcomes back Associate Head Coach Tony Volpone for his sixth season at Endicott. Volpone acts as offensive coordinator and coaches the quarterbacks as well as runs the team's recruiting efforts. Also coaching on offense will be receivers and special teams coach Drew Canan, tight ends coach Paul McGonagle, former Maine and Merrimack running back Keon Coleman who will work with those skill players, and offensive assistant Mark Ledbetter, 2012 graduate of Endicott who was a four-year offensive lineman for the Gulls. On the defensive side, defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Bob Holmes enters his fifth year with the team. Todd Lemoine will handle the linebackers and Jason Scott will coach the defensive line. Like Ledbetter, Chris Gogolos returns to Endicott after playing four years as a NEFC Academic All-Conference defensive lineman and will be a defensive assistant.
Endicott opens their season on September 1st on the road against last year's NEFC runner up Framingham State before taking on a new opponent in Castleton State for the team's home opener. Week three features Bridgewater State, another strong opponent out of the NEFC Bogan Division to provide a challenging beginning to the 2012 schedule. Endicott's first divisional game is week four against Salve Regina, another favorite to contend for the NEFC Championship.
"Every game is a challenge," says Wells. "We need to focus on ourselves and making our team better every day. Success will come out of the work we put in."