2013 Football Outlook

The University of New Hampshire football program has been a model of consistency in excellence over the past nine seasons. Despite playing in the Colonial Athletic Association, widely considered the nation’s premier and most competitive Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) conference, the Wildcats have strung together nine straight appearances in the NCAA Division I Football Championship tournament, the country’s longest active streak. Further, the ‘Cats have appeared in the Top-25 for a nation-leading 126 consecutive polls, a stretch that dates back to Sept. 13, 2004.
    After claiming the CAA co-championship in 2012, the Wildcats look to become Durham’s first repeat gridiron champs since the 1976 squad repeated as Yankee Conference champions. Fifteenth-year head coach Sean McDonnell, who was a member of that ’76 team, will lead a squad that has to deal with the graduation of such talented players as NFL draft selection Jared Smith and all-time tackle leader Matt Evans. But the 2013 Wildcats are dedicated to extending the program’s near decade-long run of excellence and taking that next step among the top teams in FCS football.

    A year ago, the quarterback position was up for grabs as the team sought to replace 2011 CAA Offensive Player of the Year Kevin Decker with unproven signal callers Sean Goldrich (West Haven, Conn.) and Andy Vailas (Bedford, N.H.) among those who competed right through fall camp. The QB battle is once again wide open between Goldrich and Vailas, only this time the competition is between two proven men under center.
    Goldrich won the neck-and-neck battle for the starting post in 2012 and promptly won the CAA Rookie of the Week award in week one after completing 21 of 31 passes for 193 yards and two TDs while rushing for 71 yards in the Wildcats’ 38-17 win at Holy Cross.
    Goldrich, though, was knocked out of commission a week later at Minnesota, which allowed Vailas to step in and take command. After guiding the ‘Cats to a convincing 43-10 triumph versus Central Connecticut State in the home opener, the Phillips Academy product passed for 336 yards and five touchdowns to go along with a 67-yard rushing score in a wild 64-61 loss at No. 5 Old Dominion. Vailas won the CAA Offensive Player of the Week award the very next week when he went 23 of 36 for 315 yards and two TDs in a 34-14 defeat of No. 8 Delaware at Cowell Stadium.
    Six weeks after suffering his shoulder injury at Minnesota, Goldrich reclaimed the starting role and led UNH to a come-from-behind 28-21 victory at Maine with four touchdown tosses to win his second CAA Rookie of the Week award.
    Vailas finished the season ranked third in the CAA in passing efficiency (143.0), second in points responsible for/game (14.2), seventh in total offense/game (182.5) and ninth in passing average/game (141.6); Goldrich was ninth in the league in total offense/game (152.9) and 10th in both passing average/game (133.6) and pass efficiency (124.6).
    Joining the veteran duo are redshirt freshmen Adam Riese (Hamilton, N.J.) and Chris McCormick (Winooski, Vt.).

    Once reputed to be an offense that carved through defenses almost exclusively with its diverse aerial attack, the Wildcats found consistent balance in 2012 with a suddenly potent and deep running attack. The trio of Nico Steriti (Toms River, N.J.), Chris Setian (East Longmeadow, Mass.) and Jimmy Owens (West Deptford, N.J.) spearheaded the CAA’s third-ranked and nation’s No. 15 rushing attack, as the ‘Cats averaged 220.8 rushing yards/game under first-year offensive coordinator Ryan Carty.
    Steriti, a junior, rushed for 921 yards and ranked sixth in the CAA in rushing yards/game (76.8) to along with a team-leading nine rushing touchdowns.
    Setian, a senior co-captain, battered his way to 490 rushing yards and five touchdowns to go along with 22 receptions for 185 yards and four TDs –all top receiving numbers among UNH running backs.
    Owens, a junior, averaged a backfield-leading 6.8 yards/carry en route to 411 yards on 60 rushes.
     The running back stable promises to get deeper with the maturation of redshirt freshman Dalton Crossan (Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y.), who was tabbed the backfield’s most improved player by the coaching staff in the spring after scoring a pair of touchdowns in the Blue-White Game, and senior Jim Earley (Hopkinton, N.H.).

    The most prolific quarterback in school history, Ricky Santos, is the new wide receivers coach. And he will find the cupboard full in 2013. R.J. Harris (Odenton, Md.) enters his junior season within 21 catches and 140 receiving yards of UNH’s all-time Top-10 on the heels of a ’12 campaign in which he garnered All-CAA First Team, All-New England and ECAC D-I All-Star honors. Harris made 84 receptions for 1,059 yards, which ranked fourth and sixth in school single-season history, respectively. He ranked second in the CAA in receptions/game (7.0) and receiving yards/game (88.2) while his nine receiving touchdowns ranked third in the league.
    While Harris headlines the WR corps, he is far from alone in supplying the offense with air weaponry. Junior Jimmy Giansante (Jefferson Hills, Pa.) battled through injuries last season to notch 14 catches for 200 yards in eight games, including seven starts. Senior Justin Mello (Dartmouth, Mass.) proved durable and reliable by making at least one reception in 10 of 12 games, including seven multi-catch efforts; he ranked fourth on the squad with 21 receptions for 215 yards and a pair of TDs. After his junior season was decimated by injury, Tim Farina (Plymouth, N.H.) is set to make the most of his senior campaign.
    Jared Allison (Cliffwood, N.J.) figures to play a larger role as a slot receiver in his sophomore season after collecting three receptions for 50 yards in the ’12 campaign. Mike Kelly (Merrimack, N.H.), who flashed his big-play ability with five catches for 103 yards and two TDs in last fall’s Blue-White Game and added a team-high 69 receiving yards and a TD in the spring game, will join a young crop of talented receivers that includes Kyon Taylor (Springfield, Va.), Mike DeTroia (Barnegat, N.J.), Cam Seymour (Hyannis, Mass.), Anthony Pante (Manalapan, N.J.) and Mark Accino (Hyde Park, Mass.).

    Harold Spears (Perkasie, Pa.) made the most of his first year as starting tight end by earning a berth on the All-CAA Third Team last season. The junior will be seeking to build on a season in which he registered 20 catches (four TDs) for 305 yards. Brian Ciccone (Manchester, Mass.) is in line to serve as backup tight end once again in ’13, and up-and-comers Ekene Nwokoye (Hanover, N.H.) and Jordan Powell (Forked River, N.J.) will be seeking a chance to climb the depth chart as well.

    New Hampshire’s front line brings back three starters: All-CAA and All-New England left tackle Seamus O’Neill (Manchester, N.H.), a senior co-captain; third-year starting center and All-CAA Third Team member Mike Coccia (Bethlehem, Pa.) and right tackle Rob Bowman (Cheshire, Conn.).
    A host of candidates are in line to replace graduated guards Chris Zarkoskie and Mickey DiLima, beginning with senior Sean Ryan (Londonderry, N.H.), who is slotted as the first-string left guard. Converted defensive tackle Tim Johnson (Oakdale, Pa.) is making a strong case for the right guard position, and the fierce competition for playing time in the trenches also features Austin Heter (McKees Rocks, Pa.), George Kallas (Beverly, Mass.), Alex Blane (North Andover, Mass.), Zach Hundertmark (West Windsor, N.J.) and Tad McNeely (Whitehall, Pa.).
    Among the other o-line candidates are Curtis Nealer (Pitman, N.J.), Jesse Trottier (Derry, N.H.), Alexander Morrill (Lebanon, N.H.), converted tight end Andrew Lauderdale (Concord, N.H.) and Ricky Archer (The Plains, Va.), a 2011 All-CAA Second Team and All-New England lineman who was ineligible last season.

    Though the Wildcats need to offset the departure of Seattle Seahawks’ draft pick Jared Smith, there is still much depth and experience in the front four. Sean McCann (Avon Lake, Ohio) and Matt Kaplan (Franklin, N.H.) bring five combined years of valuable playing time to the tackle position. Kaplan led all UNH linemen with 47 tackles while starting all 12 games a season ago, and McCann chalked up 33 stops in 10 games.
    Jullian Turner (East Pittsburgh, Pa.) and Rashid Armand (Brooklyn, N.Y.) played significant snaps last season, and each will be leaned upon heavily in ’13. Jimmy Vailas (Bedford, N.H.), Ryan Welch (Dunstable, Mass.) and Danny Riley (Danielsville, Pa.) should also see action on the defensive interior this season.
    The ‘Cats have the fortune of returning both starting defensive ends in seniors Jay Colbert (Langhorne, Pa.) and Cody Muller (Telford, Pa.). The Keystone State bookends teamed up for 62 tackles and five sacks and proved their durability by playing in all 12 games a year after missing the entire 2011 season.     
    Junior Robbie Zauck (Ocean City, N.J.) is back in the fold after amassing 16 tackles, including two sacks, and sophomore Dab Ukwuani (Gaithersburg, Md.) is primed for an increased role after playing in three games last season. Cam Shorey (Calais, Maine), who was a tight end during his true freshman season, has transitioned to DE for his redshirt-freshman campaign.

    The biggest shakeup comes at linebacker, where the ‘Cats are forced to replace a pair of three-year starters, one of whom just happened to be the school’s all-time tackle leader, Matt Evans. Evans and Alan Buzbee graduated after combining for 195 tackles for the CAA co-champions. Shane McNeely (Whitehall, Pa.) will be expected to step up at one starting MLB position after notching 33 tackles during his sophomore season. Akil Anderson (Morristown, N.J.) is penciled in at the other middle linebacker slot, but competition will be lively among DeVaughn Chollette (Scranton, Pa.), Ryan Farrell (Westwood, Mass.), Steve Collister (Rochester, N.Y.) and Kevin McNally (Cornwall, N.Y.).  

    Chris Houston (Harrisburg, Pa.) is poised for his third straight season as a starting cornerback after notching 59 tackles, two interceptions and three pass breakups in ’12. Steven Thames (Fort Washington, Md.), who started four games last season and saw significant action in all 12 games, is in line to take over the starting corner position formerly occupied by the graduated Dontra Peters on a full-time basis.
    Lamar Edmonds (Worcester, Mass.), who made an impact on special teams last season with a forced fumble and a blocked kick, has the inside track on a reserve corner spot, while redshirt freshman Casey DeAndrade (East Bridgewater, Mass.) and sophomore Kalil Bailey (Lancaster, Pa.) seek to step up in ’13.

    Senior co-captain Manny Asam (Bloomfield, N.J.) enters his final collegiate season as the Wildcats’ active leader in career tackles (151). Asam ranked second on last year’s team with 76 tackles while starting all 12 games at strong safety; he added 1.5 sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Nick Cefalo (Basking Ridge, N.J.) started all 12 games in ’12, putting his versatility on display by starting four games at ‘whip’ safety before a career-ending injury to Chris Beranger pressed Cefalo into the free safety position over the season’s final eight weeks. He met that challenge, and many opposing ball-carriers, head on with 44 tackles, two interceptions and five pass breakups, which tied for the team lead.
    Tre Williams (Syracuse, N.Y.), who has posted 40 tackles over his first two seasons, will compete for a starting spot once again after earning the nod at ‘whip’ safety five times last season. Hayden Knudson (Alexandria, Va.) and Daniel Rowe (Orange, N.J.), who were the only true freshmen to see playing time last season, both should figure prominently in the defensive backfield and on special teams once again this season.
    Keith Parkinson (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) and Tim Pike (Bedford, Mass.) represent experienced defensive backfield reinforcements for new safeties coach Scott James, while Ryan Lynch (Atkinson, N.H.) and Dougie Moss (Huntsville, Ala.) will be expected to see playing time.

    All-CAA Third Team kicker Mike MacArthur (North Hampton, N.H.) enters his senior year as the starter for the fourth consecutive year and starting punter for the third year in a row. MacArthur, who paced the ‘Cats with 71 points, ranked third in the CAA in field goals/game (0.92) and sixth in scoring/game (5.9 points).
    Brad Prasky (Groton, Mass.) tallied nine punts for 333 yards in four games. He was the primary punter for the NCAA second-round playoff game at Wofford, where he tallied six punts for 206 yards (34.3 yards/punt). Anthony Guidice (Nashua, N.H.), Christian Breda (Needham, Mass.) and Joe Ghiloni (Warwick, N.Y.) provide depth in the kicking game.

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