Suny Brockport 2004 Football Season Preview
As a Brockport grad student, I thought I'd pass this along to all of you :redface:
Featuring comments from Coach Rocco Salomone
A “new tradition” awaits the 2004 SUNY Brockport football team, if you will. A tradition will be built beginning this season when the Golden Eagles begin play in the Atlantic Central Football Conference. Yet, the “old tradition” is something to be quite proud of. Brockport is one of only five teams in the country that enters this fall looking to make the NCAA Division III playoffs for the fifth straight season. The Golden Eagles are tied for 11th with 36 victories since the start of the 2000 season, and 12th in winning percentage (.818) in the new century among Division III schools.
The schedule not only features the new ACFC rivals, but also teams that have many NCAA post-season trips of their own. Brockport hosts Rowan, a team that has become a rival due to recent memorable playoff meetings. The College of New Jersey and Ithaca also have post-season histories, and local rival St. John Fisher provides a tough Homecoming test at Special Olympics Stadium.
Led by a veteran cast that features nine returning starters on offense and seven on the defensive side, Brockport is poised for another run towards the tournament this fall.
For the last 10 to 15 years, the defense has been a strength for the program. The consistently strong play of the defensive unit has made impressions in the trenchs and on the national leader board as well. Brockport, which has consistently been ranked in national Division III rankings in scoring defense and total defense in recent years, was in the top 17 in both categories last year.
“I think the bar has been set pretty high for us,” said Salomone. “As long as we can keep our guys playing with enthusiasm and with pursuit of the ball, I think we can continue to have a strong defensive unit.”
Many players who started as well as others who saw significant time provide the Golden Eagles with a unit that can continue the success of defenses in the past. Ryan Bierley, who was a 2002 All-American, returns after a year off and returns up front. Last season did not feature a senior defensive lineman, so the newcomers and fresh faces of a year ago have a year under their belt. Matt Gates posted 36 tackles and 11 tackles for losses, including eight stops against The College of New Jersey in the big regular season finale must-win contest. Drew Smith had 17 tackles and returns as a front line starter. Watch for Anthony W. Mariani, Nathan Raggi and Adam Collister to also provide their experience and talent to the front line this fall.
“The addition of Ryan Bierley is so important for us. He had 79 tackles and 13 for losses in his All-American season. We are pleased to have him back. The young guys, mostly sophomores, who played last season gained a lot of experience that should pay off for us this year.”
Although there were some key losses at Commencement, there are still plenty of vets returning for a group that Bob Ellis can mold once again. Ellis has had an excellent impact on the program coaching and guiding the linebackers, and he has developed two more in the mold of his great stars of the past. John Walther and Joe Toombs come off super seasons and are players who will be looked at again to help lead the team into the post-season. Walther is the leading returning tackler from ’03 with 86, including eight sacks. He was immense down the stretch, with 14 tackles against New Jersey and 15 in the Ithaca playoff contest. Toombs had 60 tackles last season and also posted eight sacks with five forced fumbles. Terry Gilmore had 38 stops and should start this fall, joining Walther on the inside, while Chris Sowers looks to team up with Toombs on the outside.
“Our think our linebacker play should be strong again, even though we lost some key people. John and Joe are impact players who have developed very well under Bob’s guidance.”
The pre-season camp will be very interesting to keep an eye on when it comes to the secondary. There are many openings for players who are vying for time and starts as they report to camp. Senior Troy Anderson will be looked at to lead this new-look group on and off the field. Anderson had 42 tackles and five break-ups last year, and has speed to burn. He exhibited that with many blistering performances for the indoor and outdoor track teams last winter and spring. Mark Ferry should take over the starting nod at free safety and made 27 tackles a year ago in mostly a reserve role. Jimmy Robertson saw action on special teams and figures into the mix in the secondary. The two-deep depth chart should be very competitive to crack for the 2004 secondary.
“This area is a bit of a question mark. Troy is the only returning starter but Mark has had a lot of experience playing in the nickel package for us, and that experience will help him move into a starting role. He played behind an all-region performer last year. Our corner slots are up for grabs, we’ll just have to wait and see who emerges.”
There is reason for optimism with so many starters back in action this year. There are returnees on the line and in the backfield, which includes the top two rushers and one of the best quarterbacks in the program’s storied history. Only the receiver corps will need to be fine tuned with new faces in the starting roles entering the fall.
“Our line, our quarterback position, the backfield and tight ends are veterans, all coming back as starters. We feel pretty good about that. We are just going to have to find out who will play receiver for us. But I think overall, we are looking for be a bit more aggressive and keep the balance between the run and the pass.”
It is a large group with experience and depth. This will surely help late in the season in the trenches. Jeremy Gabbey is a tough loss after his career that featured NCAA bids in each of his four seasons. Jason Ryan and Matt Casel are back at the tackle slots, while Ryan Kelly returns at guard and Matt Silco is back at the center slot. This group is very familiar with QB Bob Darnley and is very capable of helping to make his senior season one for the ages.
“I think, size wise, we will be a big group up front. Having the size and depth makes it very nice in the fact that it is an area that is the hardest to recruit. It is also a unit that works very well together on the field, and these guys are familiar with each other. I feel very good about the group of guys we have coming back.”
No need for name tags or introductions here. With Jon Brown and Brian Wise both back as junior tailbacks, and Adam Jones and Jake Haught returning at fullback, there is no shortage of talent for Darnley to dish to. Plus, Darnley is a threat to take off as well, as he was second on the squad with 449 yards and four TDs on the ground last season. Brown led the club with 453 yards and two scores, and his debut featured a 100-yard performance in the opener against Cortland. He also had 94 in a wild win under the lights at St. John Fisher. It would also be wise for opposing defensive coaches to check out the film on Brian. He had 88 yards against Fisher and scored three touchdowns in that contest. Jones and Haught are big bruising fullbacks who both emerged last fall and are ready for more this year.
“We have a number of quality tailbacks and our veteran fullbacks returning, so we feel very good about the play of these guys in the past and what they are capable of bringing us this year.”
SUNY Brockport not only has a quarterback poised to rewrite the record book, but the Golden Eagles also have two other signal-callers who could likely start at many other programs. Everything starts with Bob Darnley. He had a 60% completion mark a year ago and tossed for 21 touchdowns with 1,888 yards. He lies just 995 yards away from the career passing yardage record at Brockport, and last year’s yardage total was the second best in Brockport history. Darnley had seven games with completion marks of 64% or better. Redshirt Chet Holcumb returns, and stepped in for the injured Darnley during the memorable run to the 2002 NCAA Quarterfinals. A.J. Covella is another sophomore who can step in and not miss a beat as well.
“Our quality at quarterback is very, very strong. Chet and A.J. could definitely start at many programs right now. The quality depth at this position is unusual, and I feel very, very good about the depth we have at quarterback.”
This will be the only inexperienced area on the offensive side. The key veteran here is Mike Calderon, who was the #3 receiver last fall. He had nine catches for 134 yards on the year, and moves into a starting slot. Wise and Jones combined for 157 receiving yards and Wise had three TD’s from Darnley in 2003. Mike Bond is the starter at tight end and joins John Panek in giving the program two very good quality tight ends for now and the future. Bond had 327 yards and three TDs, including 115 yards on six catches in the playoff home game against Ithaca.
“Other then Mike Calderon, we have an inexperienced receiver group. But I do believe that the players who will be competing for time at receiver have the ability and potential. They are going to have to get experience very quickly for us. Mike Bond had a combination of size, speed and blocking ability that make him very well suited for a starting tight end role. With John joining him, we have two very good tight ends. It also is good news that both of our tight ends are underclassmen as well.”
Marc Menchetti is slated to handle both the kicking and punting duties for the 2004 season. He was named to the ECAC Division III Northwest All-Star Team and also made the Football Gazette All-Region squad. Menchetti has two years of experience under his belt. Last year, he averaged just under 40 yards per punt. He placed 12 boots inside the opponents’ 20 yard line. Adam Lanctot and Colin Hoffman also can see time with both chores in their sophomore seasons.
“Marc was a little banged up last year and hopefully he’ll be healthy and ready to go. He is definitely a quality kicker and along with the depth we have with Adam and Colin, we are solid here. We expect Adam and Colin to develop further after the transition of going from high school (kicking off the grass) to college (kicking off the tee). You usually see a step up in a sophomore season after the adjustment. I think one of the strengths of our punting unit is that we have done a good job of trying to put punts inside the 20 and working with that field position.”
Losing All-American Jeremy Lynch midway through the season was a tough blow. But it did allow Mike Calderon to emerge in the role. Calderon had 149 yards on nine punt returns. Brian Wise took over the kick return chores and averaged nearly 33 yards per return off kickoffs in 2003. Wise had 262 yards in kick returns in his first season in the role, including 153 yards in returns against Fisher in his first start in that situation. He had a 97-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals.
“I think Mike really stepped it up taking over the duties. We expect him to start out there for us, as well as players like Brian and a few of the other guys who have the ability to return kicks and punts for us. We definitely want to be able to continue to use that as a weapon for us, but we’ll have to see how that turns out.”
THE ATLANTIC CENTRAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
“We are excited about this. It will be the first time that we are in a conference in the history of this program. It will be new to us, but we will still approach each week as we always have, one game at a time. We try not to look at the entire schedule, but more so at the opponent at hand. I think you will see some strong teams in there with the addition of Salisbury to our schedule. We have played Frostburg and Wesley over the years. Apprentice is a new program for us. Buffalo State is a long time rival for us. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to competing for a conference championship, a new opportunity for us. Our players have an opportunity for recognition that you don’t see as an independent, like weekly and all-conference honors.”
“I think you will see a very strong schedule for us, with the addition of Rowan this year. The one thing that is nice this year is that we have six home games and four away, so we will have a little more time here on campus. I believe that we have one of the strongest schedules, at least in the East, in and out of conference.”