Football Preview: Bobcats seek QB to lead potentially potent offense
|Captain Coleman Peeke returns as a fourth-year starting linebacker, but he'll move to the inside for the first time this season.|
LEWISTON, Maine -- The Bates College football team will look to surprise NESCAC opponents this season, and if fortune goes their way in a key area or two, the Bobcats may get their wish. Below is a synopsis of what to look for on the Garcelon gridiron in 2008.
The Bobcats have some high hopes for their offense, with one major caveat. For the first time practically since the 2003 season the starting quarterback will be someone other than Brandon Colon, who set Bates' all-time passing records in attempts, completions and yards over four years as the starter. The two main candidates to take Colon's place under center will be sophomore Ryan Larsen and first-year Ryan Katon (Durham, Conn.), a 6-foot-1, 185-pound passer from Xavier High School in Middletown, Conn. The 6-3, 200-pound Larsen (Hull, Mass.) saw limited action in 2007, completing 5 of 13 passes with 1 interception and 1 touchdown pass. "Ryan (Larsen) is a big, physical, decently athletic guy who has the tools to be a classic drop-back passer," said 11th-year head coach Mark Harriman, who reserved further comment on first-year players like Katon.
The other offensive "skill" positions appear to be in excellent shape for Bates, starting with an outstanding group of wide receivers that head coach Mark Harriman calls the strongest position on the team. Junior Matt Gregg (Milton, Mass.) followed up an exceptional rookie year with a team-high 35 receptions for 423 yards. In his first year as a starter, junior Tom Beaton (West Newbury, Mass.) was sensational, grabbing 29 passes for a team-high 440 yards. Beaton also rushed 14 times for 78 yards and fared well as a kick returner, giving him 877 all-purpose yards, the highest total for a Bobcat since 2002. Behind Gregg and Beaton, senior Mark Flaherty (East Walpole, Mass.; 5 rec., 50 yds.) and junior MacEgan Starrett (Chagrin Falls, Ohio) offer great potential with their height and speed.
At tight end, though the Bobcats graduated All-NESCAC performer Ross Van Horn, they'll happily take what remains. Junior Sean Wirth (Barrington, R.I.) led Bates in touchdown receptions last year with four, while hauling in 14 passes overall for 137 yards. Junior Matt Sherburne (Windham, Maine) is a solid player who will have the chance to fill a bigger role this year.
|Junior Judd Smith is one half of what Bates hopes will be a dangerous tandem at running back.|
In the backfield, senior fullback Ryan Mullin (Duxbury, Mass.) returns for his second year in the starting lineup, where he'll be the lead blocker for the ball-carrying combo of senior Greg Thornton (Norwell, Mass.) and junior Judd Smith (Milton, Mass.). Thornton, likely the speedier of the two, saw steady duty last year and led the team in rushing with 289 yards on 90 carries with 1 TD, giving him 429 rushing yards out of 154 career rushes. Smith, the bigger of the two, learned last season how to run in a more physical style, said Harriman, and he came on strong with 153 yards and 2 TDs on 51 carries in 2007.
The offensive line will have a balance of experienced and greener players. Senior 6-2, 250-pound guard John MacKenzie (Gorham, Maine) and 6-2, 250-pound junior David Myerson (Dover, Mass.) will each return to starting roles, with Myerson, whom Harriman describes as "in the mold of the better offensive linemen we've had, and capable of earning all-conference honors," moving from center to left tackle. Six-foot-two, 255-pound sophomore Brendan Murphy (Sandwich, Mass.), who started multiple games last season, moves into the center position. The new starters on the offensive line figure to be 6-2, 285-pound junior Alex Gentilli (Westwood, Mass.) at guard and 6-2, 285-pound junior Justin Medeiros (South Yarmouth, Mass.) at right tackle.
"This is a very athletic group, across the board as athletic as we've had," Harriman said of the offensive line. "They're not the biggest group we've had, but I'd take the athleticism first."
Harriman said that with a less experienced quarterback, the Bobcats will change or call plays much less frequently at the line of scrimmage, instead going with the original play call from the sideline. But the Bobcats' personnel and depth at the receiver, tight end and running back positions should allow for a good amount of flexibility in the team's play-calling.
|Chris Hertz (96) is one of several players who will likely step into a starting role along the defensive line.|
The Bobcat with the most playing experience on the team is captain Coleman Peeke (Exeter, N.H.), but Peeke too will have some adjusting to do, moving from outside linebacker and rover in the Bates 4-4 defense to inside linebacker, where he'll be the defense's designated play-caller. It's a switch Harriman is confident Peeke, entering his fourth year as a starter, will have no trouble handling. He'll have less ground to cover than last year, when he made 45 tackles and was credited with four deflected passes, but his athleticism won't go to waste while playing inside, either.
"Coleman has alwyas done a great job when the opponent has run the ball at him," said Harriman. "This allows him to be more involved in the defense overall."
Playing with Peeke at inside linebacker will be sophomore Ted Durkin (Rye Beach, N.H.), who made 13 tackles in limited action as a rookie, but it was enough to show Harriman his vast potential as "potentially one of the linebackers we've had, in terms of his physicality and instincts." On the outside, junior Greg Gumbs (Queens Village, N.Y.) steps into a starting role as an outside linebacker and rover, after seeing significant playing time for each of his first two seasons. Among those vying to play opposite Gumbs on the outside will be junior Mike Wenc (Longmeadow, Mass.) and sophomore Myles Walker (Needham, Mass.), both of whom did well on special teams last season.
Up front, the Bobcats will be young and athletic. The lone returning starter is junior defensive tackle Rich McNeil (Lawrence, Mass.), whose quick feet and intensity serve him well in the trenches as well as in the throwing circle, where he's an All-American hammer thrower. A group of veterans, including junior Bill Arria (Norwell, Mass.), senior Nick Marlin (Holliston, Mass.) and senior David Marr (Milton, Mass.) will also be in the mix to play in the interior. At end, senior Chris Hertz (East Burke, Vt.), junior Mark Liu (Lexington, Mass.) and junior Mike DiPrisco (Marblehead, Mass.) will all get close looks in preseason practices.
The three-man defensive backfield for Bates is another of its strongest units, at least at two spots. Junior Kyle McAllister (Exeter, N.H.) had a breakout year in 2007 after earning the starting safety job in preseason. In addition to his 44 tackles, McAllister's six interceptions for 144 return yards led the NESCAC, and he broke up a team-high six other passes to boot. Junior Bill Jennings (Marshfield, Mass.) is another top defender at one of the cornerback positions. Identifying the other starting cornerback will be one of the coaching staff's key tasks in the preseason. Candidates include junior special teams coverage man Roy Lockhart (Needham, Mass.), sophomore newcomer Chris Burke (Andover, Mass.) and any number of freshmen candidates.
"We have a lot of high-energy guys who are excited about playing defense," Harriman said. "We're not as experienced up front and in the middle as we usually are, but athleticism will be a big factor for us."
Gavin Segall-Abrams (Greensboro, N.C.) had an impressive rookie season as Bates' primary punter last season, sporting 34.8-yard average per punt, third best in the conference (Chris Hertz was right behind him, with a 34.7-yard average on 19 punts). Segall-Abrams's strong leg also made him a natural choice as Bates' kickoff kicker. Segall-Abrams also may push junior Andrew Johnson (Naples, Fla.) for the place-kicking job, where Johnson has proven steady from close range, making 10 of 12 extra-point attempts in 2007 while Bates attempted no field goals. Sean Wirth will handle long-snapping duties. Kickoff returns will likely be fielded by Bill Jennings and/or sophomore Evan Tierney (Carlisle, Mass.), while Beaton is likely to return punts.
A number of changes have been made in Harriman's coaching staff, although defensive coordinator (Harriman), offensive coordinator (Matt Dence) and special teams coach (Chris Kempton) will remain the same for the third straight season. All three of those coaches maintain their positional duties as well, with Harriman guiding middle linebackers, Dence coaching quarterbacks and Kempton coaching the defensive backs. Longtime assistant Skip Capone returns as defensive line coach and Tom Hinds leads the wide receivers for a second straight year. Newcomers to the football coaching staff include Edwin Thompson, the new head baseball coach at Bates, who will coach the running backs; former Maine high school head coach Daryle Weiss, who will lead the offensive line, and Nate Munzing, a leading tackler last year at Division II Saint Anselm, will coach the outside linebackers.
Bates will host its annual preseason scrimmage against Colby on Friday, Sept. 12 at 4 p.m. Then it's on the road for two straight games to start the regular season. Bates plays at Trinity for the first time since 2005 on Sept. 20 after opening the past two seasons against Amherst, followed by a Sept. 27 date at Tufts. The home slate commences with a standoff against Williams on Oct. 4, during Parents & Family Weekend, with Wesleyan visiting the following week. The Bobcats travel to reigning NESCAC champion Middlebury on Oct. 18, before playing host to Colby on Oct. 25 for Homecoming Weekend. The CBB schedule continues with a game at Bowdoin on Nov. 1, and Bates will finish on Nov. 8 with a home game against Hamilton.