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Football preview: Buoyant Bates set to open nine-game schedule at Amherst

Slotback Frank Williams is the Bates football team's first solo captain since 2012. (File photo by Josh Kuckens/Bates College) 

LEWISTON, Maine -- The Bates football team lost to Hamilton in its 2016 season finale on Garcelon Field, spoiling the Bobcats' chance to finish 4-4 or better. It would have been Bates' fourth time in five years reaching or exceeding a .500 winning percentage.


Bates College at Amherst College
When: Saturday, Sept. 16, 1 p.m.
Where: Pratt Field | Amherst, Mass.
Live Coverage: Video | Stats
All-Time Series: Amherst leads 24-4-2
Last Meeting: Amherst 37, Bates 14 (Lewiston, Maine | Sept. 26, 2015)


The loss didn't ruin an otherwise respectable season -- not when the team was able to win a Colby-Bates-Bowdoin (CBB) series outright title for a third straight year, a feat last achieved in 1931. But it surely stung.

But maybe the loss sharpened the team's focus over the subsequent months on the calendar. In his exit interviews with players last spring, 20th-year head coach Mark Harriman encouraged "taking a step back" and looking at the larger picture. And in preseason practices that began in late August, Harriman and his staff have been thoroughly impressed by what they've observed.

"I'm really pleased with our practices; they've been exceptional," said Harriman. "Certainly the first-year guys are buying into what this program is all about. But moreso the guys that have been around here, the way they have recommitting themselves -- really understanding what their role is in the program, what they need to do to help us be successful. And I think the guys have done a great job of buying into that."

As the Bobcats prepare for Saturday's opening game at Amherst -- the start of Bates' first nine-game schedule since 1976 -- the team looks to rely upon a blend of veteran experience and young talent, all focused on common goals.

Bates returns a sizable 15-member senior class, including nine who are expected to start Saturday's opening game at Amherst, in addition to four-year kicker Grant DeWald (Duxbury, Mass.) and four-year long snapper Luke MacDonald (Norwell, Mass.). Senior slotback Frank Williams (Brookline, Mass.) is Bates' first solo captain since Patrick George in 2012.

Following is a position-by-position look at the team taking the field in 2017.

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Junior Sandy Plashkes (Del Mar, Calif.) earned the starting job last season and begins this season as the starter. In seven starts, Plashkes threw for 606 yards and eight touchdowns and was intercepted four times, while netting 243 yards on the ground. When Plashkes' season was cut short early in Week 7 against Bowdoin, sophomore Matt Golden (New Bedford, Mass.) came off the bench and keyed a 24-7 win, as the Bobcats scored 21 points in the fourth quarter.

Golden will back up Plashkes along with a pair of first-year, unrelated QBs with the same last name -- Brendan Costa (Westport, Mass.) and Anthony Costa (West Springfield, Mass.). Both freshmen ran read-zone option offenses in high school. As is always the case, Harriman, offensive coordinator Skip Capone and quarterbacks coach Tino Lopes will go with the quarterback who best operates Bates' triple-option offense.

Dive Back

Junior Peter Boyer (Dover-Foxcroft, Maine) will start at running back in Week 1 following a solid 2016 season in which he led Bates in rushing with 374 yards on 3.6 yards per carry. Junior Kyle Flaherty (Litchfield, Maine), relatively large and physical (5-foot-11, 210 pounds) at slotback a year ago, moves over as the lead backup at dive back, with promising first-year Christian Sanfilippo (Gloucester, Mass.) waiting in the wings.

Slotback

Frank Williams draws much of the attention from fans and opposing defenses alike. "He's one of the most productive offensive players we've ever had here. There have been some times when he's actually taken a game over," said Harriman. Over three seasons Williams has rushed for 691 yards, caught passes for another 513 yards and scored 11 touchdowns.

Senior Mickoy Nichol (Dennis Port, Mass.) has been very effective when healthy, and with Williams he forms a senior tandem of excellent leadership for what has perenially been perhaps Bates' most talent-laden position group. Sophomore Zach Doyon (Eliot, Maine), junior Tyler Baum (Bernardsville, N.J.) and freshmen Jaason Lopez (Marblehead, Mass.) and Milan Lemon (Plantation, Fla.) round out a crowded group.

"Slotback is a very strong position for us," said Harriman. "And the seniors aren't just good players, but they have great work ethic. Beyond the talent, it's the intangibles that has made it such a strong group."

Wide Receiver

A green unit in terms of experience last year figures to step up in productivity and reliability this year. Junior Marcus Ross (Mansfield, Texas) and senior Brian Daly (Marblehead, Mass.) both netted 105 receiving yards and two touchdowns last season and are the leading returning pass-catchers from 2016. Senior Noah Stebbins (Biddeford, Maine) started all eight games primarily in a blocking role. Backing them up, freshmen Isaiah Saunders (Tilton, N.H.) and Parker Smith (Claremont, N.H.) stand 6-4 and 6-1, respectively, and may represent the future of the position for Bates.

Offensive Line

Senior 6-4, 250-pound left tackle Sean Lovett (Groveland, Mass.) and senior 6-0, 250-pound left guard Dylan Rasch (Cumberland, Maine) are both three-year starters who anchor what may become the team's most vital position group. Six-foot-one, 235-pound sophomore Jack O'Brien (West Roxbury, Mass.) starts at center Saturday in what will be his first collegiate game, but the line boasts experience everywhere else. Six-foot-four, 295-pound senior Mike Cronin (Quincy, Mass.) and 6-3, 255-pound junior Dan Marino (Marblehead, Mass.) will start at right guard and right tackle, respectively. Six-foot-four, 275-pound junior Yanni Falaras (North Andover, Mass.) is injured and out of action to start the season, but emerged as a starter last season, and junior Martin Guinee (Peabody, Mass.) will rotate in. Bates' freshman class of linemen is also strong, said Harriman, including 6-2, 260-pound Rob Delisle (Marblehead, Mass.), 6-4, 240-pound Angus Lamond (Portsmouth, N.H.) and 6-2, 275-pound Julien Nicholas (Middletown, Conn.).

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Bates' D-line figures to be one of the team's strongest units, and will be counted upon as a relatively inexperienced group of inside linebackers, with two new starters out of three players, gets its feet wet.

Senior Jack Maritz (St. Louis, Mo.) and junior Tyler Harrington (Haverhill, Mass.) start at defensive end and have shown they're good enough against the run and as pass rushers to enable Bates to pressure the quarterback without blitzing. Senior Collin Richardson (Kensington, N.H.) and junior Connor DeSantis (Georgetown, Mass.) give Bates an outstanding pair of nose tackles to rotate. Junior Walter Washington (Rockland, N.Y.), senior Levi Morin (Turner, Maine) and junior Calvin Johnstone (Hopkinton, N.H.) provide depth for a group that is talented if a bit thin in numbers.

Inside Linebackers

With 97 tackles over 16 games in his career, senior Max Breschi (Carlisle, Pa.) is by far the most experienced player left in a group that loses stalwarts Mark Upton and Sam Francis to graduation. Juniors Bobby Dee (Plymouth, Mass.) and Chase Fulton (Benecia, Calif.) are talented enough and ready to step into increased roles, after both stood out mainly as special teams players over the past two seasons. Senior Peter Daley (Wilmington, Mass.) and first-years Jack Rega (Scituate, Mass.) and Liam Spillane (Byfield, Mass.) may see action early and often.

Outside Linebackers / Down Safeties

Two players return to make this potentially a strong position. Junior Joe Frake (Windham, N.H.) is back from season-ending injury and has progressed "from a young guy with a lot of potential to really a solidifying factor on defense," in Harriman's words. Junior Andrew Jenkelunas (Rocky Hill, Conn.), who made 38 tackles in seven games as a sophomore in 2015, missed all of last season and will be eligible to play for Bates next year. Their backups, likely including sophomore Conner Suraci (North Haven, Conn.), remain to be determined.

Cornerbacks / Free Safeties

Juniors Coy Candelario (Haverhill, Mass.) and Kevin Claflin (Ashland, Mass.) form a veteran duo of starters at corner, while sophomore special-teams standout Jon Lindgren (Plainville, Conn.) steps into the starting free safety position.

SPECIAL TEAMS

MacDonald has been outstanding throughout his career as Bates' long snapper ("We're lucky to have him," said Harriman) and forms a good connection with the team's lone returning All-NESCAC player, junior punter Justin Foley (Lynnfield, Mass.). DeWald offers even more stability, now in his fourth year as Bates' placekicker.