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The Move to Division I Starts for Bryant Football
SMITHFIELD - Marty Fine may field the best team in Bryant University’s 10-year football history this season, but after the final snap in November, fans might not know it.
Such is the potential for losing when a program moves up a division, as Bryant is doing this season. The Bulldogs are bigger, faster and stronger than ever, but they will run in Division I, not Division II, when they will make their Division I debut at Central Connecticut on Saturday, Aug. 30.
“We’re a good football team, but we were built as a good Division II football club,” Fine said Tuesday after practice. The Bulldogs coach, starting his fifth season, is worried that losses to Division I opponents could snowball and bury any improvement his team had made over the 8-3 outfit that won the Northeast-10 Conference championship last year and went to the NCAA Division II tournament for the second consecutive season.
“We would be better, and no one would know it,” he said.
Bryant will play an 11-game schedule. Highlights include an Oct. 25 road trip to Amherst to play the University of Massachusetts, and back-to-back games against old NE-10 foes Southern Connecticut (Sept. 6) and Merrimack (Sept. 13). Remaining games are at Central Connecticut, Wagner, Marist, Iona and Saint Francis and at home against Monmouth, Robert Morris and Duquesne.
This season is the first of a four-year transition period. Bryant will be eligible for the Northeast Conference championship in 2012. The players have adjusted to the fact that there will be no postseason for a while.
“As a senior, I would like to play for a championship. At first that was depressing,” said safety Bryce Martins (Uncasville, Conn.). “Now I have a different outlook. I look forward to seeing how the players respond to the challenge of playing at the next level.”
“In the beginning I was a little upset. Championships are what you play for,” added defensive lineman Pat Gauthier (Woonsocket). “Coach Fine talked to us and said we’re part of a transition. Now we understand.”
This team still has goals.
“I want to set the foundation for the program in the future. It’s exciting to be in the first class to play Division I. You got to start somewhere, and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Martins said.
“I want us to be really competitive. I don’t want us to lay down just because we’re playing Division I teams,” Gauthier said. “If we do the right things, winning will come. We don’t have to play perfect football. We just have to play better than the other team.”
Fine likes his personnel.
“Two years ago we had no holes to fill. We had 22 pretty good college football players. Now we have more high-end players, but our holes are more glaring,” he said. He cited Gauthier as an example of Bryant’s improvement. Through hard work he has built himself into a 6-2, 290-pound starter.
Fine mentioned quarterback and wide receiver as two glaring holes. Charlie Granatell, the four-year starter who guided the Bulldogs to three winning seasons, 27 victories, two championships and two playoff appearances, has graduated. So has wide receiver Sean Bergin, who caught 46 passes in 2007, a school record, and stands second in career receptions and receiving yards.
Senior Jay Graber (Clarksburg, N.J.), a Hofstra transfer who backed up Granatell for two years, will start. He has had his ups and downs in practice.
“When you’re a backup quarterback, you get used to being a backup. That’s a mind-set that’s very hard to change,” Fine said. Graber threw two passes last year and completed both.
Anthony DiNaso (Staten Island, N.Y.) is the leading returning receiver. He caught 18 passes in 2007. Fullback Bryan Wood (Westboro, Mass.) grabbed 11 passes and wideout Ryan Buckley (Bridgewater, Mass.) 10.
The running game should be solid. Lindsey Gamble (Boston) rushed for 941 yards and 14 touchdowns, and Jerell Smith (Brooklyn) added 619 yards and 4 TDs.
Fine has replaced the right side of his offensive line due to graduation, but said the linemen on the left – tackle Peter Krafka (Milford, Mass.), guard Jacob Meyers (Brooks, Ga.) and center John Tashjian (Paramus, N.J.) “are better than we’ve ever had.”
Fine has juggled his defense. Safeties Kevin Menawonu (Providence/PCD) and Mike Montagna (Attleboro) are out for the season. Menawonu has diverticulitis and Montagna an injury that Fine declined to disclose. Martins has moved from corner and Andre Whyte (Bennington, Vt.) back to safety.
“We’ve had a lot of movement. They might be old players, but they’re learning new positions,” Martins said. “The defense is flying around. We’re fast, smart and tough.”
“The defense looks solid. Some people are young and trying to learn their positions, but we have a good set of veterans,” Gauthier added. He is playing tackle and end. His twin brother, Pete, is working his way back from an ankle injury and playing tackle. Don Smith (Attleboro) is lining up at the other end.
Senior Dan Cursi (Hasbrouck Heights, N.J.) and junior Paul Polomski (Franklin, Mass.) return at linebacker. They tied for fourth in tackles last year.
After two weeks of training camp, the Bulldogs are eager to play.
“I’m ready to explode on somebody else instead of my own team,” Martins said.
“Practices are getting a little more chippy every day. We’re sick of everybody’s habits. There are more arguments. Everybody wants to get ready for Central Connecticut,” Gauthier said.
The move to Division I starts for Bryant football
By Mike Szostak, The Providence Journal