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Bucknell freshmen hold the line
Tim Landis likes to talk about the kind of kids Bucknell has. They are different. Different in a good way.
Football players at Bucknell, like most in the Patriot League, are really student-athletes. They personify what it means to put academics before athletics, the reason their success is often measured off the field in the real world than on the athletic fields. They major in things like economics and engineering, not criminal justice and basket-weaving.
They are, however, still football players. They just know how to separate the school work from the field work. But when they put those helmets on, then buckle them tight, they become all football player. That’s what led Landis, who is just starting his sixth year in Lewisburg, to a pair of guards who he thought could get on the field this fall despite being a few months removed from high school.
When Landis went to recruit Anthony Carter and Ian Dal Bello, the coach knew he had some holes to fill on the offensive line. Four starters had graduated and the lone returning starter, Southern grad Ian Fullmer, was likely out for the season with an injury.
That put the pressure on Landis and his staff to not only land a good recruiting class, but some that could possibly step in and play as early as the first game of their first season. That’s where Carter, from Freedom High in Bethlehem, and Dal Bello, from Allen, Texas, fit in.
Landis never thought they would fit in this well. There’s no way he could have. Not only were Carter and Dal Bello on the field at the start of the opener with Duquesne on Saturday, they never left. The duo, joined by two sophomores and junior James Phalen, the veteran of the group with five starts before last week, helped Bucknell to one of its best offensive performances in school history.
The Bison rolled up more than 530 yards of total offense, including 290 through the air and almost 250 more on the ground. Paving the way were the five new starters up front, including the freshmen.
While it was impressive enough that Carter and Dal Bello were starters in their first collegiate game, the more difficult thing to fathom is that they were each on the field for every one of Bucknell’s 63 offensive plays. They never came out for a breather. Never came out to get yelled at or coached on the sideline. Landis and his coaching staff just stuck them out there and let them go to work.
It was a first for Landis, who has been a head coach in college for nearly two decades. Not once has he ever had a freshman play every snap of the first game, let alone two. “They are nice kids off the field, but when they get out there, they are 100 percent football player,” said Landis. “They are tough and mean. If you are standing around on the field, they’re going to knock you over. You talk to them on the sideline and they just stare at you. You’re not sure if it’s all getting through, but then you watch them and they get it. They are good football players.”
The offensive line was the question mark entering the season for the Bison. With players like Marcello Trigg, A.J. Kizekai and Shaun Pasternak returning, Landis and his staff knew they had weapons. Problem was were they going to be able to get the weapons the ball in dangerous spots. Was there going to be time? Or would Trigg be running for his life as soon as he took the snap? The 48 points, including 42 the Bison put up in the opening half Saturday, should answer those questions.
“Those guys were good,” Landis said of the offensive line. “We have some really good players in there and they are only going to get better. James Phalen has done a good job teaching them the ropes and we have found him a natural position (center). Nick McLeod is an outstanding lineman and the rotation we have at tackle is working well.
“Then you throw in the two freshmen, and we’re coming along.” Just last week, Landis was talking about possibly doing some window dressing to help the new guys out up front. A week later, the line has seemingly come together and with just one senior – Stephen Edwards – starting up front, it’s a group that could lead Bucknell’s resurgence beginning as early as this season.
College football: Bucknell freshmen hold the line
The Sunbury Daily Item (PA)