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Tight battle for No. 1 UNH QB job
Last summer University of New Hampshire quarterback R.J. Toman was voted preseason co-offensive player of the year in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Now he’s fighting for his job. The starter and clear No. 1 the past two seasons, the senior co-captain is being pushed hard by junior Kevin Decker. The pair continued their battle during Saturday’s Blue/White scrimmage at Cowell Stadium.
“It’s a close battle at the quarterback position,” said coach Sean McDonnell. “Kevin Decker did some really nice things. As the game wore on R.J. got better and better and did what he does. It’s a good position to be in with two kids that are really good quarterbacks.”
Following a stellar sophomore campaign in which he threw for more than 3,100 yards and 28 touchdowns, Toman’s numbers fell off last season when he completed 54.4 percent of his passes for 2,181 yards. He threw 15 TD passes with 11 interceptions.
He completed 65.1 percent of his passes in 2008.
Still, he led UNH to the NCAA quarterfinals both years as the Wildcats put together back-to-back 10-3 seasons. Decker completed 33 of 60 passes last season for 380 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. His lone start resulted in a 57-7 win at Towson.
McDonnell is hesitant to name the starter until the end of fall camp, which begins Monday, Aug. 9. The Wildcats open the season on Sept. 4 at home against Central Connecticut.
“To have the competition between Deck and I for the starting job every year is something that’s so healthy for our team,” Toman said. “It makes everybody better. It pushes me and I push Deck. He can start in the CAA as well. To have two guys with that kind of capability is pretty impressive. It’s just one more thing that makes our team better.”
After a slow start by the offense Saturday, both QBs put up decent numbers. Decker completed 15 of 20 passes for 209 yards and three scores while Toman went 19 for 34 for 176 yards and two touchdowns.
The Wildcats favor fast starts and last season outscored the opposition 149-77 in the first quarter. The offense scored 17 points in the first half Saturday and 27 in the second half.
“We seem to do a lot better with fast starts in practice,” Toman said, “and then come scrimmages the defense is dialed up on us. We’ll get better at that.”
Decker, who once considered transferring but returned to the team before the start of last season, threw TD passes to Terrance Fox (22 yards), Mike Greene (20 yards), and Joey Orlando (61 yards). Fox, a senior, returns after missing all of last season for failing a drug test.
Greene caught six passes for 70 yards and Fox had five receptions for 55 yards. Orlando added three catches for a game-high 104 yards.
“I never worry about our offense,” said senior cornerback and co-captain Dino Vasso, who had five interceptions last season to rank second on the team. “They’re always going to put points on the board. They’re one of the (best) offenses in the country. They may have an off day here and there, but I never worry about them. They’re always going to put points up.”
Toman threw scoring passes to Mickey Mangieri (34 yards) and Chris Chandler. Mangieri was second on the team last season in TD receptions with three and led the regulars in yards per catch (19.8).
UNH loses its top two receivers from last season, including tight end Scott Sicko, who had nine of the Wildcats’ 20 TD receptions in 2009.
Dontra Peters scored the game’s first touchdown on a 20-yard run. He’ll be competing with senior co-captain Sean Jellison at running back. Jellison, who rushed for 455 yards and seven TDs last season, sat out Saturday’s scrimmage with a knee injury.
Peters gained 68 yards on seven carries Saturday.
“He’s got some natural ability,” McDonnell said of Peters. “He’s got great vision and when he sees things he can accelerate. … I like his toughness. He’s not afraid to run over people and he’s not afraid to run in tight quarters.”
The defense was credited with 14 sacks, an interception, and a fumble recovery.
UNH returns four of its top six tacklers, including linebacker and senior co-captain Devon Jackson, who led the team with 98 stops in 2009, including nine for loss. Senior safety Hugo Souza had a team-high 52 solo tackles last season.
“I thought defensively we got better pressure on the ball, getting the ball out, getting to it and getting our hands on it,” McDonnell said. “We’ve done a good job with that all spring.”
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McDonnell was impressed with the play this spring of offensive guard Seamus O’Neill, a redshirt freshman from Manchester Central who has yet to take his first college snap.
“Things don’t faze the kid,” McDonnell said. “We put him in a lot of different scenarios. … He has the ability to get his feet up and down pretty quick and stay on blocks. He’s athletic. I hope he has a great summer and gets up to about 280, 285 pounds and gets stronger. He’s still young. He’s a redshirt guy. Ideally you don’t like to play with those guys, but right now I’m not afraid to play with him.”
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Defensive tackle Steve Young is still recovering from major shoulder surgery and sat out the scrimmage. Wearing a red no-contact jersey, he participated in conditioning and agility drills during spring camp.
The former Spaulding High School standout had 39 tackles last season, including six for loss.
“Would have liked to seen him out there,” McDonnell said. “He’s a good football player. He’s got to get better for us to be a very good defense next year. We need him.”
By Al Pike, Foster’s Daily Democrat