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New Hampshire's Countdown to Toledo
Three days and counting until the University of New Hampshire football team opens the 2011 season against the University of Toledo at the Glass Bowl.
The Wildcats face a tough go at the start of the season with three straight road games and they don’t play at Cowell Stadium until an Oct. 1 date with Holy Cross.
After Toledo, they are at Lehigh on Sept. 10, have the next weekend off and then are at Richmond on Sept. 24.
The first two opponents, Toledo of the Mid-American Conference and Lehigh of the Patriot League, are both pre-season picks to win their league.
Toledo, a Football Bowl Subdivision team, went 8-5 last year and closed out the season with a 34-32 loss to Florida International in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit.
“They’re a really good football team and program,” said UNH coach Sean McDonnell on Sunday before his team practiced on the school’s indoor track. “They are very, very, very well-coached and they do a lot of things that stress you as a defense if you don’t know where your assignments are supposed to be. They have multiple formations and have great skill kids.
The Rockets are target No. 1.
“Right now, the main goal is to beat the I-A team, Toledo, because that goes so far in terms of the playoffs,” said senior quarterback Kevin Decker. “You look at how the playoffs work and if you win seven games with a I-A (now FBS) win, that means you’re probably going to be in, so it means a lot.”
The Wildcats have made the playoffs each of the last seven years.
Decker is in his first year as a starter and the offense must replace players who accounted for 154 of 274 Wildcat pass receptions last season. Terrance Fox had 80 of those.
Junior Joey Orlando caught 50 passes for six touchdowns last season and senior Mickey Mangieri is back after missing all of last season with a broken leg. Senior tight end Chris Jeannot, out with concussion symptoms much of the year, caught 24 passes and senior wide receiver Chris Chandler 20.
A bunch of young guys should help out, too.
Sophomore Justin Mello caught three passes last season, had big spring and pre-season camps and had five catches for 83 yards and two scores in the last pre-season scrimmage.
McDonnell cited the play of redshirt freshman R.J. Harris as well.
“He probably had the best camp of any of our receivers, play for play, practice for practice, scrimmage for scrimmage,” the coach said. “The kid stood out. He’s done a real nice job for us.”
Jim Jeannotte, the long-time voice of the Wildcats, will be on the sidelines for the start of his 31st season of UNH play-by-play broadcasting.
Twenty-two times the winner of the New Hampshire Sportscaster of the Year Award, Jeannotte reports he is feeling well as he recuperates from double bypass surgery on Aug. 9.
He expects to miss the first two games at Toledo and Lehigh and be ready to go for Game 3 at Richmond.
Bob Lipman, who has done play-by-play for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats since their inception and also did Dartmouth football, is joining Jeannotte in the broadcast booth this season. He’ll do play-by-play for the first two games and then be the color analyst. Lauren Fox will work the first two games with Lipman.
The UNH depth chart for the season opener against Toledo has Seamus O’Neil, a 6-foot-3 and 284 pound sophomore from Manchester Central, at left tackle on offense and Rod Walker, a 6-foot and 212-pound senior from Portsmouth, starting at one of the spots in the defensive backfield. Mike MacArthur, a sophomore from North Hampton, is listed as the starting kicker and punter.
O’Neill is coming back from a knee injury he suffered earlier in camp.
“I’m not sure on him for Thursday,” McDonnell said. “He’ll be in the travel party and if he can play, he will.”
Sean Ryan, a 6-foot-2 and 300-pound sophomore from Londonderry, and Tyler Brnger, a 6-foot-2 and 287-pound sophomore from Munsonville, hold down backup spots on the offensive line in the two-deep listings.
Jimmy Vailas, a 6-foot-3 and 265-pounder from Bedford, is listed as a backup at defensive tackle.
By ALLEN LESSELS, New Hampshire Union Leader