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Five questions facing Holy Cross
The prognosis for the 2011 Holy Cross football team is akin to assembling a puzzle. All the pieces are there; it just might take a while to make them fit.
Unfortunately, the Crusaders won’t have the luxury of spending an inordinate amount of time to finish the picture, as a brutal schedule awaits them.
In the first six weeks, HC plays four times at home. But collectively, the opposition represents the most challenging in decades. On deck are UMass (Sept. 1), Ivy League power Harvard (Sept. 17), CAA juggernaut New Hampshire (Oct. 1), Ivy contender Brown (Oct. 8), and up-and-coming Dartmouth (Oct. 15).
The lone Patriot League foe during that stretch is Colgate (Sept. 10), which arguably is HC’s biggest league rival.
“Those initial games are going to be quite difficult for us,” said Tom Gilmore, who has guided the Purple to six straight winning seasons. “So we’re going to have to come out of the blocks rather quickly in order to compete with that level of competition.”
Here are five questions to ponder in anticipation of the season opener:
Will quarterback be a strength?
Last year, Holy Cross entered the preseason with three juniors, none with any experience. This year, they all have some. Ryan Taggart, who should get the No. 1 nod, started and played all 11 games, despite battling an assortment of injuries. He completed 185-of-317 passes for 1,899 yards and 14 touchdowns. In addition, however, senior captain Mark Tolzein played four games and Kevin Watson appeared in seven, giving the Crusaders some valuable depth at the position.
“We can do a lot of different things with each of them, but Taggart is ahead on the depth chart,” said coach Tom Gilmore. “He brings to the table a certain level of confidence. Beyond that, he’s gotten more reps and he just has more experience.”
Taggart, a 22-year-old from Bedford, Texas, is ready.
“We know (last year) we didn’t perform to our potential,” said Taggart. “This year, there’s a feeling that everything is more crisp. Everyone has played; that’s a good thing. Everyone knows where they stand. We talk to each other. When one of us walks off the field we say, ‘What did you see?’ and it will show up on film later. There are different perspectives. The competition is great for us.”
What can we expect at wide receiver?
Holy Cross graduated its top three receivers in Luke Chmielinski (45 catches), Bill Edger (44), and Freddie Santana (39), but Gilmore believes things will work out there.
“We’ve had excellent wide receivers every year since I’ve been here,” said coach Tom Gilmore. “We’ve been able to reload at that position every single year, and this year I think we have the fastest group of wide receivers since I’ve been here. There’s depth at the position.”
Massive 6-foot-7 tight end Alex Schneider is the leading returnee in terms of total catches (30), but outside threats include junior Gerald Mistretta, sophomore Mike Fess, junior Nick Mercurio and seniors Charles McCall and Clinton McCabe.
A key could be multifaceted senior Josh Jenkins, who missed all of last year but ranks fifth all-time at HC in punt returns and punt return yards, and provides a dose of speed.
Can the offensive line give Ryan Taggart & Co. sufficient time to make plays?
The group is shaping up as a solid one, led by senior left tackle Mike McCabe (6-5, 310), senior center Sean Whited (6-3, 273), senior right guard Kyle Cannon (6-4, 290) and junior right tackle Kyle Pedretty (6-4, 285). Depth comes from junior Casey Bessemer (6-5, 279), sophomore Jay Knighton (6-2, 262) and junior left guard Fred Hilow (6-4, 268).
Tight end Alex Schneider has improved his blocking, while junior backup Josh Hauser (6-4, 226) has good hands. Junior Reed Apfelbaum (6-3, 217) adds experience.
“We’re happy with the way the offensive line is coming along,” said coach Tom Gilmore. “We went to the spread offense five years ago not so much because the spread offense was in vogue but because we didn’t have the tight ends and the depth on our offensive line. We still have the spread, but now we feel we have the depth on the offensive line to make it a strong point for us.”
How does the defense measure up?
Junior Jack Maliska (6-4, 294) returns up front after an injury-plagued 2010, and the secondary has core veterans in seniors Chandler Fenner and Cav Koch. But the real strength of this defense lies in its linebacking group, with seniors C.J. Martin and Ricky Otis, who added 15 pounds to his 6-1 frame, junior Roman SanDoval and sophomore Mike Tucker.
“We have a lot of experience at linebacker and the defense is looking good in camp,” said Otis. “I think a big key is we had a large number of guys up here in summer working out. There’s a different attitude and you can see everyone in camp flying to the ball.”
Will the kicking game improve this season?
HC attempted only 14 field goals in 2010, converted 84 percent of extra points, and averaged a net 34.3 yards punting. Coach Tom Gilmore believes it will be better this season, especially if training camp is an indicator. Senior Corey Page was the pleasant surprise of the preseason, booming the ball.
Senior Paul Tearson, who averaged 57.4 yards on 25 kickoffs last season, has the inside track at placekicker, but is being challenged by sophomore John Macomber and Beverly’s Llazar Cuko.
By John Connolly, Boston Herald