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Healthy Maliska anchors Holy Cross defensive line
Rebounds from knee injury
Defensive tackle Jack Maliska of Winchendon cracked the Holy Cross starting lineup last year as a sophomore after a terrific preseason. He anchored the middle of the Crusaders’ line for the first six games, continued to make progress, and looked primed for a fine season.
Then, in a Week 6 win over Brown — a game in which Maliska blocked an extra point — his season came crashing down when he sprained the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his right knee.
“It was disheartening,” Maliska said this week. “I worked so hard getting into the starting lineup and contributing to the team and trying to help win a championship. Having to sit out the rest of the season was really kind of a buzz kill.”
The 6-foot-4, 294-pound Maliska is back in the middle of HC’s defensive front, back to full strength and definitely not backing down as his junior season gets under way.
“He looks great,” Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore said. “He’s shown no signs of the knee injury.”
Maliska, who has added almost 40 pounds since arriving on the HC campus, was a two-year captain at Murdock High and was named the Mid-Wach C Defensive MVP as a senior. He played in just one game as a Holy Cross freshman, but developed quickly physically and has worked tirelessly on his technique.
“It’s gone real well,” Maliska said, “but every day, you want to get one percent better. It’s always a work in progress. You’re never complete. You always have to pay attention and keep working at it.”
Maliska said the transition to working with new defensive line coach Antoine Smith has gone smoothly, and spending the summer at HC working and working out with a large group of teammates also helped prepare him for the season.
Maliska had two tackles in the Crusaders’ season-opening loss to UMass. Gilmore was pleased with the effort up front and thought Maliska had a good game. “Probably the best game he’s played here,” Gilmore said.
In the eight-point loss, Holy Cross had trouble containing UMass running back Jonathan Hernandez, who rushed for 151 yards and accounted for almost half of the Minutemen’s total offense. This week, in their Patriot League opener, the Crusaders will face another stern test in the form of Colgate senior tailback Nate Eachus, the 2010 PL Offensive Player of the Year.
In the Raiders’ opener against Albany, Eachus rushed for 165 yards and scored the winning touchdown in overtime.
“He’s a great running back, a real hard runner,” Maliska said. “Colgate has some big boys up front who want to block for him. They have that championship attitude. They will come at you and they want to knock you off the ball, but we’re working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Eachus began his college career as a linebacker, but shifted to his current position when Jordan Scott, another Colgate star running back, was injured in the eighth week of the 2008 season.
Eachus rushed for 1,871 yards and 21 touchdowns last year and was a consensus first-team All-American. Scott, Colgate’s career rushing leader, followed Jamaal Branch, yet another standout. Colgate coach Dick Biddle said this week that if Eachus can replicate last season, he could go down as the best running back in his 16 seasons with the Red Raiders.
Colgate, which finished 7-4 in 2010, has a new quarterback in sophomore Gavin McCarney, who, in his debut, passed for 210 yards and two TDs, rushed for 114 yards and two more scores, and greatly impressed Gilmore.
“They will present a challenge,” Maliska said, “and we’re looking forward to stepping up to it.”
History favors Crusaders
Holy Cross has won three of the last four against Colgate, including a 31-24 victory last season. … HC is 16-9 all time in PL openers. The Crusaders had won five straight before falling to Georgetown last year. … This is the earliest HC has played Colgate since 1996, when the teams met on Sept. 21. … The 15,942 fans who watched HC’s season opener made up the largest Fitton Field crowd since Oct. 20, 1990, when 17,848 saw the Crusaders beat Lehigh, 34-22.
By Jennifer Toland, Worcester Telegram & Gazette