Catching Up With Mike DeLong (Springfield College Football)
After four games this season, Springfield College currently finds itself in a four-way tie atop the Liberty League standings for first place.
The Pride have rebounded from their opening day contest against Bridgewater State with three straight wins, which head coach Mike DeLong hopes will boost his team’s morale going forward.
On Friday, Noontime Sports caught up with the Springfield College head coach to discuss the season thus far, as well as his game plan for Saturday against Union College.
How important was it to earn that first Liberty League victory last week?
“Rochester was an opponent that we were not familiar with because we’ve never played them, so it was [nice to get our first conference win], and we’re getting ready to play Union, who we’ve played a number of times and they’ll be tough up there on their home field.”
What sort of challenges does Union College present? How will your team overcome them?
“It’s a difficult trip because of the timing of the game at six o’clock on a Saturday night and obviously you’re playing against a team that’s traditionally been one of the strong teams in the East, so you just try to keep your players focused on what they have to do to win this game and what they have to do to be ready to play once kickoff goes at six o’clock, so you just try and deal with that with that tomorrow. [Hopefully] we’ll have them well fed and hopefully well rested and ready to go.”
Union College’s offensive line provided challenges for your defense last year. What will your defense have to do in order to be successful against their line tomorrow night?
“We felt that their offensive line really controlled the game last year against us, so we told our defensive linemen that this is a physical line, and you’ve guys [are going] to have to step up and put pressure on that quarterback and rise to the challenge of playing against their line. I think three of them are back from last year, but they were a very physical line and our defensive line has to continue to grow and improve. Those young guys [on the line continue to improve] every week and [become] more consistent with their play and they’re going to have to be consistent with their play against a very well coached Union team.”
Your defense is one of the top units in the conference. What’s the secret to their success this season?
“Well, we’re not real big, but one of the keys is that speed and that pursuit to the ball, so hopefully we’ll have that [against Union]. Danny Macalena’s in his second year and an inside linebacker, and Max Nacewicz is his second year, too. And their maturity and having more game experience is beginning to show even though those guys are just sophomores, but they’ve gotten a lot more playing time [this season] and last year they got thrown into the fire. Kashden Naraine has held up pretty well at defensive tackle as a freshman and so has Daniel King at defensive end, but I think the key thing is they make their mistakes, but they still hustle to the ball.”
How has your team’s speed and conditioning impacted the team’s overall performance this year?
“The most important thing in football these days is speed and the second most important thing is more speed. It doesn’t matter how big you are, but if you can’t get there you can’t play, and if you have a slow guy trying to block a fast guy that slow guy is going to be in trouble unless he gets help of some kind and you’ve got to be able to get to your block and that takes speed and athleticism or you have to be able to get to the ball on defense. And then that second piece is strength because you want guys that can run to the ball and that’s pretty much in any position.”
Earlier this season, your team rallied past Mount Ida College to earn an impressive 49-42 victory. What does a win like that do for your program?
“Hopefully it showed them that if you don’t give up and don’t get down on yourself you still have that ability to comeback and win a game and that was quite a shootout we had with Mount Ida. They came in and really, really played well, but our guys never doubted their ability and sooner or later two things were going to happen. We would score, but also eventually our defense finally started to play a lot better once we went into the third quarter and fourth quarter, but that ability and confidence to be able to comeback certainly didn’t hurt us.”
What does Joel Altavesta do to boost your offensive production? How has he helped your team’s offense thus far?
“He just gets better with his feel with the ball up into the congested areas where he runs and his option passes are all great, but once he’s getting the ball in his hands he’s starting to slide off to the piles a lot better as he gets more touches on the ball and last week he was able to get into the open field, so he’s just gained more and more experience running [where it’s mostly] congested and I just think his ability and how he’s seeing things better because he’s starting to slide off the piles instead of jamming himself in there.”
Similar to your defense, your offense has experienced some success this year, too. Talk about your offense and their willingness to improve each day.
“We had Josh Carter has a four-year starter at quarterback and then we were hoping that our offense and our offensive coordinator Mike Cerasuolo does a great job of bringing the offense along and hopefully every week getting those guys better and more aggressive. We’re still growing a great deal as an offense and we’ve been banged up a little. Coach Cerasuolo has done a great job, though, of still maintaining the mentality that we feel if we can execute at the speed we want to execute we’ll be OK on offense.”
Finally, what’s going on at the quarterback position? Is there a reason all three of your starters have played in every game this year?
“We lost Austin Bateman in the second game, he’s been out since Husson and Rob Merckling is now injured also, so Jonathan Marrero is going to start against Union and he came in against Rochester and really seemed really poised for a freshman, but this is his first true start and he’s excited to be ready to go. He hasn’t had an opportunity to be an understudy to anybody yet because he’s getting thrown right into the fire here.”