By Matt Noonan
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Merrimack College head coach Dan Curran enters his third season with the Warriors this fall and is optimistic about the 2015 campaign.
“Competition breeds success,” said the third-year head coach following his team’s practice last week.
Last season, the Warriors were hampered by injuries on both sides of the ball as Merrimack limped to a 4-7 overall record.
This season, the squad returns a number of key players that sustained injuries last year, including red-shirt senior Brian Hurley – a Wilmington, Massachusetts native – and sophomore Joe Loubier. Both players are expected to be apart of the offensive line.
“We had to play some other guys a little bit earlier, (but) the benefit of that is some guys got a lot of experience,” said Curran. “Having (Joe and Brian) back (provides) more competition (at the line), and we now have seven or eight guys competing for five spots.”
While the Warriors determine the five players that will make-up its line, the coaches are also focused on finding a signal caller. Juniors Nick Laspada and Nick Davis are back, along with sophomore Joe Capobianco and freshman Brendan McInnis.
“We’re going to need all of camp to decide (who our quarterback) is going to be,” said Curran. “I do tell these guys (quite often) that we’re always evaluating, so if (all four quarterbacks) are close in competition then it will hopefully make them better.”
At running back, second-year senior Andrew Mayes is expected to earn the top spot on the depth chart. Last season, he rushed for 325 yards on 70 carries and hauled in 14 receptions for 146 yards. Mayes concluded the 2014 season with four rushing touchdowns.
Providing relief for Mayes will be sophomore Derrick Villard, who rushed for a season-high 61 yards on 17 carries in his team’s 35-7 victory over Southern Connecticut State.
“We expect him to be a bell-cow,” Curran said of Villard. “We expect him to be an all-conference kid. He is as fast any kid we have on this team.”
On defense, the Warriors return a pair of seniors, including Jon Hooper – a Pembroke, Massachusetts native that led the unit with 63 total tackles last season – and classmate Kristian Jackson – a Shrewsbury, Massachusetts native that ranked second on the team with 57 total tackles. Additionally, junior Carey Wells-Jower is back at linebacker and will look to continue his success from last season, which included 52 total tackles and a pair of fumble recoveries and pass-breakups.
Merrimack begins its 2015 season at home on Saturday, September 5 when they host Bowie State for a 1:00 p.m. kick-off. After their non-conference clash, the Warriors will open Northeast-10 Conference play against Stonehill College on Friday, September 11.
“I think we’re a more well-rounded program and I think the experience we went through last year helped us,” said Curran. “The challenge for us is to be more consistent and do it every week.”