By James Baker (@ITHuddLLe)
Our New England D3 Football preseason team previews continue with a look at the 2017 Springfield College Pride, a team that will look to snatch the inaugural New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) crown.
Name: Springfield College Pride
Ranking: The Pride checked-in seventh on our ‘Preseason Top 10’ poll, which was posted on Twitter on Monday, July 31st.
2016 Recap: The first year of head coach Mike Cerasuolo regime was mixed as the Pride struggled with injuries in a couple of key positions and a tough out-of-conference schedule. While Springfield did end the year at 5-5, they would have broken the .500 mark if they didn’t fall in a couple of close contests, including 12-7 and 15-12 losses to Hobart and Merchant Marine in Weeks 9 and 11, respectively. The Pride had their moments, hanging 70 points on Rochester and besting now fellow-NEWMAC members WPI, 28-23, after trailing 17-0 at the half. Springfield saw some new players step-up on both sides of the ball, so they have a lot to be optimistic about heading into the 2017 season.
Key Losses: Bobby Bozym (O-Line), Kenny Calaj (Linebacker), Joe Festo (Specialist / Receiver), Nick Welsh (Free Safety) and Taumeras Howard (Defensive Back)
Players to Watch: Jake Eglintine (Quarterback), Chad Shade (Quarterback), Jordan Wilcox (Fullback), Chris Hayden (O-Line), Josh Thomas (Fullback), Hunter Belzo (Running Back), Dom Traversa (Linebacker), Christian Zotti (Linebacker), Nick Giorgio (Defensive end), Rich Williams (Linebacker), Marlowe Scott (Free Safety), Jonny Bianchi (Cornerback) and Whit DeVaux (Specialist)
2017 Schedule: A new conference means a return of sorts to Springfield’s days in the Freedom Football Conference (FFC), which closed up shop in 2003. The battle for the Pynchon Saw against Western New England opens the slate, and the Pride haven’t defeated their cross-town rivals since 2013. Week Two has Kean (pronounced like “Cane”) University coming up from the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) for another tough out-of-conference game. The Cougars finished last season with a 7-4 mark, including a four-game winning streak and 30-27 ECAC Bowl game victory over Cortland State. Kane senior quarterback Charles App is a mobile and dangerous offensive weapon that will test the Springfield defense. The long-standing non-conference game against Mount Ida will be the final tune up before the Pride open up NEWMAC play against WPI and then Norwich at Stagg Field. Springfield will hit the road to take on Coast Guard and Merchant Marine (which many believe could be a de-facto title game), before coming home to entertain Catholic. After a bye week, the Pride will wrap the regular season on the road against Maine Maritime before hosting MIT in its season finale.
Season Outlook: The Pride may have the most to gain from the NEWMAC starting-up football, as they are returning several key players, including a total of 17 starters that should help them contend for the inaugural league crown. The Pride’s defense returns eight student-athletes that helped the unit finish as one of the premiere units in the Northeast. Traversa and Zotti are both three-year starters, while Giorgio had a big sophomore season – he is expected to continue improve this season on the defensive line. While players like Nick Welsh will certainly be missed in the secondary, keep an eye on Scott, who should be able to continue his production from a year ago. Jonny Bianchi is also back in the mix, but not as a halfback, which he played in 2015. Bianchi will be spotted in the Pride’s secondary as a defensive back – he will also be a player to watch this season. The strength of the Pride’s offense will once again be their halfbacks and fullbacks. Wilcox and Thomas made a potent one-two punch for Springfield last fall and will look to lead the ground attack again. All three halfbacks that return should provide the unit with depth and explosive play-making ability. Belzo led the Pride with an impressive 9.8 yards per carry last season – he also broke off touchdown runs of 91, 80 and 44 yards as a first-year. Helping clear the way again for Belzo and the running back corps is David Mikos at tight end. Christian Humulock should handle a majority of the kicking duties – he secured the starting placekicker job during spring practices. The team’s punter Whit DeVaux is also back this fall after averaging 37.4 yards per punt last fall, including 14 drops inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. The Pride will certainly be a squad to watch this season – they kick-off their 2017 campaign against a very talented Western New England squad. That will certainly be a game to follow next weekend.