By Matt Noonan | @MattNoonan11
It’s football season – yes, it has finally returned. And for the past few days, I have had the opportunity to visit with a few teams, including MIT, which seems eager to begin its season next Friday, August 31st when they host Becker College at 7 p.m.
This fall, MIT will be guided by the program’s former defensive and recruiting coordinator, Brian Bubna, who takes over for Chad Martinovich, who left earlier this year to accept the head coaching role with the University of Rochester.
Since being named the new leader of the Engineers, Bubna has implemented a unique culture that values two things: hard work, but also making sure his student-athletes are have fun.
Additionally, Bubna and his student-athletes have also embraced another word (or phrase, which appeared on the team’s Twitter handle a few days ago) – sure, it may not always be associated with the sport of football, but it seems to be keeping a smile on the players’ faces, though.
So, what is this word? The answer … party!
But, why party?
Well, allow senior linebacker Andrew DeNucci to explain what it means to this group of Engineers: “(Coach Bubna’s) big thing is party. Come out here, have a good time … we’re playing football, so we are out here to party and have fun.”
Added Bubna, “We try to keep it competitive and fun because these guys have so much academic responsibilities and internships, so when they get out here it has to be fun and it has to be excitable, too.
“We work hard and have fun doing it, so the guys enjoy it. We go from drill to drill with different stuff. We try to change it up, so it is not the same thing every day, so we can keep them on their toes.”
Tuesday’s morning session seemed like a fun practice – I was able to watch the final hour, which included a few group drills, as well as a competitive 11-on-11 that featured a touchdown strike over the middle from senior quarterback Udgam Goyal. Goyal enjoyed a successful junior season, recording a few career-bests, including completions (170), passing yards (1,922) and touchdowns (14).
Goyal should continue last season’s success this fall – he will have some familiar teammates to target, including classmate Eddy Garcia-Montes, who led the MIT receiving core with 55 receptions for 719 yards and six touchdowns.
Another receiver to watch this fall will be sophomore Keithen Shepard, who finished his initial season with 32 receptions for 365 yards and one touchdown. Shepard should also be seen on special teams again this fall – last season, he fielded 12 punt returns (129 yards) and 11 kick returns (261 yards).
Extra Notes from Tuesday’s Practice
I had a chance to chat with Andrew DeNucci about the MIT defense, which yielded an average of two scores per game (16.3) last fall.
DeNucci will certainly be the focal point of this year’s unit due to a few graduation losses, including linebacker Matt Nicolai and defensive back Mitch Turley.
But the good news for the Engineers is DeNucci is back after recording multiple career-highs last fall, including total tackles (70.0), tackles for a loss (7.5) and sacks (2.5).
So, what worked for you last fall, Andrew? “I think the biggest thing is we have a great d-line and it starts with those guys up front. The less guys that are blocking the linebackers, the more free we are to make plays.”
DeNucci should certainly be able to make a few plays this fall, thanks to some key returners on the defensive line, including juniors CJ Reilly and Ben Bennington. Additionally, the unit returns juniors Sam Cantrell (linebacker) and AJ Iversen (defensive back).
In addition to some key returners, DeNucci is confident that some of the newcomers and first-years will make an impact, as well.
The defense will certainly be counted on with finding ways to slow down their opponents, especially Springfield College and WPI, two teams that will certainly be in the mix with MIT for the top spot in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC). MIT finished 7-3 overall last season, including 5-2 in the NEWMAC, but junior halfback John Robertson believes his team’s current confidence should help the unit contend for its initial NEWMAC regular season crown.
“I think (what) makes all the difference in a season is believing you can actually go out there and win the title, win the conference,” said Robertson, who led the rushing unit with 882 yards on 166 carries for 11 touchdowns.
“There is a confidence (amongst the current group, along with some) excitement, so we know we can do it because we have been that close before, so I think last season really did set the pace and (we’re) looking to see it carry over to this season.”
For MIT to contend for some hardware, they will certainly need Robertson to enjoy another successful season in the backfield. Robertson appeared to be in midseason form on Tuesday, zigzagging through various gaps on both sides of the line, while bursting past defenders in the secondary. Similar to DeNucci, Robertson will also be a player to watch for the Engineers this fall.
We’ll have more coverage of the MIT football team, along with other New England squads as we inch closer to a brand new season. But in the meantime, make sure to stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – you can also subscribe to our YouTube Channel, as well!