By Matt Noonan
American International College (AIC) enters the 2015 season projected to be the runner-up in the Northeast-10 Conference, but that prediction isn’t what head coach Art Wilkins is focused on at this time.
Instead, the legendary head coach, who enters his 21st season with AIC, is focused on preparing the Yellow Jackets for its week one opponent: Bryant University.
“I think Mr. (Bill) Belichick has the right approach (to a new season),” said Wilkins, “one game at a time.”
AIC will travel to Rhode Island this Saturday (Sept. 5) to face a Bulldogs squad that was picked to capture the Northeast Conference. Bryant garnered four first-place votes and is coming off an impressive campaign that included eight victories, which tied a program record for wins.
“(We have) a one game season right now and after (we play Bryant) there will be another one (game season), but it is a one game season,” said Wilkins.
Quarterback Kevin Arduino has graduated after a very impressive four-year career, but is expected to assist the team as an assistant coach.
“You (can) never replace a great player (like Kevin), but we’re doing the second best thing. Since he can’t play anymore, we’re going to let him coach and see if some of the magic dust (helps),” said Wilkins.
The Yellow Jackets have five quarterbacks on its roster, including sophomore Shawn Brathwaite, who completed four passes last season and tossed a pair of touchdowns. He also rushed for 31 yards and one score.
Another quarterback to keep an eye on is senior Adam Salvador, who competed in nine games last season, but did not register a single pass. Instead, the senior signal caller rushed for 137 yards on 43 attempts and averaged 15.2 yards per game.
At tailback, expect the Yellow Jackets to rotate five or six players, including junior Marcel DePina, who hails from New Bedford, Massachusetts. DePina registered one touchdown last season on 19 carries, while rushing for 133 yards. He also returned a pair of punts for 34 yards.
“DePina has looked great,” said Wilkins. “I think he is going to be an exceptional player. He is the one we’re counting on right now (at halfback).”
Similar to tailback, the wide receiving core will rely on five or six players to assist the offense. Junior Evan Graham – a Springfield, Massachusetts native – is back after finishing second on the team in receptions (41). Graham, who competed in 11 games, was second on the team in touchdowns (five) and receiving yards (655).
“We think (our receiving core) is the best position on offense right, so we’ll see how it comes together during the first several games,” Wilkins said. “This is an exciting bunch.”
On defense, the Yellow Jackets will count on senior linebacker Demetrius Steed – a Boston native that competed for Bedford High School. Steed ranked third on the team in total tackles (72), but recorded 38 solo stops, four sacks, seven tackles for a loss and a trio of pass-breakups.
“He’s the guy that leads by example and has a high energy level and (can) translate that to his teammates,” said Wilkins. “He is everything you could want.”
AIC also returns seniors Andrew Justice (defensive end), Danny Omoregie (defensive line) and Daquan Holmes (defensive back). Sophomore Rob Hansen returns after leading all freshmen defenders with five total tackles and three solo stops.
Following the Yellow Jackets’ season-opener against the Bulldogs, AIC will commence conference play with a home contest against Southern Connecticut University on Saturday, September 12. The Yellow Jackets will then travel to University of New Haven on Saturday, September 19 before concluding the first month of play with a 1:00 p.m. kick-off against Saint Anselm College at home.
AIC and LIU Post, which competed in the conference’s championship last season, will meet in Springfield on Saturday, October 3 for a 1:00 p.m. kick-off. LIU Post was picked to capture the NE-10 crown for the second consecutive season.