WASHINGTON – When kickoff comes on Saturday, September 2 at 1 p.m., it will officially be a "New Era" for The Catholic University of America football program. The Cardinals will look vastly different both on and off the field as numerous changes have put the Cards on a new, championship track.
Two key dates have played a pivotal role in this new time for Catholic Football.
ON SEPTEMBER 29, 2015, Associate Vice President & Director of Athletics Sean Sullivan announced that Catholic would join the newly formed New England Women's & Men's Athletics Conference (NEWMAC) as an associate member and eighth school to play football.
"Joining the NEWMAC represents a significant opportunity for our football program to compete against seven dynamic institutions. It's tremendously satisfying to be able to add Washington D.C., to a desirable geographic footprint that includes northern New England, central Massachusetts, Boston and New York," remarked Sullivan.
Catholic will now compete against teams where much of its recruiting footprint takes place while also joining schools committed to academic and athletic excellence, strengthened by the diversity of its institutional membership, noted Sullivan.
This is the Cardinals' first season in the new conference and with it comes fresh opportunities at not only the conference championship, but Bowl Games, including the second-ever New England Bowl.
Just eight months ago, Catholic got an early Christmas present. ON DECEMBER 8, 2016, class of 1992 alum Mike Gutelius was tabbed as the 30th head coach in program history. With over two decades of experience, national team success and recognition as one of the top coordinators in the NAIA, the Cardinals found their man and the coach to lead them in the "New Era" of Catholic Football.
"To be able to go back to your alma mater and teach young men the enduring life lessons that I learned while I played here is humbling," stated Gutelius. "I feel a huge sense of responsibility to help these guys grow through the sport of football and to be able to do that job at this unique place is a lifelong dream of mine."
Now, Gutelius and his staff have put together the first iteration of the new-look Cardinals and will not be doing so in just name as the Cards will be back in new black uniforms and helmets this season.
Both quarterbacks from 2016 are in the fold again for new offensive coordinator Max Drisko as senior Jorge Pola and sophomore Alejandro Ros split time a season ago and provide needed experience for Catholic's young skill position players.
Sophomore wideout Rey Riveros is expected to take a big jump in 2017 and lead a core group of pass catchers that includes juniors Andrew Lunarola, Andrew Keleher and Kyle Catalano along with seniors Greg Holodak and Blake Gomez. Junior Mike Alberto has taken well to a position switch from the backfield and landed the starting tight end spot.
Behind them, junior Nick Esposito takes over as the true, "lead-back" after splitting time last season, though he still led the team in yards and touchdowns. He is joined by sophomore Gavin Hurlbut, who has enjoyed a strong camp and latched on to the No. 2 spot.
Catholic's strength will indeed come from its line. The Cardinals return four starters in the offensive trenches and are anchored by senior captain and center Robbie Walsh and his classmate and left tackle, Brook Davenport. Senior Anthony Spadaccini and sophomore Gabriel O'Donnell are also back in the starting fold.
The Cardinal defense starts up front with all-conference defensive end Patrick Vidal. The senior is a potential all-region player after a strong 2016 which garnered workouts with the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles this offseason. He is joined on the line by sophomore nose tackle Jake O'Donoghue to form a strong one-two punch for Coach Gutelius.
Catholic's linebacking corps boasts size, speed and strength. Senior middle linebacker Anthony Santo, who led the team with 90 tackles last year, returns along with classmate and fellow 2016 starter Nick Della Jacono. Senior Greg Mayer, junior David Adams and sophomore Komani Turner round out an impressive backing group.
The secondary also returns two starters in senior safety Luke Kern and junior cornerback Jake Marcelino. The duo will be bookended by junior Joe Nacci and Isaiah Snead to form an athletic and fast defensive backfield.
Catholic was honored by Street & Smith's this summer with a Preseason All-American in senior Andrew DiNardo who ranked eighth in the nation last year with a 42.8 yards per punt average. He will be a useful weapon to set up the Cardinals' defensive attack.
Junior long-snapper Matt Perricone returns for his third year as a starter. He will look to set up the winner of a camp kicking battle between Gomez, and sophomores Pearce Bartlett and Joseph Bukuras.
Esposito ended last season with a 92-yard kickoff return in the final game and will join Riveros and rookie Onani Moore as a trio of talented returners.
Catholic opens the year on the road at McDaniel with its home-opener set for Saturday, September 9 against Utica. NEWMAC play begins when the Cards close a three-game homestand with MIT on Saturday, September 23.
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