Football Picked 5th by Coaches but Aim Higher
WASHINGTON-- During last Friday's ODAC Media Day, the league released the preseason coaches poll, which placed CUA fifth. However, the top four spots each split first place votes, making for another tough race throughout the conference.
The 2009 edition of the CUA cardinals look to continue the trend set by last year's squad: winning championships. The Cardinals will feature a healthy mix of veterans and some new faces on both sides of the ball. Of course repeating the success of last year's squad (A 9-2 record, an ODAC league co-championship, and an ECAC bowl championship) will not be an easy task but the team certainly has all the pieces in place to get the job done.
As Dave Dunn enters his fourth season, he has proven himself as one of the best young head coaches in the country at any level. In the season prior to his arrival the Cardinals were winless. Now, not only are the Cardinals raising championship banners, they are boasting very impressive recruiting classes, a stellar team GPA, and a record of community service that makes the university proud. He has built a team that is setting the bar even higher in the classroom while shattering team and ODAC records on the field. Coach Dunn has also assembled a phenomenal staff that has proven so qualified and loyal that no new coaches will be joining the staff this season.
"I think we have on of the finest staffs for any level of football. We have coaches who can really develop a young man and the players have really bought into it. We have worked incredibly hard this off season to make ourselves a much better football team in every way, shape, and form. I know a lot of people will be looking at what we have lost, but I think we have a group of returners and an impact group of freshman that will really surprise some people."
When people think CUA football, they think of offense and right they should. Last year's squad averaged over 32 points per game and was amongst the leaders in the nation in total and passing offense. This season the offense will look to continue the exciting, spread attack that Coach Dunn has established since his arrival to the Washington D.C. campus. When it comes to losses none is more glaring then the graduation of the schools all time passing leader and last season's offensive player of the year, Keith Ricca. While the quarterback position is always one of the easiest to see and identify, it is those names you don't hear so often that has Coach Dunn so excited for this season. CUA returns six players who have started on an offensive line that averaged well under a sack a game last year despite throwing the ball over 40 times a game. The line will be led by three all conference performers: Jim Gehringer, Rich Brennan, and Chris McNicholas. Joining them up front will be Anthony Scotti who returns to his familiar guard spot. At the other tackle spot Soph. Ethan Metelenis will be battling former starter Sean Fryer who is returning from an injury that cost him all of last season.
The line will be opening holes for Rich Barry, who has seen a lot of playing time while playing next to graduated all conference tailback Greg Brown. Barry has proven himself a quality runner who not only had a gaudy 5.3 yards per carry average last season but also excels at catching the ball. He will be part of the usual CUA system of letting multiple backs touch the ball, so expect several other players to also be featured at the position.
The Cardinals also have the unenviable task of replacing three all conference receivers with the graduations of Miles Sabrick, Andrew Bias, and Ryan McManus. Veterans Mike Smith and Spencer Robinson will look to step up from their roles last season as major contributors to become premier receivers. Alonzo Cooke last year showed that despite being a freshman he brought a level of talent that was immediately noticed. As a sophomore he will look to continue to elevate his game and be a leader in the ODAC amongst receivers. Transfers Scott Ritter and Jim Loomis will join John Obrien as the replacements for McManus at the tight end position. The multi-talented Obrien will also be seen in the CUA backfield as well as all over the field on special teams.
Last year's CUA defense made fans rethink their impression of what the program was all about. The Catholic University of America's football team has always been known for its record smashing, wide open, explosive offense while the defense has often been an after thought. This has changed since the arrival of Brian Zyglocke two seasons ago, who has established an equally exciting defense. Last year CUA finished 11th in the country in turnovers and 16th in sacks, while leading the ODAC in passing defense, pass efficiency defense, interceptions, and sacks. While the defense looks to be even better than last year, they have suffered some key losses as well. Graduated is the ODAC Defensive player of the year, Nick Olivero, and linebacker Bill Gross. Both were multiple all conference players and tremendous leaders on and off the field.
Despite the loss of Olivero, the secondary continues to be one of the standout units and one of the best in the country. Tommy Roberson and Dylan Oshea return to their roles as the two starting corners on a defense that was the toughest to pass on last year in the ODAC, both in overall yards and efficiency. Also back is Kyle Gaughn, who has started multiple games over his three year career and only was able to play the second half of last season due to injury. These three standouts will also be joined by a player who spent some time roaming the secondary last season with them, Soph. Minaird Cullpepper. As a freshman, Culpepper finished amongst the team leaders in tackles, intercepted two passes and recovered two fumbles all while learning the ropes of college football.
The linebackers will also be stepping up quickly from the loss of an all conference player. Fifth year seniors, Avetus Stone and Joe Mayer, will both be back for their final season. Mayer will return to the weak side linebacker position he started all of last season while Stone will be looking to not leave the field after rotating nearly every series last season. On the outside, Christian Pavick will look to build upon what was a good sophomore year that saw him establish himself as the starter.
The defensive line is another position which would have seemingly been weakened by graduation but still features several key returners. Graduated are all conference players David Woo and Sean Green, as well as all conference and all ECAC defensive end Dean Petrone. Back for the Cardinals are starters Dave Boone and Rob Shaetzl. Boone had over 30 tackles last season to go with 3 sacks and 4 tackles for loss. Also returning is Joe Martin and Terrence Cooney, who both saw significant playing time last season for the Cardinals, appearing in every game. Martin had a sack last season, forced a fumble, and recovered a fumble as well. Cooney had 25 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
The Cardinals improved in all areas of special teams last year, but they punted the ball especially well, creating terrible field position for their opponents on those rare occasions the offense did not drive for a score. Thomas Breslin was amongst the best punters in the country last year and was first team all ODAC, averaging nearly 40 yards per punt. His longest punt last year was a mind blowing 66 yard punt but even more amazingly he had eight punts over 50 yards. Breslin does not simply have a booming leg, he was able to pin 13 punts inside the 20 with superior directional kicking. While the Cardinals did lose their starting returners from last year, back will be Brendan Deluca at kicker. Deluca hit over 60 percent of his field goals last year and was perfect inside of 35 yards.
The Cardinals features yet again one of the tougher schedules in division III football with a mix of familiar opponents and one new foe. What is missing from this year's schedule is the brutal late 3 game conference road trip which the team had to endure last season. The season opens at home in familiar fashion with Shenandoah, who Catholic has opened the season with for the last 3 years. The team will then go on a two game road trip to play Franklin and Marshal in Pennsylvania and McDaniel in western Maryland where they look to continue their dominance over the Centennial Conference. Returning home the Cardinals will play host to Randolph Macon in their conference opener and look to avenge one of their two losses last season. After resting during a week off, the team will return to the road to play ODAC rival Washington and Lee in Lexington, Virginia. The following week the team will take possibly the shortest road trip in team history as they travel less than four miles within the District to play Gallaudet University. CUA will then start a three game home stand playing ODAC opponents Hampton-Sydney, Emory and Henry, and Guilford. The team's regular season will conclude on the road when they are hosted by Bridgewater College on the second weekend of November.