April 7, 2009

2009 Spring Football Preview


BLOOMSBURG - The Bloomsburg University football team has a lot to build on following a highly successful 2008 season that saw them finish 11-2 overall, 6-1 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Eastern Division. Bloomsburg was the top seed in their region and advanced to the Division II Super 1 Regional Final before falling to California, (Pa.) 27-24.

Entering his 17th season as the head football coach at Bloomsburg University, Danny Hale knows a lot is expected of his team following last season's success. "We are aware of the high expectations, but that comes with the territory," said Hale. "We've had a really good winter program and we've had high player turnout. That reflects a lot of the same enthusiasm we have about this team."

The Huskies return nine all-conference selections from last season, including senior quarterback Dan Latorre(Elysburg/Southern Columbia), senior cornerback Jesse Cooper (Sewell, NJ/Washington Twp.) and sophomore running back Derrick Price (Burlington, NJ/Burlington City) , the reigning PSAC Freshman of the Year.

Quarterback

Latorre, named one of the teams captains, returns for his fourth season under center for the Huskies. Latorre, a two-two time All-PSAC selection, has been the model of consistency and productivity for Bloomsburg. The 6-0, 207 senior from Catawissa has started 37 games while throwing for 5, 658 career yards and 49 touchdowns in his Bloomsburg career, placing him third in school history in both categories. "Dan (Latorre) is such a weapon to have, and I think everyone knows what he brings to the table," said Hale. "The important thing this spring is to have him work with some of our young wide receivers to get them up to speed."

Sophomore Mike Wagner (Hershey/Hershey) is back after playing in four games as a true freshman, completing five passes in limited duty. "Mike is a very heady kid," said Hale. "He's very cerebral and has the benefit of being experienced in our sprint draw package." The Huskies also added transfer Pat Carey (Loyalsock/Loyalsock Twp.) who comes to Bloomsburg from Division 1-AA Lafayette. Carey threw for 6,409 yards and 55 touchdowns in his high school career. Former Line Mountain quarterback Clarke Morris will also be in the mix after redshirting as a freshman.

Tailback

Sophomores Price and Kenny Domzalski (Milford/Delaware Valley) emerged as possibly the best running back tandem in the PSAC and one of the better ones in the country, combining for 2,157 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns as redshirt freshmen. Price set the school freshman rushing record last season with 1,278 yards and was named the PSAC Eastern Division Freshman of the Year. Domzaski, who rushed for 878 yards as a freshman, will be limited in the spring season after suffering an injury. Hale, though, expects he will be 100 percent when fall camp opens.

Seniors James Sweeting III (Hughesville/Hughesville/Liberty) and Marc Best (Bushkill/East Stroudsburg North) return to provide depth at the tailback position. Sweeting received an extra semester from eligibility and Best returns for his senior season. Both players had 100 yards rushing against Cheyney last season.

At fullback, senior Stefan Adams (West Chester/Henderson) returns for his senior campaign. Named a captain for 2009, Adams has rushed for 757 yards and 15 touchdowns in his Bloomsburg career. "Stefan is a very versatile player who can do a lot of things for us," said Hale. "He's a good fullback who can play tailback as needed." Matt Cox (Lewisberry/Red Land) will provide quality depth behind Adams. Cox emerged late last season as an effective blocker.

Wide Receiver

"This is going to be a big spring for our receivers," said Hale. "If we are going to be an effective offensive team, especially on third and long, we are going to have to have receivers who can make a play." The leading three returning wide receivers are seniors Jordan Weisman (Mt. Laurel, NJ/Lenape) and Cory Stiger (Williamsport/Loyalsock Twp.) . The duo combined for 15 catches and 206 yards last season. Redshirt freshman Chris Boyer (Hummelstown/Hershey) , Matt Marichone (Wilmington, DE/Brandywine), Ryan Stuart (New Tripoli/Allentown CC) and sophomore Keter Crosby (Tobyhanna/Pocono Mnt. West) all have the opportunity contribute. Sophomore Tyler Guise (Mechanicsburg/Cumberland Valley) moves to receiver after playing safety last season, and cornerback Jesse Cooper could see some snaps on offense as well. Former punter Drew Snyder rejoins the team after a one year absence, this time as a receiver.

At tight end, junior Ben Weaber (Lebanon/Cedar Crest) is entering his third season as a starter. Weaber is the leading returning receiver from last season, finishing 2008 with 11 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. "Ben is a special player for us," said Hale. "He's a smart and tough player, but he's such an effective blocker and pass-catcher he really opens up our offense." The Huskies possess good depth at this spot. Sophomore Dylan Manni (Bensalem/Bensalem) started one game last season, and sophomore Luke Nagy (Manheim/Manheim Central) and redshirt freshman Mark Daniels (Sinking Spring/Wilson) are also options.

Offensive Line

The Huskies lost three starters from last season, including two-time first team All-PSAC selection Matt Bosso and second-team All-PSAC selections Luke Beall and Joe Kantz. The 2008 line paved the way for an offense that led the PSAC and ranked fourth nationally in rushing yards per game with 266 yards per game on the ground. The Huskies do return juniors Justin Walker (Coatesville/Coatesville) and Daryl Kurtz (Milton/Milton) as well as senior Matt Truscott (Allentown/Emmaus) . The trio has combined for 39 starts. "Obviously losing the experience of those three guys will be difficult to replace, but with the three guys we return, there is a lot of starting experience," said Hale. Walker and Truscott will line up on the right side, while Kurtz and junior Pat Casey (Matamoras/Delaware Valley) will make up the left side. Casey played in 11 games last year as a reserve. At center, senior Tyler Azzalina (Bethlehem/Freedom) will take over at center after appearing in five games a year ago.

Sophomores Brandon Allen (Philadelphia/Frankford) and Mike Finnerty (Old Forge/Old Forge) will be called upon to fill out the two- deep. Redshirt freshman Alex Buchert (Robesonia/Conrad Weiser) , Marc Francola (Bloomsburg/Bloomsburg) and Brian Clarke (Hanover Twp./Hanover) will fill out the rest of the two-deep. Francola threw the shot-put in the off-season for Bloomsburg.

Defensive Line

Bloomsburg losses on the defensive line begin with replacing Jon Ochs. Ochs led the PSAC in sacks with eight and tied for second in tackles for loss with 17.5. He finished 49 tackles, 35 of them solo, and forced five fumbles and recovered one other. Earl McNeil also departs after finishing with 28 tackles, five for loss and three sacks. He also forced two fumbles. "We will miss what Jon and Earl brought to the table," said Hale. "But we bring back a lot of experience and ability. We have some guys ready to make a big leap if they can stay healthy."

At defensive tackle, The Huskies return a very effective four-player rotation. Juniors Todd Givler (Glenmoore/Downingtown West) and Marcus Zimmerman (Lititz/Manheim Central) combined for 17 starts last season, while junior Dave Huot (Bethlehem/Freedom) and sophomore Kenny Orlando (Womelsdorf/Conrad Weiser) both saw considerable action. Huot was the leading tackler amongst defensive tackles making 37 stops and was second on the team with 2.5 sacks. Zimmerman was not far behind, with 25 tackles and two sacks.

Sophomores Tyree Dudley (Philadelphia/Frankford) , Josh Chromiak (Wind Gap/Penn Argyl) and redshirt freshman Mike Schlaugh (Zion Grove/Bloomsburg) are coming off productive winter sessions. Dudley hopes to rebound after missing all of last season with an injury.

At defensive end, the Huskies will be buoyed by the returns of Alfonso Nathan (Philadelphia/Milton Hershey) and Justin Presley (Philadelphia/George Washington) . Nathan emerged in his first season as starter as one of the better pass rushing threats in the PSAC last season, finishing with 34 tackles and five tackles for loss. Presley was also a pleasant surprise, playing in all 13 games and making 31 tackles with 3.5 for loss. "Justin took a big step forward this past season and carried that though the winter," said Hale. "Between him and Alfonso we feel pretty good about our defensive ends." Sophomores John Pettine (Gilbertsville/Archbishop Carroll) and Dave Onorato (Hummelstown/Bishop McDevitt) will see action at defensive end. Onorato moves over after playing linebacker as a freshman. Sophomore Steve Justick (Bloomsburg/ Bloomsburg) , who transfers to Bloomsburg after playing basketball at Penn State Hazleton, could make an impact as well.

Linebacker

The Huskies lose two very productive starters from last season in Greg Myers and Dan Tillotson. Both players were multi-year starters and the Huskies leading tacklers last season. "Losing those two is big, they were both very productive. This spring is going to be very important in terms of getting guys ready to play," said Hale.

Senior Anthony Smith (Pottstown/Pottstown) will get the first look at middle linebacker. Smith played in 12 games last season, starting one. "Anthony is a smart player who has been around for a while. We are confident in his abilities," said Hale. Sophomore Pat Michael (Girard/Fairview) played in nine games as a true freshman and will see playing time.

On the outside, sophomores Michael Varanavage (Philadelphia/Archbishop Ryan) and Thomas McFarland (Pottsville/Pottsville) had breakout seasons as sophomores. The two combined for 105 tackles, 66 solo, and six tackles for loss. Redshirt freshman Mike Ashe (Rockville, MD/Thomas J. Wooten) and Sean Clift (Philadelphia/Roman Catholic) could also work their way into the rotation. Sophomores Ryan Olaf (Danville/Danville) and Josh Sigman (Easton/Easton) return to the line backing core after not being with the team in 2008.

"The biggest thing with our linebackers is that they need to gel," said Hale. "They need to get on the field as a unit and be able to work together and get batter together. When you aren't on the field, you lose some of the instincts and ability to play off of each other. Getting these guys reps is going to be very important to us this spring."

Secondary

Bloomsburg returns three starters from a secondary that surrendered only 14 touchdowns and picked off 12 passes last season. Cooper enters his fourth season as a starter having started 37 consecutive games for the Huskies. He was selected first team All-PSAC East in as a defensive back and a specialist last season. He finished the finished the regular season with 38 tackles to go along with nine passes broken up and four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Cooper led the PSAC and ranked in the top ten nationally in kick return average at over 30 yards per attempt. He may also see some snaps on offense as a wide receiver.

On the other side, sophomore Oscar Rivera (Bethlehem/Liberty) returns after starting all 13 games as a true freshman. Rivera finished third on the team in tackles with 53 with six pass break ups. He also had two interceptions, including a 52-yard interception return for touchdown against fifth-ranked California (Pa.) in week two.

Junior Dan Oliver (Cheltenham/ LaSalle Univ.) emerged as the nickel back in his first season after transferring from LaSalle. He made 25 tackles and recovered two fumbles. Vince Browning (Harrisburg/Central Dauphin) also could see more time after a strong freshman season. Browning's 58-yard interception return for a touchdown against East Stroudsburg propelled Bloomsburg to victory against the Warriors. Sophomores Nick Ciccone (Drexel Hill/Upper Darby) , Mark Scattene (Bethlehem/Bethlehem Catholic) , Terrell Ogelsby (Philadelphia/Northeast Catholic) and Andre Glover (Pottstown/Pottsgrove) will provide depth at corner.

At safety, the Huskies return second team All-PSAC selection Dominique Price (Easton/Easton). Price played well in his first season at safety, finishing with 47 tackles and three pass break ups. Junior Alex Landis (Pine Grove/Pine Grove) could step in for the departed Andre Ellis at the other safety spot. Landis played in all 13 games a year ago, logging 30 tackles and an interception. Sophomore Justin Rivera (Bethlehem/Liberty) , Oscar's brother, was a standout on special teams and will contribute. Sophomore Andrew Flogel (Leavittown/Neshaminy) and redshirt freshman Dan Haverstock (York/West York) will be counted on to supply depth.

Special Teams

Senior placekicker Jon Koenig (Pine Grove/Pine Grove) returns for the 2009 season. Koenig has emerged as one of the top kickers in school history, setting several records. He connected on all 54 PAT attempts; tying Garret Bloom's (2002-05) record for most PAT's in a season. He also broke the career record for extra points made (143), passing the 139 previously held by Tom Boop (1996-99). Koenig has connected on 64 consecutive extra points dating back to the 2007 season. He connected on 7-12 field goal attempts last season, with a long of 42 yards. Sophomore Dennis Curran (Neshaminy /Lackawanna JC) will get an opportunity to contribute. Curran transfers to Bloomsburg from Lackawanna Junior College and could kickoff.

Koenig assumed the role of punter midway through last season when incumbent Kyle Ream was injured. Koenig averaged 34.6 yards per punt.

Jesse Cooper and Tyler Guise will once again return kickoffs. Cooper was first in the PSAC and sixth nationally in kickoff returns, averaging 30.6 yards per return, returning one for a touchdown. He was named first team all-conference as a specialist, and also returns punts.

Outlook

"I have been telling these guys since day one, the expectations are high here and little things like making team meetings, being on time and training hard are attributes of great teams," said Hale. "I really enjoy spring football because it gives coaches the opportunity to evaluate different aspects of the team without the pressure of having to go out and win every single week."

The Huskies will be tested immediately when the 2009 season begins, as they will host Ashland on August 27th. That is followed by a three game road trip to defending regional champion California (Pa.), Mercyhurst and Kutztown. Hale knows expectations are high following last season's playoff run. "Obviously, that has raised the expectation level, but we are used to that here. We expect to be right back in the mix for the PSAC crown and another playoff run."