Football team looks to round the corner in 2006
Bates’ 2-6 record in 2005 belied how competitive the team was in all but three games.
The 2005 Bates College football team finished 2-6 for the third consecutive season, yet showed flashes of accomplishing much more.
Three of the six losses told the story of a team with promise. At Williams College, the Bobcats led the Ephs (who finished 6-2) for nearly an entire game before succumbing by an 8-7 score. They led Bowdoin (who finished 6-2) 14-0 in the fourth quarter before losing by a touchdown, and succumbed to Colby (who finished 7-1) by seven points as well.
Can 2006 be the year the Bobcats break out of this rut? Several signs say yes.
“I think a key to it is confidence,” said head coach Mark Harriman, who enters his ninth season leading the team. “Last season, I think there were times when we looked pretty good. We had an opportunity to put Bowdoin away and we didn’t, and to me that comes down to confidence. It comes from your older leaders to an extent, and if we can demonstrate that as we go through our preseason, that’s something that will help their confidence. The rest is believing in themselves.”
Joining Harriman’s staff this season are three new faces. Matt Dence will be the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Chris Kempton will coordinate special teams and coach defensive backs, and Josh Hedrick will coach the wide receivers. Remaining on staff are Craig Vandersea (running backs), Skip Capone (defensive line), C.J. DeMatteo (offensive line), Joe DeMatteo (outside linebackers) and David Bodger ’06 (tight ends). Harriman will coordinate the defense and coach the inside linebackers.
Bates’ senior tri-captains are safety Adam Kayce (North Easton, Mass.), defensive end Terence Ryan (Milton, Mass.) and running back Jamie Walker (Needham, Mass.).
Senior Eric Obeng has been moved inside to defensive tackle, maximizing the talent the Bobcats have along their defensive line.
The Bobcats’ hopes probably begin with their defense, where they return nine starters from 2005.
“We have an opportunity, I think, to be a very good defense,” said Harriman.
Bates ranked second in the NESCAC in quarterback sacks with 22, with First Team All-NESCAC end Ryan collecting 10.5 of them, the highest total for any NESCAC player since New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini had the same number in 1993 for Wesleyan. Ryan, who also led the league in tackles for a loss with 12.5, figures to draw special interest from opposing offensive lines, yet the Bobcats can make them pay with high-quality pass rushers at other spots. Junior Anthony Begon (Lynn, Mass.), who collected 4.0 sacks, will man the other defensive end spot. Talented senior Eric Obeng (Wellesley, Mass.), who missed most of the 2005 season to injury, moves inside to defensive tackle, alongside senior Chris Robinson (Alexandria, Va.). Junior Tim Casey (Newbury, Mass.) and sophomores Nick Marlin (Holliston, mass.) and Dave Marr (Milton, Mass.) will also see playing time along the line, while first-year Rich McNeil (Lawrence, Mass.) may also have an early impact.
“That’s a very strong group on the defensive line for us,” said Harriman. “We’ll always be a team that’s going to bring pressure [via the blitz], but it’s nice to be able to get pressure on the QB without blitzing.”
Linebacker also looks like a strong spot for Bates. Junior Todd Wilcox (Brentwood, N.H.), who was among the conference leaders in tackles (8.1 per game) and sacks (4.0), will be paired with classmate Graham Raymond (Westfield, Mass.) on the inside. Raymond, a backup last year and a thrower and triple-jumper on the track and field team, has the athletic ability to become a solid player for Bates. Harriman said finding a backup inside linebacker will be an early priority in training camp.
“Todd Wilcox is going to be a very, very good player. He’s got all the intangibles that we look for,” said Harriman. “And I think Graham Raymond is ready to step into his own.”
Harriman is enthused about his group of outside linebackers, where junior Casey McCormack (Keene, N.H.) moves in from safety last season to join junior Ron DiGravio (Farmington, Maine) and sophomore Coleman Peeke (Exeter, N.H.), a one-time NESCAC Rookie of the Week last season.
“That, as a core, is probably the most competitive position we have right now,” said Harriman. “They all bring great things to the table, and it’s going to be exciting to see those guys compete.”
At free safety, Kayce, who shared the NESCAC lead in interceptions with four, will anchor of the defensive secondary. A hard hitter with excellent ball perception, Kayce has spent time at cornerback and strong safety, but seems to have found his ideal position at free safety. At cornerback, junior Kevin Reyes (North Andover, Mass.) returns as a starter, while sophomore Shawki White (Danville, Ill.), a converted running back, likely has the inside lane for the other starting spot, with sophomore Corey Pattison (Dedham, Maine) also in the running.
Junior QB Brandon Colon sharpened his skills in 2005, setting a school record for lowest interception percentage.
In addition to the ever-present issue of staying healthy, Bates’ offensive line may hold the keys to the team’s fortunes. The Bobcats return all but one of their starters from the offensive skill positions, but have only one offensive lineman coming back.
“Having basically our entire skill positions back on offense is a real plus,” said Harriman. “It’s one of the few times we’ve been in that position.”
Junior quarterback Brandon Colon (Manchester, N.H.), the 2004 NESCAC Offensive Rookie of the Year, returns poised for a big season. Colon’s total passing yards took a slight dip in his sophomore year, from 1,388 to 1,165, but the strong-armed passer set a school record for lowest interception percentage, with only five giveaways in 226 attempts.
“Brandon is one of the best guys we’ve had here. It’s nice to see that he’s taking that next step in leading the offense,” said Harriman.
Colon’s primary target will be senior All-NESCAC wide receiver Dylan MacNamara (San Francisco, Calif.), who ranked in the top four in the conference in receptions (5.5 per game) and receiving yards (63.9). Senior Jason Starrett (South Euclid, Ohio) and junior Dave Philbrook (Portland, Maine), both of whom have primarily served as special teams contributors, each have the opportunity for many more snaps on offense this season. And it is a goal of Harriman’s to get the ball more often to big and athletic tight end Ross Van Horn (Highland Park, N.J.).
Harriman is pleased with his depth in the backfield. Walker, who finished the season with two straight 100-yard games and was fourth in the NESCAC in rushing (77.7 ypg), has been very effective when healthy. Sophomore Greg Thornton’s (Norwell, Mass.) season ended via injury in the second game, but the Bobcats should benefit from his explosiveness carrying the ball in 2006. Three-year starter Adam Poplaski (Cheshier, Mass.) returns at fullback, along with hard-nosed sophomore Ryan Mullin (Duxbury, Mass.).
Up front, while Bates loses four starters, they still have significant experience at three spots along the offensive line. Juniors Ryan Wimberly (Sudbury, Mass.) and Brian Machunski (Walpole, Mass.) both saw a great deal of playing time last season, and Raoul Scott (Newton, Mass.) returns to start at right tackle, opposite the 6-3, 275-pound Wimberly at left tackle. Machunski will start at guard along with junior Matt Lopez (Lexington, Mass.), who returns to the offensive line after switching to the defensive side in 2005. Starting at center will be sophomore John MacKenzie (Gorham, Maine), converted from tight end.
“We’re losing some size along the offensive line, but we’ll be very athletic up front, especially those three guys in the middle,” said Harriman.
Starrett and Reyes return as the Bobcats’ primary returners of kickoffs and punts, respectively, while a surplus of other players also have those capabilities. But at the kicking positions, Bates has competition during preseason. Sophomore defensive back Zach Demma (Holden, Mass.) and junior Andy St. James (Mansfield, Mass.) both have experience kicking in Bobcat practices, while first-year Andrew Johnson (Naples, Fla.) joins the team as a kicking specialist. St. James and sophomore defensive lineman Chris Hertz (Burke, Vt.) will compete for punting duties.
“We’ve got some guys with good legs, it’s just a matter of getting them experience,” said Harriman. “The one thing that will be nice is to have some people pushing each other [for spots].”
Harriman says the incoming first-year class is potentially the best group of skill position players he and his staff have recruited to Bates. Among them are quarterback Tom Beaton (West Newbury, Mass.), wide receiver MacEgan Starrett (Chagrin Falls, Ohio), and running backs Kyle McAllister (Exeter, N.H.), Bill Jennings (Marshfield, Mass.) and Judd Smith (Milton, Mass.). All of them – save perhaps for Starrett, who is recovering from shoulder surgery — are likely to make a quick impact on special teams. Some are likely to make significant contributions on either offense or defense, as well, yet at what positions remains to be determined.
The Bobcats will scrimmage against Colby in Waterville on Sept. 16 before opening their season at Amherst on Sept. 23 at 1 p.m. The remaining games are as follows: at Tufts Sept. 30; vs. Williams Oct. 7; vs. Wesleyan Oct. 14; at Middlebury Oct. 21; vs. Colby Oct. 28; at Bowdoin Nov. 4; and vs. Hamilton Nov. 11. The Bobcats will not face NESCAC champion Trinity in 2006.