Football Preview: Changes in store for the Bobcats
The Bates College football team was optimistic heading into the 2006 season, with a strong senior class — all eight members played significant roles for the Bobcats. But with a 1-7 finish, the end results were certainly a disappointment. Bates lost twice in overtime on Garcelon Field, including a NESCAC-record four-overtime, 10-7 heartbreaker against Colby. One silver lining was a staunch run defense, which ranked 11th in Division III at 67.1 yards allowed per game. Bates’ third consecutive victory over Hamilton concluded the season on a cheerful note, outgaining the Continentals 309 yards to 134 en route to a 20-6 rout at home.
Now the Bobcats are faced with replacing six starters, including three all-conference players: DE Terence Ryan, RB Jamie Walker and WR Dylan MacNamara. Ryan collected 22.5 sacks over his final two years, while Walker crossed the 2,000-yard career mark in rushing and MacNamara caught 127 passes for 1,388 yards. Other losses include DT Eric Obeng, S Adam Kayce, FB Adam Poplaski and WR/KR Jason Starrett. OL Raoul Scott was hurt in the first game of the season, giving him medical redshirt status. The 6-3, 270-pound Scott returns to his starting role at right tackle in 2007.
|Mark Harriman (left) enters his 10th season as head football coach at Bates.|
Mark Harriman enters his 10th season leading the Bates football program excited about a team to be led by a 14-member senior class.
“A large senior class brings a lot to a team. I think that’s going to be a real plus for us,” said Harriman. “We really need certain guys to step up and become better players. Every year you’ll see guys who go from their junior year to their senior year, and it’s almost like, ‘Wow, where the heck have you been for the past three years?’ There’s something that motivates guys beyond what they have been in the past.
“I’m excited for preseason, because at a number of positions there’s going to be tremendous competition to get on the field, and it’ll be interesting to see how some of these guys handle it.”
When the season begins with the home opener Sept. 22 against Amherst, both the offense and defense will see new wrinkles that range beyond the perennial changes in personnel.
Following is a preseason look at the 2007 Bates football team.
The departure of four-year starting fullback Poplaski conspires with a deep (and tall) group at tight end this season, and the result according to Harriman will be a great deal less two-running back offensive sets and a lot more two-tight end formations.
|Brandon Colon ’08 isn’t far away from three major Bates passing records.|
It may not take too long before Brandon Colon ’08 (Manchester, N.H.) owns three Bates career passing records. Colon enters the season with 3,772 career yards (the record is 4,488), 334 completions (the record is 349) and 703 attempts (the record is 845). Harriman’s hope is that a second year of running offensive coordinator Matt Dence’s offense, and a fourth year quarterbacking the Bates offense, may propel the 6-foot-1, 205-pound to his best season in a bright career. “Brandon has a tremendous amount of talent, and it’s nice to have him back. He’s certainly got a lot of tools for us,” said Harriman.
First-year quarterback Ryan Larsen (Hull, Mass.), the 6-3, 190-pound former starting quarterback at BC High, figures to back up Colon, although Harriman insists the starter’s job is up for grabs.
In front of Colon, several young offensive linemen’s hard-won experience of being thrown into the action last season probably didn’t help Bates much last season, yet it may be the best prescription for offensive consistency in 2007.
“Some of the areas that we knew were going to be weaknesses for us last year are now going to be strengths, like the offensive line,” said Harriman. “We had a lot of young guys and some injuries that forced us to play some freshmen who, in all honesty, probably weren’t ready to play, but now that’s going to be a strength. The ability for us to finish things is important, and when we have opportunities we need to be successful there. I think with more maturity on offense, especially up front, that’s going to help us.”
Second-year starter Brian Machunski ’08 (Walpole, Mass.), the Bobcats’ most experienced lineman after Raoul Scott and perhaps the most athletic lineman as well, will play left tackle, moving Ryan Wimberly ’09 (Sudbury, Mass.) inside to left guard. Sophomore David Myerson (Dover, Mass.), one of the youngsters thrown into the fire earlier than Harriman had wanted last year, has earned the opportunity to start at center. John MacKenzie ’09 (Gorham, Maine) takes the right guard spot alongside Scott, who returns to the starting right tackle position after taking a medical redshirt in 2006. Harriman, offensive coordinator Matt Dence and offensive line coach C.J. DeMatteo hope to develop strong three-man rotations at guard and tackle early on, with early favorites for playing time including Chris Ward ’09 (Millis, Mass.) and first-years Brendan Murphy (Sandwich, Mass.) and Mike Tetler (Worcester, Mass.), who stands 6-4 and weighs 285 pounds.
Harriman and Dence’s biggest offensive question mark to answer in the early going is who Colon will hand the ball off to. The head coach envisions a spirited battle for the starting role and for carries among Greg Thornton ’09 (Norwell, Mass.), Shawki White ’09 (Danville, Ill.) and Judd Smith ’10 (Milton, Mass.). White, who started all eight games last season at cornerback, nevertheless has the most proven track record when given the opportunity: in the two games of the 2005 season when he carried the ball more than once, against Middlebury and Hamilton, White rushed the ball 34 times for 183 yards two touchdowns. Thornton gained 74 yards on 26 carries as Jamie Walker’s backup last year. Ryan Mullin ’09 (Duxbury, Mass.) will be the Bobcats’ primary fullback.
|Matt Gregg ’10 leads a talented group of wide receivers.|
Complementing Colon’s arm and experience is a raft of wide receivers and tight ends, and Harriman is enthused about both of these position groups. Matt Gregg ’10 (Milton, Mass.) emerged quickly last season as an excellent deep threat, catching 24 passes for 409 yards and winning one NESCAC Rookie of the Week award. Four other receivers complete a group without much in the way of prior career numbers but loads of talent nonetheless: 5-10 Tom Beaton (West Newbury, Mass.), 6-3 MacEgan Starrett ’10 (Chagrin Falls, Ohio), 5-9 Dave Philbrook ’08 (Portland, Maine) and 5-11 Mark Flaherty ’09 (Walpole, Mass.). “Those five guys alone I think are as strong a receiving corps that we’ve ever had,” said Harriman.
The tight end corps is similarly loaded, with 6-4 third-year starter Ross Van Horn ’08 (Highland Park, N.J.) returning along with 6-2 Matt Sherburne ’10 (Windham, Maine), who saw a good deal of action after Van Horn went down late in the season with a back injury. New to the Bobcat offense is promising 6-3 first-year Chris Murtagh (Rowley, Mass.) and 6-6, 230-pound tight end Sean Wirth ’10 (Barrington, R.I.) who to Harriman’s delight transferred to Bates over the summer. “There’s the potential for us to have on the field at one time MacEgan Starrett, who’s 6-3 plus as a wideout, and then Ross, who’s close to 6-5, and then a 6-7 guy (Wirth) on the team at the same time,” said the Bobcats’ head coach and defensive coordinator. “As a defensive guy, I wouldn’t want to have to deal with that.”
Harriman grew pretty comfortable with his defense last season, for good reason. No. 1, Bates was very tough to run the ball against, allowing only 67.1 yards per game, 11th best in the country and third best in the NESCAC. Even more impressive, opponents averaged only 1.9 yards per carry against the Bobcats, second only to Trinity in the NESCAC. Bates pass defense was more problematic, allowing 198.2 passing yards per game including 13 touchdowns, tied with Wesleyan for the highest in the league.
As with his offense, Harriman hopes to cultivate depth as quickly as possible, for dual reasons: first, to have more varied personnel packages, especially on third down, and second, to keep his starters fresh for the fourth quarter.
With only one starter from the 2006 season, pass-rushing DE Anthony Begon ’08 (Peabody, Mass.), returning to the four-man defensive line, at first glance there’s a lack of experience here. But Tim Casey ’08 (Newbury, Mass.), who will man the opposite end of the line from Begon, has vast playing experience in the Bobcats’ rotation. And Matt Lopez ’08 (Lexington, Mass.) will return to start at defensive tackle as he did his sophomore year before shifting to shore up the ailing offensive line last season. So Bates has only one “newcomer” to find to start on the line — among the candidates are Rich McNeil ’10 (Lawrence, Mass.), Chris Hertz ’09 (East Burke, Vt.) and Nick Marlin ’09 (Holliston, Mass.).
With 9 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss over the past two seasons, Begon figures to draw double teams with Terence Ryan gone. “Anthony is a formidable player,” said Harriman. “If he takes the next step mentally, he can be an all-conference player.”
|The athleticism of Coleman Peeke ’09 is part of what makes Bates’ linebackers a team strength.|
The entire starting linebacker corps from 2006, perhaps the team’s strength last season, returns intact for 2007. “The linebacker group is as strong as we’ve had,” said Harriman. Captain Todd Wilcox ’08 (Brentwood, N.H.) and Graham Raymond ’08 (Westfield, Mass.), who each collected 50 tackles in 2006, tying for third on the team, start as the inside linebackers, where Harriman is looking for depth. Highly recruited Ted Durkin ’10 (Rye Beach, N.H.) is a candidate there.
Harriman is pretty well settled at outside linebacker. Ron DiGravio ’08 (Farmington, Maine), who led the team with 57 tackles in 2006 and was second with 11.5 tackles for a loss, pairs with another playmaker in Coleman Peeke ’09 (Exeter, N.H.). Greg Gumbs ’10 (Queens Village, N.Y.) came on strong last season, and Harriman opines that “he’s a guy who I think is really going to emerge in the next year.”
One of the coaching staff’s primary missions for preseason is to find a replacement for graduated free safety Adam Kayce. But the cornerback situation, for the first time in several years, is pretty well settled with Kevin Reyes ’08 (North Andover, Mass.) and Bill Jennings ’10 (Marshfield, Mass.). Harriman feels that Reyes, who caught a team-high four interceptions, “really emerged last year as a good player. He’s always had the ability, but he really gained some confidence.” And Jennings, who led the Bobcats with seven pass breakups in 2006, excited Bates coaches with his explosiveness and competitiveness.
Andrew Johnson ’10 (Naples, Fla.) proved he was consistently accurate from shorter distances, hitting all nine of his extra-point attempts, and will likely be retained in that role. But first-year Gavin Segall-Abrams (Greensboro, N.C.) is a kicking specialist who is likely to take care of punting and kickoff duties. Bill Jennings and Shawki White are mostly likely to be seen returning kickoffs, while Kevin Reyes will again be the primary punt returner.