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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

UNH football says no expectation is too high this season

DURHAM – Expectations for this year’s University of New Hampshire football team are high among people outside the program.

After advancing to the FCS semifinals for the first time, the Wildcats were picked to finish first in their conference, the Colonial Athletic Association, and were No. 4 in the preseason FCS Coaches Poll. ...

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DURHAM – Expectations for this year’s University of New Hampshire football team are high among people outside the program.

After advancing to the FCS semifinals for the first time, the Wildcats were picked to finish first in their conference, the Colonial Athletic Association, and were No. 4 in the preseason FCS Coaches Poll.

But like any other year, those rankings don’t mean a whole lot to the folks in Durham. They’ve got expectations of their own, and in some cases, they’re even loftier than the rankings.

“Last year, we did a good job, but this year, we want to be perfect,” quarterback Sean Goldrich said. “Win every game, make that statement, take that step with the program that we’ve never done. Now that we’ve been there and we’ve played in that semifinal game, we know what it takes.

“When it came playoff time, we stepped up and did what we had to do, but it wasn’t enough. We worked hard last year, but we need to work harder and that starts from Day 1.”

Training camp may have started for UNH a little more than a week, and the season doesn’t get underway until Aug. 30 at Toledo, but Day 1 was back in January for just about everyone in the program.

“They’ve put in a fair amount of work and it started right in January, when they went home for break,” UNH coach Sean McDonnell said. “They had five weeks home and came back in shape. I thought we had a good spring this year, and that was set up by a good winter program. The summer, we had the best conditioned team coming back with our testing, in the running especially, so I felt pretty good about that.”

The Wildcats have plenty of returning players to feel good about, too, including Goldrich, who ended last year as the starter at quarterback and will go into the season that way. But that doesn’t mean Andy Vailas, a Bishop Guertin graduate who saw his fair share of action last year, won’t get his chance to see the field.

“We’ve got one and one-A in my mind,” McDonnell said. “One great thing about having quarterbacks that are that good, and having two of them, you can expand the role of the position. It’s huge to have two great kids like that.”

McDonnell also expects there to be a pretty good battle between Adam Riese and Chris
McCormick for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart at quarterback. That could come into play, given that both Goldrich and Vailas have missed time due to injuries in each of the last two years.

The Wildcats also return a lot at the skill positions, led by running back Nico Steriti (1,062 yards rushing, eight touchdowns) and receiver R.J. Harris (76 receptions, 1,004 yards, five touchdowns). Steriti and Harris were the only UNH players named to the preseason all-conference team.

“R.J. Harris is obviously one to look out for,” Goldrich said. “He’s a great athlete, and ever since I started playing with him, I thought he was going to be a good player. Kyon Taylor is going to be great to watch, too. He’s matured the last couple of years.”

There’s experience back on the offensive line as well, led by captain Rob Bowman. UNH will have to replace Seamus O’Neil and Ricky Archer, but the return of Mike Coccia from injury, plus the experienced gained by Alexander Morrill and Tad McNeely, who both filled in for Coccia, should help.

The big question mark is at tackle, where Alex Blane, Austin Heter and Andrew Lauderdale are competing for spots.

“We’re going to put the best five offensive linemen on the field,” McDonnell said. “We could move some of those interior people to tackle. There’s competition.”

Defensively, the Wildcats will be looking for depth up front during training camp. Matt Kaplan will lead the way along the interior defensive line, along with Rashid Armand and Julian Turner. At end, Cody Muller, Bowman’s co-captain, will be back after receiving a sixth year for medical hardship from the NCAA.

DeVaughn Chollette, Akil Anderson and Shane McNeely all saw time at linebacker last year, but like at the tackle position, the coaching staff is looking for a fourth guy to step up and fill the depth chart.

The biggest hole to fill on defense will be at safety, where UNH lost Manny Asam to graduation.

“Danny Rowe and Tre Williams are battling for that right now,” McDonnell said. “Losing Asam is huge and we’re not just talking about football. We’re talking about energy and leadership and effort. Things you can’t put a price tag on.”

UNH will play six of its 11 games at home this year, and thanks to upgrades to Cowell Stadium, only one of those six will kickoff before 3 p.m.

After opening at Toledo on Aug. 30, the Wildcats have a bye before hosting Lehigh on Sept. 13 for a 3:30 kickoff. The home schedule also includes Dartmouth (Sept. 27, 6 p.m.), William & Mary (Oct. 11, 3:30), Stony Brook (Oct. 25, 3), Albany (Nov. 1, 6) and Delaware (Nov. 15, 1).