Saints Ready to Welcome Ithaca to Open 2009 Season
Sept. 4: The St. Lawrence University football team, led by a veteran group that includes 30 seniors, is ready to roll into its 2009 schedule on Saturday as the Saints play host to No. 10 Ithaca at Leckonby Stadium. The Scarlet and Brown will be looking to knock off the Bombers for the first time since 1983, and though it is a tough task, Coach Phelps is confident thanks to what he has seen throughout the preseason.
"We had a strong contingent of players come to camp in the best shape of their careers," said Coach Phelps, who enters his ninth season at the helm at his alma mater. "The team has been focused since day one, and despite a touch schedule ahead, I think we have enough talent and skill to compete with anyone."
Offensively, St. Lawrence graduated two All-Conference offensive linemen, Tim LaRose and Chris Lutgens. The Saints will also need to replace leading receiver Ryan Cooney, who earned All-Conference honors, and captain Carl Festa, a former All-conference player who missed several games due to injury in 2008.
Captain Connor Hackett returns for his senior season at tail back after missing much of 2008 due to a hampering injury. Hackett was an All-Conference player as a sophomore and boasts both power and speed that makes him one of the Saints' primary offensive weapons, having totaled 20 career touchdowns in 24 collegiate games. Fellow senior Eric Jones burst onto the scene in Hackett's absence last year at tailback as well as at fullback. Jones landed on the Liberty League's Second Team offense having piled up a team-high 638 yards on 122 carries in 2008. Ramon Mignott and Marcus Washington will also be focal points out of the backfield this season.
After a great quarterback battle in training camp, Coach Phelps has named junior Michael Baraldi the starter under center for the second straight year. Baraldi, who was hurt in the 2008 opener at Johns Hopkins, gets the nod ahead of classmate JP Kearney, who was the primary starter in Baraldi's absence last year.
"Mike (Baraldi) had a very strong camp and is ready to lead the offense," said Coach Phelps. "I'm also reassured to know that we have JP (Kearney) ready to go if we need him after gaining valuable experience last year."
Baraldi will have a variety of weapons in the passing game this season, including an athletic group of wide receivers and a solid tight end target in junior Tim Robinson. Senior Mike Wayne, a converted quarterback, will start alongside classmate Anthony Patterson at wide receiver, while play-making threats junior Alcee Walker and sophomore Ethan Sutton will see regular time as well. Meanwhile, Robinson's versatility to be attached as a blocking tight end or spread the field makes him a commodity for the Saints' offense in 2009.
In the trenches, senior McLean Beyor joins classmates Jon Thomas and Justin Wacenske in anchoring an offensive line that will look to replace two All-Conference players. Senior Donavon Edwards has shifted from tight end to left tackle to help shore up the line, while classmate Rob Kunces moved from tackle to guard and joins Edwards on the left side as a starter.
"We had to do some juggling to get our best combination of offensive linemen on the field," explained Coach Phelps. "I think this group will show both poise and leadership with five seniors up front."
On the defensive side of the ball, the Saints' graduated six starters including All-Conference honorees Devaun McFarland and Andy Welkley. The 2008 season was highlighted by the emergence of Gerard Bryant on to the national scene, as the White Plains, NY, native was a First Team All-American and was named CDS' 2009 Pre-Season Defensive Player of the Year. However, Bryant, a captain along with senior Mike Battaglia, will be surrounded on the defensive side of the ball by several playmakers who gained valuable playing experience last fall.
Juniors Justin Vega and Nate Howard add size and strength alongside Bryant on the defensive line, while senior Tom Lagos rounds out the team's front four. A season-ending ACL injury to junior Chris Palmer took away some solid depth for the defensive line, but if this group can control the line of scrimmage, the squad's defense can turn to its experienced duo of inside linebackers, seniors Gabe Colas and Gabe McBride to make key plays in the backfield.
"We need to play every down hard and consistent up front, and if we can do that, I think we'll allow our other defenders to succeed," said Coach Phelps. "(Gabe) McBride and (Gabe) Colas will anchor us in the middle of the field while junior Ben Cryts and sophomore Brendan McCarthy work as outside linebackers."
Cryts and McCarthy are two new faces to the team's starting defense. Cryts is coming off of a great camp, and behind his toughness and football knowledge, should be a solid addition. McCarthy, meanwhile, came into camp in great shape and has continually gotten better throughout the preseason.
The Saints return both of their starting cornerbacks from the end of last season and hope to shut down opposing team's downfield threats. Senior Andrew Williams will defend one side while junior Louis Jenkins takes the opposite side of the field. Quarterbacking St. Lawrence's defense in 2009 will be senior free safety Luke Lewis, who knows the defense scheme well and will be able to help the team in coverage situations.
St. Lawrence's special teams anchors will be primarily young talent as first-year student Christopher Dris will handle both the place kicking and punting duties for the Scarlet and Brown in 2009, while sophomore Trevor Saunders will be the key figure in the return game. Senior captain Mike Battaglia will serve the role as the team's long snapper.
"I think our team is hungry to get back out on the field," said Coach Phelps. "Obviously 2008 was a disappointing year, but we were in quite a few close games but were haunted by untimely turnovers. I know that every player and staff member is excited to take the field on Saturday."
St. Lawrence will open the 2009 season at Leckonby Stadium against #10 Ithaca College at 1:00pm. Tickets are $4.00 for adults and $3.00 for children/students. St. Lawrence students and faculty/staff receive free admission with a valid University ID card. All St. Lawrence football games will be broadcast on WPDM 1470AM radio and all home games will be broadcast live on the B2 network.