John Troxell doesn’t spend too much time thinking about the successes of 2009. In his fourth year at the helm, the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Finalist delivered a 9-2 season that ended with a come-from-behind, 29-24 win, over Wilkes in the ECAC South Atlantic Bowl.
“Our goal has never been to have a good season here and there,” says Troxell. “My focus has always been on restoring the program to what it had long been, a perennial winner built on a foundation of good kids who understand what Division III football is all about.”
The program’s rich heritage includes becoming only the fourth team in NCAA Division III to reach the 500-win plateau, but that milestone is long in the rear view. The Diplomats’ first win in 2010 will be the program’s 575th. Despite over a century’s worth of success, the new millennium had not been kind to F&M football. 2009 was only the second winning campaign since Tom Gilburg retired in 2002. Troxell is determined to get that corrected.
“We have a good foundation, but we are still very young.”
The 2010 Diplomats roster of 77, the largest at the outset in the Troxell era, features only nine seniors. As has been the case throughout the Troxell era, staying healthy will still be the key for F&M.
“We were very fortunate in terms of injuries last year,” Troxell notes. “There were places on our two deep where the first guy getting hurt could have resulted in a much different outcome to the season. This year we are more solid in terms of depth at almost every position group.”
The increased roster size, along with the record and hardware is an indication of a program on the rise. But with a 9-2 record under their belts and a bevy of returning talent, F&M is no longer playing the role of the underdog. The Diplomats are ranked 25th by The Sporting News entering the preseason. F&M is ranked second in the Centennial Conference preseason football poll and collected seven of the 20 first place votes. Only reigning Centennial Champions Johns Hopkins finished ahead of F&M in the poll with 11 first place nods.
If the expectations are high, it might rest on the fact that John Harrison returns behind four-fifths of his offensive line, with two-thirds of his wide receivers, one of the league’s top tight ends, and half of his backfield. Harrison’s gained attention in 2008 as F&M’s first freshman quarterback to start from the outset since 1979. In 2009, he distinguished himself as one of the Centennial’s top passing threats by becoming the first quarterback to have more than 250 completions, 30 TDs and 3,000 yards in a season. He finished the year with 287 completions for 3,096 yards and 32 TDs. He landed All-Centennial Second Team honors.
Harrison’s top target, George Eager, will only be able to help Harrison by coaching up the team’s receivers in 2010, but F&M’s new assistant has plenty of talent to work with. Jay Ridinger was good for 42 catches and 500-plus yards in 2007 and 2009, and will be a favorite target for Harrison in 2010. The second generation Diplomat is one of F&M’s two captains in 2010. An explosive Jarrell Diggs is an established deep threat that will turn in acrobatic catches. He enters his junior year with 54 catches and 786 yards over his first two seasons. He is also 6-of-10 passing with three touchdowns.
“We feel very good about where we are now and well into the future at this position,” says Troxell.
Colton Weaver is a junior who has experience in the offense as a quarterback. His knowledge of the system and athletic ability allowed him to flourish as the third option in spring practice. The Diplomats also have several freshmen that should challenge for a spot in the two-deep come mid-August. Tim Muller (Pound Ridge, N.Y. / Fox Lane / Bedford-Katonah Patch Article), Peter DeHazya, Paul Koehler and Jake Schlanger will look to get their feet wet in the offensive scheme.
All-Centennial First Team selection, Michael Deutch, returns at tight end. The 6-4 ballhawk hauled in 35 passes for 375 yards and 9 touchdowns in a breakout 2009 season. He is equally adept in as a run blocker. Deutch is one of three returning players at tight end that will see playing time. Joe Goggin and Brian Kelly will work in as well. Neither had a catch last year, but Goggin emerged as a run-blocker in 2009. Kelly is a quarterback-convert cut out of the mold of Deucth.
If Harrison is to complete a pass, he will need protection from the guys up front. Four of the five starters from 2009 return with All-Region choice, Clarke Miller, being the only starter lost to graduation. Senior, Steve Sheehan, and sophomore, Connor Spellman, will likely battle for the vacant spot. Nick Tucciarone returns at center, flanked by Zach Robinson and Danny Peretz at guard. Nick Gerace will watch Harrison’s back at left tackle. All four were first year starters in 2009, but managed to clear the way for 208 points worth of offense.
“This is the first year since I have been here that we have real depth up front,” Troxell points out.
He and his staff are expecting sophomore, Sam Wojciechowski, to arrive as a college football player in 2010. They are equally excited about the transfer of interior lineman, Sami Cayzog, who appeared in five games at New Haven as a freshman in 2009. Caygoz was a high school teammate of running back, John Kaschak, at Jefferson Township (N.J.) High School.
Kaschak will get the bulk of the touches out of the backfield. The junior has 21 games worth of experience with 299 carries. He has rushed for 1,179 yards, breaking off 3.9 per attempt in his career thus far. Last year, he scored nine of his 11 career rushing touchdowns. He found paydirt once by land and a second time by air in the ECAC South Atlantic Bowl. The touchdowns, along with 137 rushing yards on 22 carries (6.2 ypc) and 54 yards on seven receptions, landed him the game’s MVP trophy.
Another Jefferson Township rusher, Frank Strumolo (Oak Ridge, N.J. / Video), join will Kaschak in the backfield. Strumolo is a tough north-south runner. That pair, along with Alan Williams will give the Diplomats three outstanding rushing options. Williams, a junior, missed most of his freshman season with an injury. He returned in 2009 as a dual threat in the offense sharing time with Kaschak.
With the graduation of Ryan Murray, sophomores Andrew Ardire and Peter Gumas will battle for the starting spot at fullback. Ardire was an outstanding rusher in high school and Gumas is a natural blocker. Freshmen Trevor Barsamian (Princeton, N.J. / Princeton / Video) and Cameron Budde (Vero Beach, Fla. / St. Edward’s / Profile), who attended the same high school as Murray, may factor in the battle for the spot as well. Barsamian may be utilized at both fullback and tight end. Budde is a big, physical athlete.
Big, physical and now, deep, are all adjectives that can be applied to Franklin & Marshall’s front seven. Troxell and his staff agree that the Diplomats have 13 legitimate starters. They will have to get after it in order to buy time for a revamped secondary that graduated three-quarters of the 2009 starting unit.
Junior edge rushers C.T. Marsh and Donald Wiezik return with 9.5 sacks between them. Marsh led the team in sacks with 6.5 for losses of 37 yards. He had 45 tackles a year ago. Wiezik has been a starter since early in his freshman season. His three sacks for 11 yards of losses were among his 22 tackles. He also knocked down a pair of passes.
Senior and second-year captain, Mark Surma, and sophomore, Kenny Provost, provide a large presence in the middle of the defensive line. Surma recorded 31 tackles, including 16 solo stops in 2009 to go with four sacks and a forced fumble. Provost jumped sides of the ball early in his freshman campaign, and played iron-man football for a stretch of his freshman season. He recorded 20 tackles, 14 solo, broke up two passes and recovered a fumble.
March, Provost, Surma, and Wiezik will rotate heavily with John Gandolfo, Jordan Studevan, and Kyle Wengerter. Wengerter saw significant action in 2009 recording 27 tackles including a sack. Gandolfo and Studevan each recorded a handful of tackles in spot duty as freshmen. Look for freshmen Leo Chubinishvilli (Tblisi, Georgia / The Hun School / Video) and Chad Tothero (Ephrata, Pa. / Ephrata) to work themselves into contention for playing time as well. Tothero was an All-Lancaster-Lebanon League First Team selection and Academic-All-Pennsylvania selection.
Sam Massaro wasted little time in establishing himself on the collegiate football scene. The Diplomats' middle linebacker earned Centennial Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors after his first college football game during which he posted eight tackles and a 30-yard interception return. An All-Centennial Second Team pick in 2009, Massaro missed the final two games of the season with an injury, but still led the team with 70 tackles (43 solo), four sacks and three interceptions. James Freeman will lineup at the other inside linebacker spot. Freeman recorded 35 tackles, two pass breakups and recovered a fumble over nine games last year.
Shane Gray will man the outside linebacker post. Gray is an All-Conference caliber player. Last year he turned in 50 tackles (25 solo), three sacks and forced a fumble. Drew Hutcheon is experienced at the position as well. Hutcheon recorded 43 tackles, with 2.5 sacks, a pair of pass breakups and forced a fumble.
Sophomores Nick Barbieri and Dylan Jagiello, and junior Brian Low should all fight for the starting positions at linebacker as well. Freshmen Sean Kelly (Rockaway Point, N.J. / Xavier), Marc Palmer (Carmel, N.Y. / John F. Kennedy), and J.R. Recchia (Montville, N.J. / Delbarton) will come in and push for time.
Graduation claimed three-quarters of the Diplomats’ secondary from 2009, including Barry Lovett, who participated in the New York Giants O.T.A.’s. Ty Savastio is the only returning player. The junior corner picked off three passes and broke up seven more. Sophomores Jonathan Struss and Scott Williams will battle with freshman Sean Davis (North Brunswick, N.J. / North Brunswick) to hold down the opposite corner. Struss could also find time at safety.
Kurt Rogers will likely line up at free safety. Rogers runs well and plays physical football. He appeared in nine games between the secondary and special teams last year, posting 13 tackles and knocking down a pass. Sophomore Mike Shin will battle for the vacant spot at strong safety with a couple of really talented freshman in Phil Barbieri (Glen Mills, Pa. / Penncrest /Delco Times Article), Chris DeStefano (Berwyn, Pa. /Conestoga), and Chase Andreassi (Water Mill, NY / St. Anthony’s).
“We know we have a lot of questions about how the secondary will shake out,” says Troxell. “I am certain that we have talent in the group and that we will put the best four players on the field.”
The Diplomats open the season at home on September 4 against Washington & Lee. The annual kickoff with the Generals marks F&M’s only non-conference game in 2010. Susquehanna, an associate member of the Centennial, will join the league fray this season. The Diplomats will travel to Selinsgrove on October 2.