LANCASTER, Pa. – The 125th edition of the Franklin & Marshall football team will take the field this season. The Diplomats will enter the year with new a set of uniforms and a new outlook as they try to improve on last year's 3-7 mark.
"We have high expectations for this season," said head coach John Troxell. "We have an experienced nucleus of guys returning on both sides of the ball and they need to get back to playing at a high level after a disappointing season in 2011."
The main group of returners, and the strength of the Diplomats this season, will be their defense. Nine starters and a handful of key reserves return for 2012. F&M was third in the conference last year with 306.3 yards allowed per game and fifth with 23.6 points allowed per game.
The Diplomats also return a strong core of starters on the offensive side and will look to improve on its production when F&M possesses the ball. Last season, the Diplomats averaged 19.2 points per game with 93.5 yards coming on the ground and 217 through the air.
"One of our main goals is to get our guys back to playing with a relentless passion for football," Troxell said. "If we compete at high level on the field, the wins will take care of themselves."
Below is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2012 Diplomats.
"Our front seven is our most experienced and talented group this year," Troxell said. "In college football, if you can stop the run, your team will have success. We will lean on this group to set the tone for the rest of the team."
Seniors C.T. Marsh and Kenny Provost headline the defensive linemen unit that accounted for 132 tackles and 16 sacks in 2011. Both are two-year starters and both were named to the All-Centennial Conference Team last year. Marsh appeared on the All-CC Second Team for the second time in as many years and ranked fourth in the conference with 8.5 sacks. He was fourth on the team with 46 tackles and led the defense in sacks and tackles for a loss with 14.5. Marsh became the all-time sacks leader in F&M history last season, breaking Matt DesChamps '93 record of 25.5, with 26.
Provost made his way onto the All-CC Team for the first time in his career last fall. The senior was seventh on the team in tackles with 38. He finished the year with nine tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks.
Senior John Gandolfo will start on the line and will be joined by senior Jordan Studevan and junior Leo Chubinishvili. Gandolfo tallied 24 stops with 1.5 sacks while Studevan picked up 17 tackles, including one sack.
Sam Massaro anchors the linebacker core as he returns to middle after a season-ending injury in the first game of the 2011 season. Massaro earned Second Team All-CC honors in 2009 as a freshmen and landed on the First Team in 2010 during his sophomore season that saw him record a team-high 85 tackles, including 48 solo stops.
Brendan Wengerter will move from outside and play in the middle this season. The junior led the team with 64 tackles, including six for a loss, in 2011 and picked off a pair of passes.
Senior Nick Barbieri will see extensive action at linebacker as well. Barbieri counted 51 tackles and 1.5 sacks to his credit last year. Sophomore Ryan Young, juniors Tyler Pollick and John Stark along with senior Alec Regulinski will also play a major role for F&M this year.
"Although this is a young group, our talent level is good enough to compete with anyone in this league," Troxell said of the secondary unit.
A pair of sophomores – Aaron Fant and Jordan Blair – will join senior Jonathan Struss at cornerback. Struss started nine games last season and compiled 25 tackles. He added two pass breakups and returned an interception 70 yards for touchdown.
Velasco started in nine games as a freshman last season after Kurt Rogers went down with an injury. He finished the year with the third most tackles (49) including seven for a loss. Velasco broke up five passes while DeStefano notched 11 tackles with two breakups.
F&M graduated the most prolific quarterback in the history of the institution when John Harrison received his diploma in May. Harrison rewrote just about every passing record in the programs' history. Tasked with replacing Harrison will be junior E.J. Schneider.
Schneider saw a significant amount of action last season, as he would often rotate with Harrison on a situational basis. He completed 54 percent of his passes for 567 yards and two scores last season. Schneider also added 145 yards on the ground last fall.
"E.J. has big shoes to fill," notes Troxell. "However, his leadership and football ability will make him one of the better quarterbacks in the league."
Lamont Jackson will be the starting tailback this season after playing in eight games as a freshman last fall. Jackson racked up 284 yards on 69 carries and one touchdown and added 200 receiving yards and two scores.
Four additional players will look to break into the rotation. Junior Frank Strumolo along with sophomores Scott LaValva and Dominck Hezekiah will all be in the mix. LaValva had 17 rushes for 51 yards and Hezekiah added 40 yards on 10 touches a year ago.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
Three outstanding receivers with a lot of experience in the form of junior Tim Muller and sophomores Jordan Zackery and Paul McGann return as starters. Muller led the team in receiving yards with 550 on 44 receptions, which resulted in two touchdowns. Zackery hauled in 44 catches for 392 yards and two scores while McGann finished 2011 with 272 yards on 26 receptions and a touchdown.
"This is the hardest working group we have on the team," Troxell said. "They compete at a high level every day and bring a high intensity to practice."
The biggest question coming into the season is the tight end position.
No one has emerged as the game one starter as four players continue to battle it out in camp. Senior Devin Hunter, junior Andrew Krasnavage and sophomores Andrew Martinez and Jack Gallagher are all in the hunt.
F&M lost two linemen to graduation, but the Diplomats will return four players, who either started, or saw significant playing time in 2011. The group cleared the way for 1,223 rushing yards and 204 points on the ground last year. Sami Caygoz started in all 10 games last fall and will move to center this season. Senior Sam Wojciechowski will join juniors Sam Dickinson and Chad Tothero as starters on the line with junior Marc Palmer and sophomore Frank Seitz battling for the fifth starting spot. Freshman Ryan Ignatovig should also see time on the line.
This is an area where the coaches are looking for several players to step up and earn a spot in the rotation.
DeStefano will handle place-kicking duties again this season. He converted 6-of-10 field goals last year with a long of 37-yards and Chris Bennett will have kickoff duties. Hunter and Schneider will take turns punting for F&M. Hunter averaged 37 yards with six inside the 20 while Schneider finished 2011 with a 33.4-yard average with nine placed inside the 20.
Struss will share kickoff return responsibilities with Zachery and Fant this year. Struss averaged 15.4 yards on 14 returns last season while Fant finished with an average of 28.5 yards on six returns.
Zachery and McGann will handle punt return duties. Zachery averaged 9.8 yards in 2011.
F&M opens up the season at home on Sept. 1 when the Diplomats take on Washington and Lee at 1:00 p.m. They will open the conference portion of their schedule against two of the top three teams in the CC Preseason Poll – Muhlenberg and Ursinus - on Sept. 8 and 15 with Homecoming slated on Oct. 20 against Moravian.
All home football games will be broadcasted live in hi-definition for free on F&M's online video portal.