LANCASTER, Pa. – Franklin & Marshall kickoffs its 2014 football campaign on Saturday when the Diplomats host Lebanon Valley for the first meeting since 1982. With six starters returning on both sides of the ball and a strong group of returning specialists, F&M is set to make a run at Centennial Championship and finish with its fifth winning season in six years.
F&M enters the season with a 597-477-47 all-time record and is just three wins shy of becoming the eighth Division III institution to amass 600 victories.
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WR-Jordan Zackery, Sr.
WR- Paul McGann, Sr.
RB- Scott LaValva Sr.
TE-Jack Gallagher, Sr.
LT-Ryan Ignatovig, Jr.
RT-Frank Seitz, Sr.
F&M returns six starters from last year's offense that racked up 408 yards and scored 31.5 points per game last season. Leading the group is First Team All-CC wide receiver Jordan Zackery who hauled in 73 passes for 809 yards and seven scores last season. Zackery will be joined by two-year starter senior Paul McGann (43-500) at the other wide out position. Sophomores Bobby Keyes and Andrew DeStefano along with senior Nicholas Porcelli and junior Andrew Heird will play an important part in the Diplomats' rotation at receiver as well.
The strength of the Diplomats this season on offense will be their offensive line. Headlining the group is pair of All-CC Honorable Mention players in junior left tackle Ryan Ignatovig and senior right tackle Frank Seitz. The pair made up one of best lines in the country last season, allowing just six sacks all year on 367 pass attempts, which ranked fifth nationwide. The group finished seven games without allowing a single sack and helped pave the way for 1,942 rushing yards. Vincent Acosta gets the nod at left guard while Lou Moeller will fill the right guard position and Mark Opaliski takes over at center. Sophomores Beck Tabor and Matthew Hlavinka along with freshmen A.J. Gasser, Robert Frederico III and Michael Kelly will add depth up front.
Senior Scott LaValva returns in the backfield this season after seeing action in all 11 contests last season. Lamont Jackson also returns at running back with five games under his belt last year. A.J. Kolen will look to clear some lanes for the duo, getting the nod at fullback.
Senior Jack Gallaher takes over fulltime duties at tight end after seeing action in all 11 contests in 2013. Drew Martinez will also see action at tight end.
The biggest question this season is who is going to replace E.J. Schneider at quarterback. That honor belongs to Matt Magarity who had a slight edge over fellow junior Anthony Carlucci in camp. Look for the two of them to see time under center.
LB – Ryan Young, Sr.
CB – Aaron Fant, Sr.
CB – Tre Henderson, Sr.
S – Brian Velasco, Sr.
DE – A.J. Koikoi, Jr.
NT – Jonathan Cox, Jr.
The defense also has six returners this season with three of those players returning to a secondary unit that gave up just 179.9 passing yards per game. Preseason All-American Aaron Fant returns at corner and looks to improve on his team-best five interceptions and nine pass breakups. Senior Brain Velasco starts his fourth year at safety, finishing last season with 62 tackles (49s) and five pass break ups. Tre Henderson finished with 28 tackles a year ago and will anchor the other corner spot. Sophomore Robbie Suite takes over the other safety position with junior Tim Leone looking to provide valuable minutes as well. Nicholas Watts and Jordan Blair will backup Fant and Henderson at corner and Brendan Daly moves over from offense and will see time at safety.
Ryan Young returns at inside linebacker this season. He was second on the team in tackles with 98 (56s), including two sacks and nine tackles for a loss and earned All-CC Second Team honors last year. Sophomore Steve Elf will take over the other linebacker position with Sophomores Nathan English and Tyler Petri competing for minutes as well.
Two starters return up front with junior A.J. Koikoi returning at defensive end and junior Jonathan Cox coming back at nose tackle. Koikoi is the top pass rusher returning with 44 tackles and 4.5 sacks last year, while Cox finished the year with 20 stops, including a sack. Sophomore Jon Naji takes over the other end spot with Tom Lyster, Dan Riordan and Sean Triandis looking to figure into the rotation as well.
K – Connor Ryan, So.
P – Cody Hubbs, So.
PR/KR – Jordan Zackery, Sr.
Special teams could be the difference for the Diplomats this season. All-American return specialist Jordan Zackery will return both kicks and punts. Zackery put together the second best punt return average in the country with an 18.9 average and also scored on two punt returns. He added 573 yards on 23 kick returns.
Sophomore Connor Ryan had a great year last season, converting 7-of-8 field goal attempts, with a perfect 7-for-7 inside the 40. Cody Hubbs averaged 34.8 per punt last season and placed nine inside the 20-yard line.
F&M was picked fourth in the 2014 Centennial Conference Preseason Poll as voted on by head coaches and athletic communication directors. Johns Hopkins was picked to repeat as champions, followed by Muhlenberg and Ursinus.
The Road Ahead
The Diplomats start the season off with defending Middle Atlantic Conference Champions Lebanon Valley before facing the two teams who were picked second and third in conference with a game at Muhlenberg on Sept. 13 and a home contest against Ursinus on the 20th. F&M takes on Dickinson on Oct. 4 for the Conestoga Wagon Trophy. Homecoming is slated for Oct. 25th against Moravian before the Diplomats wrap up the regular season by taking on CC Champions Johns Hopkins (Nov. 8th) and Gettysburg in the season finale on Nov. 15.