LANCASTER, Pa. -- Franklin & Marshall opens its 128th football season next Thursday when the Diplomats travel to Lebanon Valley for a 7:00 p.m. contest. F&M returns a strong core of linemen on both sides of the ball, and with a contingent of players returning who saw significant time last season, the Diplomats will look to finish at the top of the Centennial Conference.
Below is a positional break of the F&M roster.
The strength of the offense this year will be the line. The Diplomats lose two starters to graduation but have two linemen who have a vast amount of playing time and are ready to step up this year. Last season the group finished three contests without giving up a sack and helped pave the way for 1,898 rushing yards. Headlining the group is four-year starter senior Ryan Ignatovig. Senior Lou Moeller and junior Mark Opaliski return as starters from last season and will be joined by senior Matt Pisarcik and junior Matt Hlavinka. Pisarcik started as a sophomore and Hlavinka played a lot of valuable minutes a season ago.
Senior Matt Magarity and sophomore Zach Bradley are battling to see who will take over the reins at quarterback. The pair split time last season with Magarity taking over most of the snaps toward the end year. Magarity tossed for seven scores and threw for 999 yards with a 62.6 completion percentage. Bradley ended the year with six touchdowns, 588 yards and a 67.5 completion percentage.
Key Returners: Taalib Gerald (So.)
Sophomore Taalib Gerald returns in the backfield after finishing 2014 with 450 yards on 80 carries. Gerald showed signs of brilliance last season when he rushed for more than 100 yards in three contests over a four-week span before being injured. Look for Gerald to continue his dominance early this season. Sophomores Logan Lewis and Taylor Collison along with junior Dave Shellhammer will also see time at running back. Senior A.J. Kolen will start at fullback and will be joined by junior Dan Riordan who switched over to offense after spending the last two seasons on the defensive side of the ball.
The largest void to fill will be at wide receiver with the graduation of Jordan Zackery and Paul McGann. F&M will look to a strong group of players to make up for that loss. Juniors Andrew DeStefano and Bobby Keyes will be expected to provide leadership. DeStefano played in eight contests and finished the year with an 11.8 yards per catch average while Keyes saw action in three contest last year after his season was cut short due to an early injury. Senior Andrew Heird and junior Joshua Young will also rotate in at receiver, as will senior Anthony Carlucci and junior Steven DeLosa, with all three expecting to see a lot of snaps this season.
F&M loses just three starters from last season on defense and the strength of the unit this year is the defensive line. The group has eight players that will rotate in and all bring a wealth of experience with them. A.J. Koikoi returns this year after earning All-CC Second Team honors last year. The senior ranked first on the team with seven sacks and finished the year with 40 tackles, including 10 that went for a loss. He was third in the CC in sacks and eighth in tackles for a loss (TFL). Junior Jon Naji had 31 stops (18s) and nine went for a loss, including four sacks last season. Senior Max Havlush played in all 10 games and finished the year with 26 tackles (13s), including two sacks while senior Jonathan Cox had 16 solo stops and ended with four TFLs in seven games. Senior Sean Triandis, junior Tyler Petri and sophomore Michael Sullivan will also rotate on the line.
Key Returner: Steve Elf (Jr.)
Junior Steve Elf was fifth on the team last season with 39 stops (27s). He started in all 10 contests and registered 5.5 TFLs and a sack. Junior Nathan English saw time in three games and will be joined by freshmen Robert McDevitt and Dylan Jones.
Key Returner: Luke Foukas (Jr.)
Junior Luke Foukas will play another season at outside linebacker. Foukas started in all 10 games last season and ranked sixth on the team with 34 tackles (14s) and a pass breakup. He will be joined by sophomore Cullen Falvey.
Key Returner: Tre Henderson (Sr.)
Senior Tre Henderson will start for the third year in a row after he finished the 2014 campaign with 19 solo tackles and five pass break ups. He will be joined by sophomore transfer Benjamin Okun and brothers Tim Leone and Jeff Leone.
Junior Brendan Daly and sophomore Vince Moffett return at safety. Daly was second on the team last season with 51 tackles (29s) and first with eight pass break ups. Moffett had 21 solo tackles in 2014 and ended with two pass break ups. Senior Ryan Feulner returns after a one-year hiatus and will look to provide significant minutes as well.
Juniors Cody Hubbs and Billy Zwicharowski return this season. Hubbs will look to improve upon his 33.3-yard punting average last season. He placed 19 balls inside the 20 and tallied a long punt of 60 yards. Zwicharowski had a 97 percent points-after-touchdown percentage and will battle Hubbs for place-kicking duties this year.
The Road Ahead
F&M kicks off its 2015 campaign under the lights against Lebanon Valley in a 7:00 p.m. road contest on Thursday, Sept. 3. The conference opener follows on Saturday, Sept. 12 when Muhlenberg heads to town for a 1:00 p.m. showdown at Sponaugle-Williamson Field.
Homecoming and Family Weekend takes place against Dickinson on Saturday, Oct. 3 in the annual Battle for the Wagon contest at 1:00 p.m., while the Lincoln Trophy Game against Gettysburg at home brings an end to the regular season on Saturday, Nov. 14 at 12:30 p.m.
A new feature to this year's schedule is the "Add to Calendar" button, which allows fans to sync new events and updates directly in their Google, Exchange, Yahoo, Outlook, ICal and additional calendars.
Look for the icon below, which can be accessed at the top-right of the 2015 football schedule when viewed on your computer, or bottom-left of all schedules on your mobile device.
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