FAIRFIELD, CT (August 18, 2011) - In part two of our Sacred Heart Football Preseason Pass, we preview the Pioneer wide receiving corps and defensive line and meet the 2011 team captains, seniors Rich Rossi (Moosic, PA) and Chris Mandas (Mission Viejo, CA).
With training camp in full swing, the battle for the starting quarterback job continues between r-sophomores Luke Wischnowski (West Chester, PA) and Tim Little (Egg Harbor Township, NJ) with the winner looking at a deep and talented receiving group ready to lead the passing attack in 2011. SHU has four wide outs with game experience back in the mix and with the move by Rossi from receiver to tight end full time this fall, the Pioneers have the weapons to once again be one of the Northeast Conference's top-passing attacks.
Senior Garry Coles (Southington, CT) and r-juniors Jo Jo Jamiel (West Yarmouth, MA), Rock Tate (Lantana, FL) and Sean Kessler (Huntington, NY) will anchor this year's receiving corps. Rossi, who split time at receiver and tight end last season, led the team with 51 catches for 704 yards (13.8 ypc) and tied for the team lead with five touchdowns. For his efforts, he earned a spot on the All-NEC second team. This fall, he moves to tight end exclusively but still will factor heavily in the passing game.
Coles hauled in 30 balls in 2011 and at times was the Pioneer's big play threat, catching five touchdowns and averaging 13.7 yards per catch. The senior was one of the Pioneers featured tailbacks his freshman and sophomore seasons and moved to wide receiver full-time last fall. Coles finished the season strong, catching 19 passes in his last four games. He pulled in five passes for 97 yards and a pair of scores in the season-ending win over Wagner.
Tate and Kessler both became more involved in the offense last season after Jamiel was forced out of the lineup with injury. Tate caught 17 passes for 203 yards and a score. He posted a career-high six catches for 72 yards in the win over the Seahawks. Kessler had 13 receptions for 151 yards and his lone score came in the early season loss to Robert Morris.
Jamiel, a solid underneath possession type receiver, was limited to just five catches for 57 yards in last year after finishing his freshman season in 2009 third on the team with 26 catches for 192 yards (7.4 ypc).
Along the SHU defensive line, a pair of senior returning starters in Vinny Branchini (Longmeadow, MA) and Justin Embler (Cinnaminson, NJ) anchor this year's unit. Branchini will move to the nose guard position this fall after starting every game at defensive tackle last season. Embler moves to defensive tackle after starting at defensive end the last two years.
Embler finished the year third on the team in tackles, posting 52 on the season, 30 solo. He led the team with 12 tackles for a loss in 2010, posting three sacks. He also showed his playmaking skills with his first career interception and had a forced fumble and blocked kick as well. Embler had a pair of nine tackle games last year, in the season opener against Marist and against Central Connecticut State.
Branchini had 32 tackles on the year and led the team getting five hits on the quarterback. He posted a career-high eight tackles in the loss on the road to Saint Francis (PA).
R-Junior Tyler Foehr (Florence, NJ) is slated to start at defensive end while senior Paul Graziadei (Little Falls, NY) will get the nod at outside linebacker. Foehr played in all 11 games last year, collecting 16 tackles, 3.5 for a loss including a sack in a back-up role. Graziadei had eight tackles in nine games last fall.
R-Junior Matt Linnehan (Worcester, MA) and r-sophomore Jeff Keffer (Point Pleasant, NJ) both figure to work into the defensive line rotation this year. Linnehan saw action in six games in 2010 and had nine tackles while Keffer appeared in four games with six stops.
Coming up next week in Part III of Preseason Pass, we preview the Pioneer offensive line and tight ends and the defensive backs.