September 2, 2009

Pioneers Set for 2009 Kickoff

Sept. 2, 2009

The Sacred Heart football team posted the biggest turnaround in the Northeast Conference a year, rebounding from a winless season in league play to post an 8-3 mark and four conference wins last fall to finish tied for third in the standings. The Pioneers rode a sizzling start last season, running off eight wins in their first nine games as they look to get 2009 off to a fast start hosting Marist College Saturday in the season opener. The Pioneers return a wealth of fire power on offense along with some playmakers on the defensive side this season as they look to continue their rise to the top of the NEC.

OFFENSE

The Pioneers are loaded with talent on the offense side of the ball, returning eight starters led by the All-NEC duo of r-junior quarterback Dale Fink (Swansea, IL) and senior wide receiver Steve Tedesco (Mission Viejo, CA). SHU scored 320 (29.1 ppg) points last season, a mark that was second in the NEC. The Pioneers had the league's second rated passing attack, averaging 213.4 yards through the air per game. On the ground, Sacred Heart pounded out 128.7 yards per game.

Quarterbacks Fink begins his third season under center as the starting quarterback for the Pioneers as he continues to rewrite the Sacred Heart record book. Fink is coming off an All-NEC season that saw him complete 67.8% of his throws while posting a 140.3 passer efficiency rating (215-317-13), leading the league in both categories. The former NEC Rookie of the Year tossed an NEC best 24 touchdowns last fall and ran his career total to a school record 47 scoring strikes. He set new school season records last year for completions (215) and completion percentage (67.8%).

Fink opened the 2008 season firing touchdowns in 10-striaght games, running his streak to 19-straight over two years. He enters his junior campaign needing just 18 completions to become the school's all-time leader while he also closes in on the career passing yardage mark.

The Pioneers will have a pair of experienced signal callers backing up Fink in r-sophomores Tyler McKeon (Worcester, MA) and Ray Sheehan (Howard Beach, NY). McKeon, a strong armed lefty, used his redshirt season last fall after seeing action as a freshman playing in seven games while throwing for 464 yards and completing 57.6% of his passes. Sheehan saw action in relief of Fink in last season's finale against Central Connecticut, completing 19-of-33 passes for 214 yards and a pair of scores.

Wide Receivers / Tight Ends The deepest position for the 2009 Pioneers may reside in the receiving corps as both starters return in Tedesco and r-junior Tony Patterson (Groton, CT). Also returning to the mix is sophomore Rich Rossi (Moosic, PA) and r-junior Mark Uyeno (Setauket, NY) as well as the Pioneers three tight ends from last season in senior Chris Rapp (Ridgefield Park, NJ) and r-juniors Tom Stripe (Mahwah, NJ) and Matt Maguire (Madison, CT).

Tedesco can put the finishing touches on what has been a stellar career in the Red & White at Sacred Heart. A two-time All-NEC wide receiver, Tedesco is coming off a junior campaign where led the conference by setting a new school record with 77 catches in 2008. His 891 yards (81.0 y/g) and 10 touchdown grabs last season also led the conference. He has put his stamp all over the Pioneer record book, holding the school records for career receptions (162), career receiving touchdowns (26), career yards (1,983), receptions in a season (77), receptions in a game (12) and touchdown receptions in a game (3).

Patterson had a breakout season last fall playing opposite Tedesco, hauling in 40 catches for 431 yards. He ranked eighth in the NEC in receiving yards per game (39.2) and his 10.8 yards per catch ranked him sixth. Patterson ranked third on the team with three scoring grabs last fall. Rossi had a strong rookie campaign in three receiver sets working underneath out of the slot. Rossi had 22 catches for 168 yards (7.6 ypc) while hauling in a pair of scores.

Uyeno came on strong at the end of last season and shined in the final game against CCSU grabbing six balls for 68 yards and a score. R-Freshman Jo Jo Jamiel (West Yarmouth, MA) is also expected to step in and contribute this season. The trio of Pioneers holding down the tight end position produced 10 catches and two scores last season. Rapp had five grabs and a score with Stripe nabbing three balls and a score.

Running Backs Just as they did in 2008, the Pioneers will have to replace a 1,000 yard rusher this season needing to find an answer for the 1,174 yards and 12 touchdowns lost to the departure of Evin Jones. SHU opens the season with the duo of junior Marcel Archer (Miami, FL) and sophomore Garry Coles (Southington, CT) as the leading candidates to fill the void.

Coles, who backed-up Jones a year ago, is back in his role as a prime passing target out of the backfield as well as a speedy homerun threat on the outside. Coles saw just 26 carries last season, a number sure to increase this fall, as he ran for 152 yards, a team-best 5.8 yards per carry. He was a major threat catching the football, pulling in 20 balls for 225 yards, an 11.2 per catch average. Archer, who transferred in from Central Michigan, is a solid north-south runner who likes to run in between the tackles. While at CMU, Archer helped the Chippewas to a pair of Mid-American Conference Championships and will have two-years of eligibility remaining. A two-year letterwinner at CMU, he played in 12 games as a true freshman in 2006 and tied for team lead with seven rushing touchdowns. As a sophomore, he carried the ball 30 times for 114 yards and caught six passes for 32 yards on the season.

At the fullback position, senior Brian Friedman (Point Pleasant, NJ) and sophomore James Moore (Nashua, NH) are back this fall. Friedman is a jack-of-all-trades type player who can not only serve as a lead blocker but can also carry it, catch it and at times throw it as well. He had 21 rushes for 102 yards (4.0 ypc) in 2008. He also had one catch, a 13 yard scoring grab on a fake-field goal attempt while also completing a pair of passes, one for a score, on a halfback option pass. Moore is a 6-0, 235 pound fullback who can play like a third guard out of the backfield busting open holes.

Offensive Line The SHU front five will welcome back four starters from last year's squad led by All-Northeast Conference center r-junior Justin Smith (Binghamton, NY). Smith is entering his third-year as a starter and will anchor a unit that helped grind out 128.7 yards per game while allowing just seven sacks in 2008. The Pioneers had a 1,000 yard rusher for the second-straight season last fall and had a streak of 31-straight quarters to start the season without allowing a sack for starting quarterback Dale Fink.

Returning to join Smith in the trenches this season are starting guards r-junior Dan Plunkett (Quincy, MA) and sophomore Dylan Larson (Barnegat Light, NJ) and starting right tackle senior Abel Malae (Pacifica, CA). Plunkett took over a starting role in the final four games of his freshman year and is now a mainstay at the guard position. Larson came in last season as a freshman and saw time at both the guard and center positions. Malae transferred to SHU last season and started nine games at right tackle.

A young but talented group will back-up at all five spots this year in freshman center Angus McGivern (Oxford, CT), junior guard C.J. Schoelch (Fairfield, CT), r-junior guard Bill Romaniello (Monroe, CT), freshman tackle Justin Martel (Manchester, NH) and r-freshman tackle Desmond Mighty (Windsor, CT).

DEFENSE

The Pioneer defense excelled last season in creating turnovers finishing the year with 24 takeaways on 15 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries. Overall, the Pioneers finished the season the season fourth in the NEC in turnover margin (+1). SHU allowed 23.1 points per game last season and was fourth in the league in rushing defense allowing 148.5 yards per game. The Pioneers are welcoming back their entire defensive line and depth at linebacker but will see several newcomers in the secondary this season.

Defensive Line All three starters as well as a pair of back-ups return to the defensive front in 2009 led by All-NEC defensive end senior Bill O'Brien (Lafayette, NY). O'Brien, who will open the season battling back from an elbow injury, is a two-year returning starter who earned all-conference accolades last fall after a 61 tackles, three sack season. He was second on the team with eight tackles for a loss as well as a forced fumble, fumble recovery and pass break-up last year. Sophomore Justin Embler (Cinnaminson, NJ) is also a force off the end, turning in 24 stops last year, two for a loss, while also grabbing an interception.

R-Junior Andrew Costantino (Abiagton, MA) returns is back at the nose guard spot while r-sophomore Vinny Branchini (Longmeadow, MA) returns to his defensive tackle position this season. The pair is backed up by r-junior Elijah Dixon (Patterson, NJ). Branchini had a break-out season with 30 tackles, seven for a loss, and a pair of sacks in 2008. Dixon and Costantino had 14 and 13 tackles, respectively, last year as they return to their run stopping duties.

Linebackers The SHU linebacking corps will feature a mix of experience and youth in 2009. At outside linebacker, returning starters senior Chansler Davis (Islip Terrace, NY) and r-junior Brian Flumere (Milford, MA) are a pair of playmakers. Davis collected 37 tackles, 20 solo, in nine games last fall. Flumere led the team with 74 stops while also picking up an interception, forcing three fumbles and breaking up a pair of passes. The duo also spent a lot of time in opponent's backfields, tying for the team lead with five sacks apiece. Flumere was second in the NEC with 13.5 tackles for a loss last year.

Inside, the Pioneers have junior Will Veix (Pipersville, PA) will led a young but talented group. Veix was fifth on the team in tackles last season with 53 stops, 28 solo. He had three pass break-ups in coverage and made 2.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. R-Sophomore Matt Dorosh (Beacon Falls, CT) is hoping to make it all the way back after missing all of last season and all but two games in 2007 due to injury. Dorosh had 10 tackles in the first two games of his freshman before a shoulder injury forced him to the sidelines. Sophomore Chris Mandas (Mission Viejo, CA) had 35 tackles, four for a loss, in 2008 as he steps into a starting role this fall. Fellow sophomore Michael Zambarano (Natick, MA) will contribute as well after 24 stops last season.

Defensive Backs Senior cornerback Andre Isla (Brookhaven, NY) is coming off All-New England honors last season and will lead a young group in the SHU defensive backfield. Isla, who was an All-NEC pick last year, led the Pioneers with four interceptions, third among league leaders, and six pass break-ups. He finished sixth on the club with 50 tackles, 30 solo, and two for losses.

Joining Isla on the outside will be sophomores Ahmad Covington (Clementon, NJ) and Titus McIntosh (Pompano Beach, FL) and r-freshman Rueben McIntosh (Pompano Beach, FL). Covington played in eight games and had 12 stops with a pick and three pass break-ups.

At the safety position, juniors Rashod Underwood (Baltimore, MD) and Mike Mortali (Branford, CT) take over starting roles after seeing considerable time in back-up roles last year. Underwood will patrol from the free safety spot. He had 22 stops last season with a pair of picks and four pass break-ups. Mortali will move into the strong safety spot and is coming off a 26 tackle season where he also had a sack, interception and fumble recovery. Freshman Zak Turner (Hillsdale, NJ) and senior Taariq Cayne (Baldwin, NY), a sprinter on the SHU track & field team, will back-up at both spots.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Pioneers enter the season with a battle for the place kicking duties. Sophomore Matt Fisher (Greenlawn, NY) and freshman Jason Plescow (Miami, FL) entered training camp looking to earn the spot and fill the shoes of departed kicker Joe Schroeder, who was an All-NEC pick last fall. R-Freshman Joe Kistler (Galloway, NJ) will handle the kickoff duties.

SHU is also replacing their punter from a year ago and will look to fullback Brian Friedman to fill the role. Friedman has served as the team's back-up punter the last two seasons and was called on three times last season to kick, averaging 34.3 yards per punt while dropping one inside the 20-yard line.

In the return game, running back Garry Coles will handle the punt and kickoff return duties after earning All-NEC honors last fall as a specialist. Coles averaged a league-best 25.0 yards per return on kickoffs last season with a long of 48 yards.

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