RPI Football prepares for 2014 season

Engineers will play Alfred University in home opener this weekend following road win

This past Saturday, Rensselaer football opened its season at Norwich University in northern Vermont. Though RPI’s offense played well, it was the defense that set the tone, keeping the Cadets out of the end zone until the game was well out of reach in the fourth quarter. The final score: Engineers 29, Cadets 9.

With the dawn of a new season, RPI looks to improve upon its modest 2013 record of 5-5. One of the most important aspects in the team’s improvement will be replacing last year’s senior class. Among those offensive players who graduated were quarterbacks Brendan McGlynn ’14 and Jessie Maynard ’14, who combined for 927 passing yards and 482 rushing yards, running back Andrew Armato ’14, who served as the team’s featured halfback last season and compiled 532 yards on 118 carries, co-captain Joe Cozzolino ’14, who caught 30 passes for 465 yards last year, and linemen Joe Luks ’14, Scott Egglinger ’14, and Mike Burke ’14, who all started or played a part in nearly every game the past two seasons.

This season, these players will be replaced by an influx of returning upperclassmen. At quarterback, junior Jeff Avery will lead the offensive attack. Last season, Avery started five games and threw for 471 yards and three touchdowns, including a 167-yard, two-touchdown effort against Castleton State College. A committee of running backs will carry the football this season. Graduate student Reggie Colas, who played wide receiver during his first three seasons on the team and didn’t play last year, will now be playing running back. The speed and agility he showed as a wide receiver and kick returner will no doubt allow him to bolster RPI’s backfield. In addition, junior Matt Lane returns from a solid 2013 campaign in which he posted 205 yards rushing on 41 carries, as well as 13 receptions for 117 yards. Junior fullback Nick Schlatz will also play a significant role in the team’s rushing offense. Last year, he ranked second in rushing yards (288) and first in touchdowns (5). Lastly, junior Austin Amery will be a factor as well. Last season, in addition to compiling a team high 245 kick return yards, Amery also rushed 21 times for 97 yards and a touchdown.

The Engineers’ receiving core returns both of its key components from last season. Junior Logan Gaddar caught 24 passes for 429 yards and three touchdowns, including two in a high-scoring game against Springfield College. Junior Pat Hogan added 16 catches for 249 yards and four touchdowns. As Rensselaer’s offense has a run-first, pass-second mindset, Gaddar, Hogan, Cozzolino, and Lane accounted for more than 80 percent of the receptions made during the 2013 season. The question, then, is who will step up at tight end? Last Saturday, it was Senior Kyle Hash, who made his first career start against Norwich.

Of course, the true gauge of how well a team will do offensively is the strength of its blocking. Though it lost two of its starters, RPI’s offensive line retained starters junior right guard Seth Stauble, senior left guard Jay Yaskanich, and sophomore center Steve Mills. In addition, junior Ken Berryhill, made the start at left tackle, and junior Scott Davis Jr., made the start at right tackle. In its opening game, RPI’s offensive line played well, creating space for Engineer rushers, who combined for 153 yards rushing.

RPI graduated or lost several key players on the defensive side of the ball as well. Ted Abriel ’14, who played nose tackle and defensive end, co-captain, and player of the year last season graduated this past spring. In his senior season, he was second on the team in tackles (76) and first on the team in sacks (6). In addition, RPI’s defensive line also lost Arthur Kuyan ’14, who tallied 43 tackles and five sacks his senior season, and senior Dan Sugrue, who made 16 tackles last season. The linebacker unit retains all of its members except outside linebacker Matt Brown ’14, who recorded 25 tackles last year. In addition, sophomore defensive back Kenneth Chen, who tallied 27 tackles and an interception his freshman season.

Returning defensive linemen are senior Chris Ohnsman, who made 34 tackles last season at nose tackle, senior Andre Lussier, who made six tackles during his junior campaign, and sophomore Malik Joseph, who made 28 tackles, 14 for a loss, during his freshman season. At outside linebacker, senior Kyle McGovern filled in as the opening day starter to replace Brown. Last season, McGovern played all 10 games as a defensive back and made four tackles. Junior Mark Grimes returns from a sophomore season in which he compiled 53 tackles and an interception. Junior Anthony Pilla and senior Colby Tragni both start for the second year in a row. Last year, each recorded 53 tackles as well (tied-fourth on the team with Grimes). In addition, junior Brandon Cook also returns from a tremendous sophomore campaign. Last season, he led the team in tackles with 77, and received All-Liberty League Honorable Mention status.

At defensive back, RPI returns four experienced players to its starting lineup. At cornerback, sophomore Ryan Buss returns from a solid freshman season in which he made 20 tackles and two interceptions, including an important one against Union College in the Engineers’ own end zone to prevent a Union score. Junior Philip Lanieri III, will start at cornerback, as well. In 2013, he led the team in interceptions (4) and made 44 tackles. Senior Connor Young will start at free safety. Last year, he broke up a team high eight passes and recorded 23 tackles. Finally, the team’s defensive player of the year in 2013, senior Nick Borkowski will return at short safety. Last season, he received All-Liberty League First Team honors, recording 62 tackles and two interceptions.

In addition to these players, RPI football welcomed 40-plus freshmen to its varsity and junior varsity squads this offseason, all of whom were highly accomplished players in high school.

The Engineers will face Alfred University in their season opener this Saturday at noon at the East Campus Stadium.