Filling holes the first step for young, tested Cards
Some big names are gone, but playoffs, GLIAC title still in sight
August 25, 2006 —
"That's the nature of the beast in college football. You're not going to keep them all forever."
Those words have never rung so true for head coach Randy Awrey and the SVSU football team, which will begin this season with just 13 seniors and needing to fill several voids left by some of the best players SVSU has ever had to offer.
The most notable departure is that of All-American linebacker John DiGiorgio, who won the GLIAC Player of the Year award last season. Fellow linebackers Joe Hermann and Dan Fodrocy are also gone; same with defensive tackle Chad Steele and offensive linemen Stephanol Santos and Matt George.
In addition, the offense will be missing three running backs who accounted for 339 of the 369 carries out of the backfield last season as well as second-leading receiver Jermaine Jackson.
"We had some great leaders and great football players that have left, so (training) camp now for the first few weeks has been filling those voids," Awrey says. "There is an on the field void, but then there is a locker room void, too."
On a team with such a small senior class, Awrey says this year's captains will be relied on that much more for leadership. Awrey says this year's squad will get leadership from its captains, seniors Damion DeRosia, Joe DiGiorgio, Bob Awrey, and Tony Alessi and juniors Derek Volmering and Josh Miller.
But just because this year's senior class is small does not mean the Cardinals are inexperienced.
Awrey points to several positions where the Cardinals have several players who have seen significant playing time.
Last year's entire secondary returns, led by safety DiGiorgio, who was fourth on the team with 68 tackles a year ago. He will be joined at safety by fellow senior Jeff Mackey, who had a team-high four interceptions last year.
The cornerback position is solidified by speedy sophomore Matt Black, who started 11 games last year, and junior Mark Miller, who started all 13 games. Sophomore Michael McClenney also saw significant time at corner.
The Cardinals are also deep at receiver, an especially important position for the team because it often lines up in three- and four-receiver sets.
Bob Awrey led the team with 52 catches last year while junior Rick Cottengim led the team with 854 receiving yards, seven touchdowns, and a 21.1 yard-per-catch average. Randy Awrey points to several other receivers who have stepped up in spring ball and camp: junior Tyler Scott, sophomore Carlos Swoope, and junior Joe Dougherty, twin brother of probable starting quarterback Chris Dougherty.
The word "probable" is added to Chris Dougherty's title because when asked if Dougherty would be starting, Awrey was hesitant to name a starter. He did, however, acknowledge that Dougherty was first on the depth chart.
The junior started 12 games last year, completing 63.5 percent of his passes for 3,066 yards and 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Senior Vinnie Miroth started one game for the Cardinals when Dougherty was injured and earned GLIAC Offensive Player of the Week honors by throwing for 393 yards and four touchdowns against Mercyhurst.
Dougherty started the team's scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 19 and played just two series before giving way to Miroth.
"What you did last year is experience," says Awrey when asked about the quarterbacks. "But that's not a guarantee that you are going to be the starter this year. You should be, but if someone beats you out, that could happen."
Whoever starts will have a new backfield mate, as the only player on the Cardinals roster with any carries in college football is sophomore Brandon Emeott, with four.
This year Awrey will most likely be relying on Emeott and redshirt freshmen Toby Goetz, who was held out of the scrimmage a week ago, and Brad Crandall.
"Each guy brings something different to the table," Awrey says. "That's what we did last year. One was a better runner, one was better in pass blocking, one was better catching."
The linebacker position, on the other hand, will be a different challenge.
Working to Awrey's advantage, though, is the sheer amount of guys that have been competing for the position.
"You can take three positions and put nine different guys in them," Awrey says.
In the Cardinals' 5-2 scheme, the two outside linebackers line up on the line of scrimmage, while two inside linebackers patrol the middle. Only senior Brent Rogers and Volmering saw time inside last year. Rogers started 12 games last year while Volmering, who will be taking DiGiorgio's number 47 jersey, played in all 13 games.
Awrey says several players are getting looks on the outside, including sophomore Pete Oskvarek and junior Kerk Summers, who both saw limited action a year ago.
The defensive line will be anchored by DeRosia and Miller, who combined with Steele last year to record 81 tackles, 29 for loss, and 14 sacks.
Returning to the offensive line this year are Alessi, the center, senior tackle Matt Buren-Priebe, and junior guard Josh Gibbs. Competing for the other two spots will be several players who saw time last year, including junior Bill Kern, who replaced Santos in last year's playoffs when the guard went down with a broken leg. Sophomore Steve Hudson started two games at guard early in the season.
The Cardinals are solid in the kicking game, as senior Bobby Belmonte returns for his third season at SVSU. Punting is a different story, though, as four-year starter Dustin Esslin is gone from the team. Awrey says three guys are competing for the punting job in camp and also points to the fact that Fodrocy was the team's long snapper and made big play after big play from that position.
"Whichever one ends up kicking for us, it will be the first time he kicks in a college football game," Awrey says.
A year ago, Awrey and the Cardinals were heading into their opening game against Northwood on Aug. 27 still unsure about several positions. This year they have an extra week with the opener at Ashland on Sept. 2, but Awrey looks at his team's schedule and finds several challenges.
"We might have one of the toughest schedules in the country," he says. "Look who we have to play away."
In addition to the opener against Ashland, which finished 9-2 last year, the Cardinals travel to Ferris State, always a heated game, Michigan Tech, and Grand Valley State on Nov. 4. The Cardinals host Northwood on Sept. 30 for Homecoming.