My rants and insight into Colgate athletics and Patriot League sports

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

#6 Holy Cross

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#6 Holy Cross

Recent History

Last year marked the first campaign for Holy Cross head coach Tom Gilmore and with him came the hope for Crusader fans that new life will be breathed into a program that had fallen from the very pinnacle of I-AA to arguably the bottom of the divisional barrel. For a team that has had one winning season since 1992, some signs of life are evident: The longest losing streak in Division I was finally halted mid season at 15 straight losses with a win against Dartmouth and the win total from the 2003 season was tripled to three.

Obviously, there is still plenty of work for Coach Gilmore and staff to accomplish if Holy Cross is to return to the glory of not so long ago. In the years immediately preceding 1992, Holy Cross was a program that saw 60 wins over the course of six years, with two of those seasons an unblemished 11-0 perfection. Needless to say, recent years have been tough of Crusader alumni and from time to time the demise is blamed squarely on the decision to join the Patriot League and forego athletic scholarships. That argument aside, you will still find plenty of passion for Holy Cross football and hopes are high again in Worcester.

Off-Season Developments

The biggest changes for Holy Cross are undoubtedly in the defensive coaching ranks. Gilmore, a former defensive coordinator at Patriot League rival Lehigh and Ivy foe Dartmouth, appears to have cleaned house on his former side of the ball. Four new defensive coaches will be on the sidelines this fall along with a new tight ends coach. The biggest name would be David Kotulski as defensive coordinator. Koltulski may sound familiar to long time Patriot League followers, as he spent eight years at Bucknell, including a stint as interim head coach in 2002. After a trip out west to Utah State, Koltulski has come back home to the Patriot League. Of course, the hardest change to swallow for Crusader fans could be the addition of Ryan Mattison coaching the secondary. Why you ask? Let's just say their is no love lost between some Jesuit schools in Massachusetts.

A relatively large recruiting class was brought in by Gilmore. While it's no Cornell, 35 players is still a large number to deal with. Some highlights appear to be: Luke Botting, a 6-4, 270 pound offensive lineman from Ohio that won the Anthony Muñoz Foundation Lineman of the Year award; Jon Brock out of Georgia, who the Crusaders have listed as a wide receiver since he had 1,100 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns however he's also rushed for 2,500 yards and 35 touchdowns; his teammate Daryl Brown, listed as a defensive back however he was an all-state (North Carolina) selection as both a defensive back and a running back; Michael Kielt, an all-state (Connecticut) tail back who was also the Connecticut Post Defensive Player of the Year; Brian Rusate, a 6-1, 250 pound offensive lineman who joined Kielt on that same Connecticut all-state team and Bobby Stapleton, a 6-3 225 pound all-state (New York) defensive lineman who led the entire state in sacks his senior year (19).

Forgive the length, but when you have 35 players, highlighting six isn't that much! Looking at the class as a whole, it appears that Gilmore has cast himself a wide net and there could be some real gems in there. Only time will tell.

2005 Schedule

In terms of out of conference scheduling, the Crusaders certainly haven't let up any slack here. After opening with Sacred Heart and Georgetown at home, Holy Cross welcomes to Fitton Field a Harvard team that has won 11 straight. As if that wasn't enough, after that game it's time for the team to head on a bus down to Delaware - and they're not headed to Dover. No, it is the perennial I-AA powerhouse Fightin' Blue Hens that will welcome Holy Cross to the Tub.

The road trip continues with stops to Yale and Lehigh, before the Crusaders can come home to face a Dartmouth team looking for revenge and a Colgate Raider team that was almost beat at Fitton during the 2003 season. The Patriot League season then wraps up with a quick trip to the Bronx for the "Jesuit Jihad" followed by a welcome final home game against defending Patriot League champs Lafayette and then a season ending trip to Lewisburg and the Bucknell Bison.

Season Outlook

There really are two trains of thought here. The first is that, well, Holy Cross has been bad in the past so why should this year be any different? Wait - OK, I'll say it: They've been really baaaaaad. They haven't beat a Patriot League team other than Georgetown since 2002 (Bucknell). With that off my chest, I will say that I do see a heartbeat there in Worcester and I have to reminisce back to another conference mate, not so long ago, that was coming off a winless season.

Yes, it is dear old Colgate that stunk up the field in 1995 only to get a new head coach and become only the second team in NCAA history to follow a winless season with a winning one, coming in at 6-5 in the 1996 season. So why not Holy Cross? In fact, they have less of a turn around to make with a head coach now in his second year and three wins under their belt from last year. They can easily start the season 2-0 and head into two of the toughest games on their plate. That said, a win against Harvard or Delaware would be a candidate for upset of the year - the Crusaders pull one of those off and their confidence will be sky high for the rest of the fall. But even if they don't and they find themselves 2-2 at this point, they've got some great experience to head into the Patriot League Schedule with. Wins against Yale and Dartmouth are very possible and out of Lehigh, Colgate, Fordham, Lafayette and Bucknell, winning one or more of those games is not a far stretch of the imagination.

In order to turn imagination into reality, the Crusaders are going to have to look to their senior offensive leadership in tailbacks Gideon Akande, Steve Silva and quarterback John O'Neil. Akande is a threat on kick-off returns as well as various spots on offense as he had 882 all-purpose yards in 2004. Silva has the distinction of being the first Holy Cross player since Gordie Lockbaum to lead Holy Cross in both rushing yards and receptions, so if that's not someone to take seriously I don't know who is. O'Neil started all 11 games last year at quarterback and managed to throw for over 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns. In addition to those three returning, every other offensive starter will be back, including Sean Gruber at wide receiver.

However, for a defense that gave up an average of over 33 points a game and almost 42 points a game to Patriot League opponents, you can begin to understand why Gilmore cleaned house. As long as the defensive woes for the Crusaders continue, they will lose a lot of games. Six starters return to the field this fall with the bulk of the losses coming on the defensive line and the linebacker corps. Matt Dugan at linebacker and John Markus Pinard on the line will be hard pressed to lead a defense that appears to be lacking in experience.

Predicted Finish

Sixth. While there is some joy in Mudville, there is still a lot of work to be done on the defensive side of the ball. The good news for Holy Cross fans is that happens to be Gilmore's specialty, and he's brought on staff another coach who made that his forte at Bucknell for many years. This season could really go either way for the Crusaders: some early wins and some good experience against top I-AA teams may just be what the doctor ordered for a team that really just needs a big shot of confidence more than anything else.

However, inertia has a funny way of getting involved in athletics and it is awfully hard to change the direction of a program that his been down for more than a decade. Some early let downs for Holy Cross and this could very well be another three win season. I have a hunch though that progress has been made and will continue to be made in Worcester. Gilmore seems up to the task and this might just be his best hope of a year to do something until his own recruits start to pan out. I give them the nod to beat Georgetown, wins some Ivy games along with Sacred Heart, and find themselves knocking on the door to .500. It will take a win against one of the top 5 teams in the league to do so, but 2005 could just be the time for it. It will also be the year that sets the tone for the rest of the Gilmore years. Frankly, there's a lot riding on these 11 games for Holy Cross. Best of luck.

3 Comments:

  • Quite an effort,13!

    A quick point on their recruiting class:

    Botting's Munoz award is an academics based award. While he has terrific size, he was an honorable mention all-county performer. Their best OL recruit looks to be:

    OL/C Chris Smith 6'1" 260 Rivals 2* 5.0 rating 400lb bench 4.9 2nd AS NY large schools

    Another key member:

    DB Kyle Mushaweh 6'0" 160 2x AS CT 200lb bench combined with 4.4 speed

    Good class!

    Awesome job, 13. Looking forward to your Lafayette review on Saturday!!

    By Anonymous Andy, at 4:27 PM  

  • Thanks for the Botting info. I saw he was Mr. Valdevictorian 4.0, but I would have thought some on the field prowess would have to go with it.

    I don't claim to challenge for your title of Mr. Recruiting Central!

    By Blogger colgate13, at 7:32 PM  

  • Thanks for 2 great reviews of Georgetown and Holy Cross.

    I believe that Holy Cross will do better than sixth. O'Neill, the quaterback, is the real thing. He can throw the ball a mile.

    Gilmore is a class coach and a student of defense.

    Look for Holy Cross to take it to several Patriot League opponents. Holy Cross always gives Colgate, in particular, a close game.

    In addition, I think that Colgate will surprise this year!

    By Anonymous Lennie, at 10:53 PM  

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