August 28th, 2019 12:00am
The 2019 football season is upon us once again. Big changes in the NE-10 this coming season. Two teams, LIU Post and Merrimack went to Division 1 FCS and a new program was added, Franklin Pierce.
You will remember the other schools but there will be a lot of new faces on the field in key roles. Who replaces Ajee Patterson at New Haven? Can anyone replace Deonte Harris at Assumption? Will Pace continue their rise from the bottom of the league? Who will be the sleeper team of 2019?
Plenty of questions to ask and plenty of answers to give. The season officially starts on September 5th and we are finally ready for some football.
Let's preview 2019 and see where the contenders will be coming from.
Here is my pick for #9 in the league in 2019:
Franklin Pierce University Ravens (1st season at the D2 level and NE-10)
Coach: Russell Gaskamp, 1st year (35-38 overall)
Opening Game: September 7th vs. Wesley
Games to Watch: The month of September
Franklin Pierce is in their first season transitioning from sprint football to the Division II level. They will play two Division III schools to open the season at home and that will be a solid measuring stick for them. The iron of the NE-10 will be on the schedule for the final two weekends of September. Pace will be their first NE-10 game and then a trip on a Friday night to Assumption.
Unit to Watch: Defense
The Ravens will have their work cut out for themselves on the defensive side. NE-10 teams have the ability to put up points quickly and if they are able to hold a team out of the end zone, it will mean that they will be in games. If the defense is spending too much time on the field, it will be a tough first year for Franklin Pierce.
First-year head coach Russell Gaskamp has been at the Division II level before and coached in one of the better conferences in the country. He will be pushing his team to be competitive week in and week out. It will be a season of firsts for the program. They have no expectations outside of their own locker room and sometimes that is enough for a team to succeed.
Here is my pick for #8 in the league in 2019:
American International College Yellow Jackets (1-8, 1-8 NE-10)
Coach: Art Wilkins, 26th year (147-112)
Opening Game: September 7th vs Bowie State
Game to Watch: September 14th vs. Bentley
The Yellow Jackets have two home games to open the season. They need to get off to a strong start if they are going to make some noise in the league. When they play Bentley, they are always hard-fought battles. If they are able to walk away with a win, it could be a good season in Springfield.
Player to Watch: Cyriacus Ibezim, LB
Ibezim has been a fixture for the Yellow Jacket defense since his arrival. He is always around the ball and making plays. He was second in tackles in 2018 including four games of double digits tackles. His presence and leadership in the middle of the field for American International will be key to their success.
Unit to Watch: Offensive Line
It has been one of the hallmarks of the program over the years. Big, strong and tough young men in the trenches are the key to the success of the offense for American International. They give the time for the quarterback to throw the ball downfield and then open holes for the running backs.
Twenty-six-year head coach Art Wilkins has not seen a winning season since 2014. It is not the norm for the Yellow Jacket program and something that the coaching staff is working hard to reverse. There are no more easy games in the NE-10 and American International will need to play 60 minutes each week.
Here is my pick for #7 in the league in 2019:
St. Anselm College Hawks (1-8, 1-8 NE-10)
Coach: Joe Adam, 4th year (4-26)
Opening Game: September 6th vs California
Game to Watch: September 21st vs Stonehill
St. Anselm has a very tough September schedule. But the night of September 21st is their homecoming and a rematch of a 57-54 triple-overtime loss to Stonehill. There is a trophy on the line in their game and one that the Hawks have yet to hold. If they are able to grab it for the first time, it will build confidence for the rest of the season.
Player to Watch: Ryan Sullivan, FS
The junior free safety led the Hawks in tackles in 2018. He has a nose for the ball and always seems to be making plays wherever he is on the field. If he is able to continue his playmaking ways, St Anselm will be in every game this year.
Unit to Watch: Offensive Line
This unit was extremely young last year. All 10 players listed on the two-deep each week were either freshman or sophomore. They took their lumps last year and are ready for this year. Whoever is on the field needs to be mobile, physical and opening holes for the speedy guys behind them.
Fourth-year head coach Joe Adam saw his team come pretty close to winning more games last year. His team is a year old and ready to take the next step. If they are able to overcome the struggles of 2018, they have a chance to make some waves in the league.
Here is my pick for #6 in the league in 2019:
Stonehill College Skyhawks (2-8, 2-7 NE-10)
Coach: Eli Gardner, 4th year (13-18)
Opening Game: September 7th at Bloomsburg
Game to Watch: October 5th vs American International
Stonehill is 1-22 all-time against the Yellow Jackets. No matter how good of a season Stonehill is having, they seem to struggle against AIC. They need to overcome this hurdle if they are going to be competitive in 2019.
Player to Watch: Brian Kearns, Jr., RB
The senior running back has been the catalyst for the offense the past two years. He has found the end zone 22 times over the past two seasons and will be called upon again to shoulder the load out of the backfield. His ability to gain yards will open up the passing game for the Skyhawks.
Unit to Watch: Quarterback
Three quarterbacks are on the roster. One played last year, one has not played a college game and one transferred from another program. Whoever plays under center needs to find a way to get the ball into the hands of Andrew Jamiel.
Fourth-year head coach Eli Gardner did not have fun in 2018. His team was inconsistent and did not live up to their expectations. He has numerous solid players on both sides of the ball and can be a thorn in the side of every opponent this year. He needs to have his team step up and play much better this year.
Here is my pick for #5 in the league in 2019:
Assumption College Greyhounds (6-4, 6-3 NE-10)
Coach: Andy McKenzie, 2nd season (6-4)
Opening Game: September 7th at Kutztown
Game to Watch: September 20th at Southern Connecticut St.
The Greyhounds have numerous holes to fill from their 2018 roster. They have two games to work out the kinks before the league opener in New Haven. If they are 2-0 entering the game, they will be a force in 2019. If they are 0-2, it could be a long season in Worcester. It will be their first league test and we will see if they will be in the mix this year.
Player to Watch: Carlins Platel, DB
The junior defensive back will draw the top wide receiver of the opposing team for 10 weeks this year. He will need to be at the top of his game on each play and his mistakes are magnified. He has the chance to make big plays and keep the opposing team out of the end zone.
Unit to Watch: Running Back
It is the most experienced unit on the offensive side of the ball. They will also need to take the pressure off of an inexperienced quarterback in the first couple of weeks. If they are able to establish the running game, it will help to open up the passing game and stretch the field.
Second-year head coach Andy McKenzie had an experienced team in 2018 that was not able to close out the season. They dropped three of their last four games and missed the playoffs. But this is his first official recruiting class and he will be able to put his stamp on this program.
Here is my pick for #4 in the league in 2019:
Southern Connecticut State University Owls (4-6, 3-6 NE-10)
Coach: Tom Godek, 6th season (21-32)
Opening Game: September 5th vs Gannon
Game to Watch: September 13th vs Pace
If Southern Connecticut is going to compete for a title, they are going to need to win road games in the league. It will be their first test and they need to respond. The Setters have had their number a couple of times over the years and this is a good first test to see if the Owls are ready to win the league.
Player to Watch: Kyle Armour, DB
The redshirt senior will need to slow down the opposing team’s passing game. He has a nose for the ball and usually flies to it. He will need to help the younger defensive guys understand the concepts and then go on the field and make plays for the Owls.
Unit to Watch: Running Back
It has been a position of strength for the Owls the past several years. They had depth and experience in this role. But graduation hit them hard and they are going to need to rely on some players that have not had a ton of live game experience.
Sixth-year head coach Tom Godek knows what it takes to win the league. He has been a coach for long enough in this league to see the good from the bad. He needs to push all of the right buttons this year and get his team ready to compete week in and week out. He has some playmakers and if they step up, they will make some noise in 2019.
Here is my pick for #3 in the league in 2019:
Bentley University Falcons (4-6, 4-5 NE-10)
Coach: Bill Kavanaugh, 6th year (25-28)
Opening Game: September 5th at West Chester
Game to Watch: September 27th vs New Haven
The Falcons will have 13 days to prepare for their home opener after a Week 3 bye week. They are playing the projected winner of the league and it will show if they have what it takes to be at a high level in 2019.
Player to Watch: Stephen Sturm, QB
The junior quarterback has been up and down his first two years at Bentley. He looked like the quarterback of the future in 2017 during his freshman year. But didn’t put up the numbers he hoped last year in his sophomore campaign. He has one important cog back this year and we will see how he takes advantage.
Unit to Watch: Linebackers
The unit is young and needs to learn quickly on the job. The Falcons usually have one or two guys that are flying all over the field and making tackles from the linebacker position. If the youth of the position is able to step up early and make some plays, Bentley will stop drives and let their offense do the damage.
Sixth-year head coach Bill Kavanaugh did not have an enjoyable 2018 season. His team was ready to do some damage and hit a pothole along the way. Some of the pieces are back and his team is ready to compete for the league title. If they are able to stay healthy and produce some wins early, this team could be a dangerous one.
Here is my pick for #2 in the league in 2019:
Pace University Setters (7-3, 6-3 NE-10)
Coach: Andrew Rondeau, 6th season (12-41)
Opening Game: September 5th vs Millersville
Game to Watch: October 5th at New Haven
If Pace plays well in the month of September, this will be a game to circle on the calendar. The Setters have a favorable September schedule, and this will be their first major test in the league. They have the experience and almost won on the blue turf two years again.
Player to Watch: Joe Mendez, DL
The redshirt junior was a sack machine last year. He spent a lot of time in the opposing backfield and just made plays each week. He will be the focus of the opposing offensive line coach this year and will need to overcome a lot of double teams to wreak havoc once again.
Unit to Watch: Offense
Remember when this team struggled to get a first down? Now, they are exciting and have weapons everywhere. They move the ball, are big upfront and just wear down the opposing defense. Whoever touches the ball has the ability to take it to the house and it is not your father’s Pace team.
Sixth-year head coach Andy Rondeau has built a program from scratch. He has recruited quality players and the results are speaking for themselves. Pace was an automatic win for everyone in the league and far from it now. He can’t let his team hear their accolades. They need to prove it on the field and show that they are ready to compete every week.
Here is my pick for #1 in the league in 2019:
New Haven Chargers (9-3, 8-1 NE-10)
Coach: Chris Pincince, 6th year (35-20)
Opening Game: September 7th at IUP
Game to Watch: September 14th at Stonehill
The Chargers always are tested when they make the trek to Easton. The games are close and usually come down to the final play of the game. This year will be no different. New Haven plays three of their first four games on the road and this might be the one that the team needs to get together to see if they are going to win the league in 2019.
Player to Watch: Markel Johnson, DL
The senior defensive lineman is too much to handle for a most offensive lineman in the league. He is big, strong and fast and is in the backfield in the blink of the eye. He is around the ball all the time and makes tackles. He has improved each season and expect 2019 to be no different.
Unit to Watch: Quarterback
The Chargers graduated one of the best last year. And the incoming quarterback has big shoes to fill. The good thing is that he has plenty of weapons to get the ball to. The playmakers are on the field but whoever starts week 1 will face a regional power and need to play beyond their years.
Sixth-year head coach Chris Pincince is able to reload his team year in and year out. He lost some good players last year but has some good ones back in the fold. The Chargers are always near or at the top of the league. 2019 will be no different and if they are healthy and bounces go their way, they could play deep into November again.