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Time for Football
veterans promise improvement in Penns prospects.
By Noel Hynd
Are you ready for some football?
I know I am. I should have one key on this word processor which, when
hit, prints out the phrase, and the Ivy race should come down to the
final Saturday. Once again, it should. And once again, pre-season wisdom
would indicate that Penn should be right in the equation for the championship,
with several key participants returning from last years squad.
The quarterback position was strong for the Quakers
in 1999 as Northwestern transfer Gavin Hoffman ripped through the Quaker
record books, setting single-season records for passing with 2,322 yards,
completions (200) and attempts (336). Strangely enough, many observers
thought Hoffman, now a junior, got off to a slow start early in
the season, though this was primarily due to inexperienced receivers.
This year, the receivers are experienced.
The tailback position was thought to be one of the
hardest positions to fill on the team in 1999, but junior Kris Ryan dominated
the Ivy League in rushing, finishing the year with 1,197 yards and becoming
just the sixth back in Penn history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
This year, the combination of Ryan and senior Mike Verillea Duke transfer
who rushed for 179 yards on 46 carries and was a strong third-down back
in 1999should give Penn a solid and versatile backfield. At fullback,
junior Adam Keslosky and sophomore Todd Okolovitch are the primary candidates
for the starting position.
Penn lost two solid players to graduation at the tight-end
position. However, senior Ben Zagorski had 26 catches for 243 yards last
year, while sophomore Matt Michaleski possesses strong blocking abilities.
The receiving corps may be the most talented and deepest
part of the Penn 2000 squad. Junior Rob Milanese broke into the lineup
last season and caught 41 passes for 702 yards, the sixth-best single-season
yardage total in Quaker history. Senior Doug ONeill returns after missing
the 1999 season with a knee injury. In 1998, he caught 42 passes for 506
yards and three TDs. Junior Colin Smith had a strong season last year,
and other wideouts who emerged in 1999 were senior John Holahan and junior
With the graduation of three starters, the offensive
line is perhaps the biggest question mark on the team. However, junior
Sam Gottesman returns after starting all 10 games at left guard and junior
John Zepeda, who played a great deal last year, looks to have the left
tackle spot sewn up.
The defense also lost several stalwarts to graduation,
particularly up the middle, but brothers Ed and John Galan lead a talented
group of upperclassmen at the defensive tackle positions. Ed, a senior,
finished 1999 with 22 tackles (four for losses of 22 yards), while John,
a junior, recorded 13 tackles and four sacks.
The defensive end positions have plenty of experience
and will be bolstered by the return of several talented players from an
injury-filled 1999 season. A knee injury forced senior Brian Person to
the sidelines last year. A three-year starter, he is very athletic and
should easily top his 1998 numbers, if healthy. Fellow senior Kevin Martin,
who missed the entire 1999 season after injuring his ankle during the
preseason, is a very physical player with a penchant for big plays.
The Quakers are deep and experienced at the linebacker
positions, despite the graduation of unanimous first-team All-Ivy pick
and emotional leader Jim Hisgen W00. While Hisgen drew most of the raves,
senior Dan Morris was not far behind, finishing second on the team with
59 tackles and recording one tackle for a loss and one pass deflection.
Possibly the best freshman on the team last year was linebacker Travis
Belden, the teams Defensive Rookie of the Year.
In the secondary, senior Joey Alofaituli will once
again anchor one corner position. Sophomore Fred Plaza established himself
as a solid nickel back and special teams player on the other side, recording
27 tackles, four pass breakups and one interception in 1999.
At strong-safety, junior Kunle Williams looks like
the heir apparent to the graduated Eric Bunn EAS00. In 1999, Williams
tied for the team lead with four interceptions for 153 return yards and
had a record-breaking performance against Princeton, when he returned
two picks for scores. Senior Hasani White, third on the team with 53 tackles,
returns to start at free safety.
The kicking game should again be a productive unit
as senior Jason Feinberg returns after a strong season in which he converted
15-of-21 field goals and 26-of-28 extra points to earn second-team All-Ivy
honors. He also ranked third nationally (Division I-AA) with 1.5 field
goals per game.
With the majority of their skill players returning
on offense and a strong mix of talent and experience on defense, the Quakers
will be looking to improve from their 5-5 showing in 1999. Cornell, which
was 5-2 in the league last year, would seem to be the pre-season favorite
to win the championship, with Penn widely predicted as the runner-up.
Penns final game of the year, however, is at Cornell on November 18.
Think tundra and dress warmly. One way or another that game should have
a bearing on the championship.
And a final note. This year, unlike any previous Ivy
season, there are only seven teams eligible for the Ivy crown. Over the
summer, an investigation by the Ivy Leagues governing body concluded
that a Brown University booster club arranged financial aid for two football
players and promised it to eight recruits. As a penalty, while Brown will
play games and be included in the league standings, the school is ineligible
to win the league title. Should Brownco-champion with Yale last yearfinish
with the best record in the league, the second-place team will be awarded
Noel Hynd C70 writes on sports for the
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