Football season may still be a few months away, but excitement is already sky-high on the Hilltop. After years of being chained to the Patriot League cellar, the Hoyas (8-3, 4-2 Patriot League) defied preseason expectations in 2011 to finish just one game short of their first conference title. However, as the team prepares for its annual spring game this week, players and coaches are keen to combine their celebrations of recent success with determination to continue the steady climb to the Patriot League summit.
The program’s ascent has not been without bumps in the road, and this spring has been no different. In addition to the expected loss of several impact players to graduation, the Hoyas also introduced four new coaches, including a new offensive coordinator in Vinny Marino to replace the departed Dave Patenaude. Head Coach Kevin Kelly, 2011 Patriot League Coach of the Year, has found the transition to Marino’s scheme to be seamless, having described his new colleague as “the total package.”
“To the casual fan [the offense]is going to look very similar,” Coach Kelly said. “Coach Marino has done a great job blending last year’s terminology into his system.”
The Hoyas can expect more defensive continuity within coaching staff, but will still need to recover from the loss of several key contributors, including Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Andrew Schaetzke. Linebackers Robert McCabe and Jeremy Grasso will assume much of this responsibility as the new leaders of a defense that was instrumental to the Hoyas resurgence last season. While replacing the production and presence of a quarterback killer like Schaetzke will inevitably take time, McCabe and Grasso have helped inspire a determined work ethic this spring, laying a foundation for the program’s bright future.
“Their practice habits were awesome this spring,” Kelly said. “I really think that’s spilled over to the rest of the defense because the younger players we have really look up to those two guys.”
With senior leadership on defense and an injection of 20 years of experience from Marino on offense, the Hoyas look poised to challenge for the Patriot League crown once again. But it remains unclear whether the team can handle the burden of expectations, something it has altogether avoided in the past.
You can catch a glimpse of the 2012 Hoyas on Saturday at Multi-Sport Field as they play their final tune-up of the spring. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.