Muhlenberg College

Allentown, Pa.
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Monday, September 1, 2003
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SEASON PREVIEW
FOOTBALL HITS THE ROAD IN SEARCH OF THIRD STRAIGHT TITLE
After winning back-to-back Centennial Conference co-championships, the Muhlenberg College football team is taking its show on the road for the 2003 season.

For just the second time in the last 60 seasons, the Mules have six road games on the schedule. The trips range from a one-hour drive to Ursinus to a six-plus-hour haul to Christopher Newport.

The team opens the season with two road games, both against teams that were in postseason play in 2002. The first of those is this Saturday at Kings Point, which went 8-3 last season and earned a bid to the ECAC South Atlantic game.

In order to maintain the level of success the program has enjoyed the last three years (a record of 26-8, including 10-2 in 2002), the Mules will need to be “Road
Keith Van Fleet
Van Fleet helped the Muhlenberg defense go five straight games without giving up a first-half point — a streak that was broken with a fluke touchdown on the last play of the half of a 56-6 NCAA Tournament win against Mass.-Dartmouth.
Warriors.” They will also need to break in a new quarterback and restock a defensive line that lost three all-conference starters to graduation.

Defense: Muhlenberg’s run to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2002 was fueled by its defense. The Mules shut out three of their final six opponents and allowed only 50 points over the final seven games of the season (after giving up 113 in the first five).

The Mules were particularly effective against the run down the stretch, allowing 2.0 yards per carry and no rushing touchdowns during a six-game winning streak. Three senior starters up front – all of whom earned All-CC honors – were instrumental in compiling those numbers. The lone returning starter on the defensive line is senior end Nick Otranto, who led Muhlenberg in tackles for loss (12) and forced fumbles (three) while tying for the team lead in sacks (seven). Junior Michael Della Pella, a starter in 2001, also returns.

The linebacking corps is long on experience, led by returning senior starters Tony Briscella and Keith Van Fleet. Briscella earned All-CC second-team honors in 2002 after recording 87 tackles from his middle linebacker position. Van Fleet, a team co-captain, recovered from an early injury to notch 48 tackles.

The secondary features three returning senior starters, including All-CC second-team selections Dan Miller and Thanasis Petrakis. Miller, the rover, was third on the Mules with 77 total tackles and led the squad with eight pass breakups. Petrakis registered 44 tackles and intercepted four passes from his free safety position. Joe Getz, who led Muhlenberg and the CC with six interceptions and made 46 tackles, returns at one corner.

Special Teams: The special teams units were critical to Muhlenberg’s success in 2002 and, although the Mules must replace both of their kickers (one of whom was a first-team All-American), many of the players responsible for the outstanding special teams play – which included five touchdowns and five blocked kicks – are back.

Returning to field the kicks are seniors Kodi Shay and Matt Bernardo and sophomore Mike Mrkobrad. Shay was named to the All-CC second team as a kick returner after averaging a league-best 10.3 yards on 34 punt returns. Bernardo returned 14 kickoffs for a 31.4-yard average and one touchdown, while Mrkobrad averaged 21.3 yards per kickoff return and scored a touchdown as a member of the kickoff coverage unit.

Offense: The Muhlenberg offense remained potent in 2002, averaging more than 350 yards per game for the sixth straight season and more than 30 points for the fourth consecutive year. The Mules set a school record by scoring 40 or more points seven times, topping the 50-point mark on three occasions.

’Berg showed excellent balance on offense, with only 99 yards separating its gains through the air and on the ground, but may lean more on its running game at the start of the 2003 season; for the first time since 1998 the team returns no quarterback with significant varsity experience. Fortunately, the Mules have one of the best running backs in Division III in Bernardo. The preseason All-American is the program’s all-time leading rusher and scorer. Last year he rushed for 1,393 yards and 17 touchdowns and ranked 11th in Division III in scoring and all-purpose yards.

Mrkobrad, Bernardo’s understudy, had a breakthrough season in 2002, rushing for 267 yards and catching 17 passes, and should see even more time on the field this fall as the starting fullback.

The backs will run behind an offensive line anchored by senior preseason All-American Chris Radomski at left tackle. The line also returns a pair of guards who were starters as freshmen last year in Tim Opiel and Mike Leanch. Seniors Randy Holak and Frank Santini, both of whom missed most of last season with injuries, are among the contenders for starting spots.

Juniors Nick Rosetti (34 passes in 2002) and Ryan Newman (15 passes in 2001) are the most experienced quarterbacks; either one could earn the starting nod.

The receiving corps also will need players to emerge as regulars. Shay led the Mules with 46 catches last year, earning second-team All-CC honors, but the rest of the wideouts have a total of four career catches. Senior Ben Phillips will move to receiver after playing three years at cornerback. Senior Rob Sherman had an outstanding season as starting tight end in 2002, catching 17 passes to land on the All-CC first team.


Questions or comments? Send mail to falk@muhlenberg.edu
Last updated September 1, 2003