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Muhlenberg College

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

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F-F-F-FOOTBALL F-F-F-FIRED UP

Across the country, 4-H clubs are communities of young people who are learning leadership, citizenship and life skills. The 2007 Muhlenberg football team will be a “4-F” club with the same goals, and one other: winning games.

The Mules, who open up Friday night at The College of New Jersey, finished the 2006 season with a 5-5 record, a two-game improvement from the previous year. They closed strong, scoring impressive wins against Ursinus (undefeated at the time), Gettysburg and Moravian in the final five weeks, losing twice by three points on the road. The last time Muhlenberg rebounded from a losing season to go 5-5, it proceeded to average nearly eight wins over the next six years.

For the Mules to return to the success they enjoyed in the early part of the decade, they will have to mind their four Fs: focus (each player focusing on their jobs), fitness (maintaining tremendous physical shape), finish (putting games away in the fourth quarter) and fellowship (keeping good team chemistry).

Of those four, fellowship is the most important, according to senior defensive back Kevin Ciccarello. “Everyone gets along with each other, and the team cohesiveness is better than in the past, I feel,” he said. “It’s a good atmosphere, and it definitely carries over onto the field.”

The Mules are a good
John Holenda
Holenda’s pass breakup in the end zone was one of the key plays in last year’s 22-6 win against 2007 CC preseason favorite Ursinus.
young team with a great deal of potential. If everything works out, the season could be marked by a fifth F: fun.

DEFENSE
A defense that began the 2006 season young and inexperienced goes into 2007 still young but with lots more experience. In fact, Muhlenberg returns all but one starter and 16 of its top 17 tacklers from a year ago.

The Mules ranked in the top 10 in Division III in total defense in both 2004 and 2005, leading the country the latter year. Although the defense was not quite up to that standard last season, it improved over the course of the campaign and should be formidable in 2007.

“I think we’ll be very good, but we have to make more big plays to get back to where we were freshman year,” noted Ciccarello. “For the d-backs, that means turning knockdowns into picks and creating more turnovers.”

Leading the charge up front is fifth-year senior Chris Musselman, a first-team All-Centennial Conference selection and the team’s defensive MVP. He recorded 8 sacks last year and leads all active CC players with 14 career sacks. Also returning on the line are junior William Moates (29 tackles) at nose and senior Chris Swensen (10 tackles for loss) at end, who shared the team’s Most Improved Player award in their first year on the varsity. Senior Kris Denboske and sophomores Frank Emmett and Brian Frisch did well in reserve roles last year.

Senior outside linebackers Dustin Good (9 tackles for loss) and Tom Tarsitano (team-leading 73 tackles) are both co-captains, and both were All-CC second-team selections. Junior Matt Rathbun (55 tackles, four fumble recoveries) and senior John Holenda (21 tackles) are back on the inside. Juniors Nick Colson and James Corbett saw starting time last year, and sophomore Ewan Wright could push for a starting slot this fall.

The secondary also features a pair of second-team All-CC players in corners Brandon Doyle (two interceptions, five breakups) and Cameron Ahouse (five interceptions, six breakups). Junior David Mazzola (56 tackles) returns at free safety, while Ciccarello (11 tackles) is the only new starter, at rover. Seniors Ross Tanner and Joel Haddock and sophomore Dan Aitkens are likely to see plenty of time in nickel situations.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Special teams have long been an important part of Muhlenberg’s success. Last year, the Mules returned the opening kickoff of the season for a touchdown and blocked six kicks, including four punts.

Senior Joel Haddock was responsible for two of the four blocks, both of which led directly to points, and was the team’s special teams MVP. Junior Brandon Doyle emerged as one of the top return men in the CC, ranking 18th in Division III in kickoff returns.
Mike Gawel
Gawel, who started five games last year, is slated to start at right tackle when the Mules open up Friday night.

The kicking game will have a different look to it after Muhlenberg graduated its punter, placekicker and kickoff specialist. Senior Jordon Grube, who has 17 career field goals to his credit, will attempt to win back the kicking job after an injury-plagued 2006 campaign.

OFFENSE
After three years of declining numbers, the Mule offense took a big step forward in 2006, improving its scoring average from 13.8 to 20.5. With a solid core returning in the backfield, Muhlenberg will look to continue to improve.

For the first time since 2002, the Mules return their starting quarterback. Junior Eric Santagato completed a CC-leading 58.8 percent of his passes and rushed for nine touchdowns in his first year as a starter. Cutting down on his 17 interceptions will be a top priority.

Versatile senior Matt Johnson will see action all over the field, from tight end to running back to wide receiver. He closed out the 2006 season as the starting running back and is the team’s top returning receiver (21 catches). Junior Matt Smith figures to see significant time at tight end after lettering last year.

Junior John DeLuca has been the Mules’ top rusher each of the last two years, last season running for 414 yards and averaging 4.7 yards per carry (up from 3.3 as a freshman). Sophomore Matt Boland established himself as the starting fullback midway through his freshman season, and junior Erik Snyder is a talented running back who should push for playing time.

The biggest areas of concern are the offensive line and wide receiver. Muhlenberg returns only two starting linemen, but one of them, junior center Mike Nolan, was chosen to the All-CC first team. The other, sophomore Kevin Hussey, started at guard late in the season. Seniors Mike Gawel and Patrick Calves and junior Steve Halupka all saw significant playing time last year, when the line was beset by numerous injuries.

The Mules’ returning receivers caught only nine passes last year. Junior Edward DeRisi started for part of the season, catching five balls and also contributing on kickoff returns. Junior Joe Caporoso and sophomore Phil Cresta will look to take on greater roles after lining up as reserves in 2006.

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