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Muhlenberg College

Thursday, September 3, 2009

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Season Preview

On a recent day before practice the Muhlenberg football team blasted Bone Crusher’s “Never Scared” on the locker room stereo.

For a team that returns just four starters on offense and seven on defense and will start freshmen at three key positions, the song might be a surprising anthem. But despite their lack of experience, the Mules have no fear as they seek a third straight Centennial Conference championship.

“We are very strong defensively and have a lot of young talent on offense,” said senior tight end JJ Contessa. “Now it’s just about finding the right chemistry. We had a fantastic preseason and
Cameron Ahouse
Ahouse tied for the team lead in pass breakups (7) and interceptions (4) and was third in tackles last season, earning him All-CC first team honors.
I have very high expectations for this team.”

With a dominating defense, mobile quarterback and powerful running back a season ago, the Mules were able to keep opponents off the scoreboard and play a ball-control offense that averaged 34:24 in possession time.

Contessa expects the defense to be just as dominating this year and the offense to go to the air more than it did a year ago. He also believes the offense will frustrate opposing defenses with a good rotation at running back and excellent depth at wide receiver and tight end.

But seeking their third straight conference title, the Mules won’t open the season as the favorites as they did in 2008. Instead, they’ll be viewed as a team lacking the experience often required of a championship team.

Nowhere will that lack of experience be felt more than at two premium positions: quarterback and running back.

For the first time since 1994, the Mules entered camp without a quarterback that had ever taken a snap in a regular season game. That left the position wide open, and freshman Justin Kreamer emerged out of the six-man competition as the starter. A pocket passer with excellent mobility to avoid the rush, Kreamer will be the first Mule freshman to start the season opener at quarterback since 1972.

“We have to be patient with Kreamer,” said Contessa. “He’ll make his mistakes, but he’s very composed in the pocket and makes good reads. He just needs to manage the game and make a big play every now and then.”

Newcomers will also see the bulk of the time at running back, where there were similar question marks entering camp. Freshman Terrence Dandridge, a speedy back who is not afraid to lower his shoulder, will be the starter. Sophomore transfer J.T. Merklinger, himself an elusive and crafty runner, will help shoulder the load in the backfield. Senior Codie Bender and sophomore MJ Rus will split time at fullback.
Jake Floyd
Floyd was second on the Mules in tackles for loss (10) and tied for second in sacks (3) as a junior. He was also named second team Academic All-America.

The Mules have considerably more experience at the remaining offensive positions.

Senior Phil Cresta returns at wide receiver after catching 56 balls for 981 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago and being named All-CC first team. Junior Bobby Bushong will be the other receiver after catching 12 passes and scoring two touchdowns last season. Contessa and fellow senior Matt Boland both saw starting time at tight end last year and will once again make a formidable duo at the position.

On the line, junior Mark Bigelli (All-CC second team) and senior Kevin Hussey return as starters, with Bigelli at right guard and Hussey sliding over to center after three years as a guard. Juniors John Allen and Lou Greco will man left guard and right tackle respectively, while talented freshman Garrett Bisbing will start at left tackle.

On defense, seven of 11 starters return to a unit that ranked 14th in Division III in total defense last season and 10th in passing efficiency defense.

The biggest change will be on the defensive line. Lacking a big nose tackle to be featured in the middle of its 3-4 defense, Muhlenberg will instead rely on a six-man rotation on the line that will include senior veterans Jake Floyd (3 sacks, 10 tackles for loss), Jeremiah Lachaud (6 sacks), Ewan Wright (22 tackles, 2 blocked kicks) and Garrett Orr as well as sophomores Michael Kellum and Kenneth Cobb.

Kevin Hussey
Hussey helped the Mules lead the Centennial Conference in time of possession the last two years.
“There are a lot of guys that can make plays on the D-line and there’s a lot of speed there,” said Contessa. “With the rotation our guys will have very fresh legs in the fourth quarter.”

Senior Frank Emmett moves to outside linebacker this season after recording 53 tackles (6 for loss) and earning All-CC second team honors at end last fall. Juniors Scott Gavin (48 tackles, 6 TFL, All-CC second team) and Patrick McDonough (44 tackles) will man the inside of the linebacking corps, while juniors Scott Lissner (22 tackles, 4 for loss) and Andy Curley will share time at the remaining outside ’backer spot.

Leading the secondary is three-time All-CC choice Cameron Ahouse, who leads all active Mules in career tackles (125), pass breakups (18) and interceptions (10). Sophomore Chris Hartzell (18 tackles, 1 INT) will take over the other cornerback spot after an impressive rookie campaign. Junior Mark Accomando (41 tackles, 6 pass breakups) will slide from outside linebacker to rover, while sophomore Kevin Ryan will man the free safety position.

Junior Michael Katz will return at kicker after a breakout season last year in which he connected on all 45 of his extra-point tries (the best perfect mark in Division III) and booted eight field goals, with a long of 42. Junior Jason LoPipero will take over punting duties after two years as a backup. Dandridge and sophomore Chase Nadell will share kick return duties, while Bushong and junior transfer Joe Montemurro will be the primary punt returners.

Off the field, Muhlenberg finished tied for second in the CC preseason poll, receiving five first-place votes. They also received 22 votes in the preseason poll, the most of any CC team.

But Contessa and the rest of the Mules aren’t concerned with what polls have to say.

“We don’t harp on the polls,” he said. “We’re excited to talk with our pads.”

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