Preview: New Faces Hope to Lead Football to Familiar Place

Monday, August 27, 2012

Garrett Bisbing
Bisbing has started 24 games during his career. Last year, he helped the Mules average 22.6 points and 313.9 yards per game – their best marks since 2008 – and received the Dominator Award as the offensive MVP of the Johns Hopkins game.
When the Muhlenberg football team travels to Newport News, Va., for Saturday’s season opener at The Apprentice School, it will be facing a squad comprised of students who, as part of their education, have jobs at a local shipyard learning the shipbuilding trade.

Some of the Mules will be undergoing a similar type of on-the-job training.

Muhlenberg heads into the 2012 season inexperienced in ways it has not been for quite some time – particularly on defense, where it returns only two starters, and on the offensive line, where just three players with any significant varsity experience are back.

Nevertheless, the Mules (7-3 last season) are confident that, even though the names might be unfamiliar, the team will find itself in a familiar spot: contending for its 10th Centennial Conference championship.

Tim Vogel
In addition to his three interceptions, Vogel recorded 25 tackles (16 solo) last season.
“One thing I noticed about this camp is that everyone’s competing for a spot,” said senior tackle and co-captain Frank Malandruccolo. “There’s a lot of competition going on, and that’s going to make us a better team overall.”

“It’s kind of fun not knowing what to expect,” added senior safety Tim Vogel. “ We don’t know what’s going to happen, but other teams don’t either.”

One thing Mules and opponents alike know to expect is a high level of production from the veterans on offense. Senior co-captain Dan Deighan (10 touchdowns passing, 2 rushing) and junior Joe Carlucci (3 TDs passing) alternated at quarterback at the end of last year and will continue to do so.

Deighan, a starter since late in his freshman year, shifts to wide receiver when not calling the signals, giving Muhlenberg six seniors at that position. Co-captain John Merklinger (team-leading 22 receptions last year) moves over after three years as a running back, while Isaiah Vaughn (42 catches in 2010) and Marcus Toomey (19.4 yards per catch last year) have been mainstays at wideout. John Gruver and Eric Gilbert also boast plenty of experience.

In order to maximize their depth at both quarterback and receiver (where sophomore Tyler George, the team’s third-leading receiver, also returns), the Mules will go to more of a spread offense this year.

“We could have a high-tempo offense,” said Malandruccolo.

John Gruver
Gruver caught this 30-yard touchdown pass vs. Moravian and returned a punt 30 yards vs. Juniata. He was the first Mule to record a 30-yard reception and a 30-yard punt return in the same season since 2003.
It doesn’t hurt that two-time All-CC selection Terrence Dandridge, a co-captain and the fourth all-time leading rusher in program history, is back, as is tight end Michael Long, who started all 10 games as a freshman last year.

As for the offensive line, Malandruccolo and senior guard Garrett Bisbing return as starters. Junior Rob Municchi figures to step into a starting role on the interior, and after that the Mules will go with varsity newcomers. Senior Spencer Kane is among those who stepped up in preseason.

“The line is coming along well,” said Malandruccolo. “We’re building chemistry, and that’s what it’s all about. If we’re all doing the right thing together, we’re going to have a successful offense.“

The Muhlenberg defense has known great success for the last decade, allowing fewer than 300 yards and 20 points per game for 11 straight years. If the Mules are to keep that streak alive, they will have to rely on players taking on greater roles.

“We have a lot of kids who got time last year, but not necessarily in a starting role,” noted Vogel.

Vogel is a perfect example of a player who will move up after serving as an “apprentice.” He tied for second on the team with three interceptions last year as a nickel and will start at safety alongside senior co-captain Shane O’Connor, whose 46 tackles last year were the most among returning players.

Juniors Darnell Davis, Andrew Onimus and Richard Reid all have game experience in the secondary and will compete with sophomore Khiry Hughes for spots on the corners.

Sophomore Ian Gimbar is back to start at one outside linebacker spot after making 37 tackles last year. Sophomore Gene Blanco and junior Michael Young are top contenders on the other side.

Inside, junior Kory Crichton recorded 32 tackles in spot duty last year, and senior Matt Johnson, who had an impressive 2010 season, returns after missing all of last year with injury.

Sophomore Greg DeLade (4 sacks) and junior Andrew Tullo (4 tackles for loss) both saw considerable action on the defensive line last year. Seniors Ryan Murphy and Chris Galletta are among those vying for the third starting spot.

Kicker is another position where the Mules will have a new name. Sophomore Connor Winter, who split time with Deighan at punter last year, and classmate Keenan Mease battled for the nod in the preseason.

“We have a lot of athletes, and I think that is going to make up for not having a lot of experience,” said Vogel. “It’s going to be different, but I feel we’re going to respond and have a good season.”