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Patriot League Offseason 2008: Fordham

Continuing my "Patriot League Offseason" series, next up under the microscope is last year's Patriot League champions: *your* Fordham Rams.

FORDHAM

Coaching Changes: Masella's housecleaning in the 2006 offseason in the coaching department paid the ultimate dividends: a win over Columbia in the "Liberty Cup", a winning record, and practice on Thanksgiving (another way of saying they won the division and were slated to play in the playoffs). Unfortunately for the rest of the league, the same key coaches (offensive coordinator Ed Argast, defensive coordinator Frank Forcucci) are still here, along with all the main coaches from last year. The one new name is a familiar one to Patriot League fans: Shawn Johnson, who nearly transferred to Fordham in 2003 when he graduated from Duke but still had a year of eligibility. Unfortunately for Colgate, the folks at Fordham steered him to Delaware where Johnson helped the Blue Hens trounce the Raiders in the I-AA Championship game 40-0.

The Hardest Guys to Replace: Nearly all the key parts to last year's championship team return for the Rams, but Fordham suffers two key losses in the linebacking corps: LBs Dominique Owens and Earl Hudnell. Owens was Fordham's second-leading tackler last year (82, including 7 tackles for loss), while Hudnell (59 tackles, 15 1/2 for loss) also wreaked havoc in opposing backfields in 2007. Hudnell also had three interceptions last year -- including one for a touchdown against Lehigh that sealed their win, 28-18.

Big Name in the Incoming Class: Usually FCS schools manage to luck out with talented local kids who slip through the recruiting cracks for whatever reason. This year, one such possibility is freshman RB Darryl Whiting. With unconventional size (6'4, 200 lbs) and speed to go with his fantastic senior season in Holy Cross in Queens, what scared him off from major colleges might work perfectly in Fordham's offensive system: as a RB, "X", "Y", or "W" back in Fordham's flexible spread-style offense, he could be a dual threat as a wideout or a rusher.

Incoming Class Grade: B. For the Rams, you could say (as Meat Loaf once did) "two out of three ain't bad". I want you.... Masella got some quality skill players they got (including two interesting QBs, including the son of the head coach of the CFL's Hamilton Tiger Cats, freshman QB Brian Taafe). I need you..... In one need area, coach Masella went far and wide to get the big bodies (and boy did they need "O" linemen: Masella nabbed *seven*). But there ain't no way, you'll ever get those DBs you need.... on a defense which desperately needed defensive backs, two DBs simply ain't hacking it. Still, Masella once again has a very impressive incoming class.

Spring Game: Not sure the final score of 44-40 was indicative of the nature of the scrimmage (which had a fair number of starters held out due to injury), but the first-team offense seemed to simply start up where they left off. Junior WR John Skelton left no doubt who the starter was at QB (12/14, 135 yards), but it's at receiver where the surprises started: a star DB last year, junior DB Isiejah Allen, switched to WR, and sophomore TE Stephen Skelton - John's brother - also made it look like he might be heard from on Rose Hill.

Preseason so far: Quietly, Masella the former New York firefighter appears not to be happy simply taking last year's champs and sticking to the same program: the firefighter, it seems, is also a tinkerer. Oddly for a returning conference champion, there seems to be an awful lot of movement in position on this team: junior TE Frank Curry (from LB), senior LB Mark Meehan (from WR), and sophomore DB Isa Abdul El-Quddus (from LB), just to name a few. (You might need to buy a program just to keep up.)

Fan Base: You'd think Fordham fans would be just like, say New York Yankee fans: filled with bravado, ready to heckle the opposition at a moment's notice, to yell out "Holy Cross Sucks" in the middle of a game for no apparent reason (even if the Rams are playing Georgetown). But it's simply not true: Ram fans have long become accustomed to being sixth banana in the biggest sports town in America (and seventh if the New York Red Bulls are in the MLS playoffs). That has kept Fordham fans humble over the years.

But being New Yorkers, they still see the Big Sports, and the experience the Big Myths about New York sports - like calling Bill Bradley an NBA star, that "Donnie Baseball" somehow was a great player - that somehow putting Eli in the same zip code as Peyton as a quarterback isn't heresy.

As a result, Fordham fans sudden surge from sixth in 2006 to first to 2007 leaves the common Ram unable to function. On some level Fordham fans have faint memories of their team in New York history: Lombardi, Granite, the rivalry with the NYU Violets, Bowl games. Somewhere, deep inside, Fordham fans have to keep secretly hoping that Nike will make commercials about how junior LB James Crockett (cast as David) slayed "Gilmore's Goliath" with a last-minute interception , cementing what is a great college football story - the resurrection of big-time college sports in New York. "Yet still Billy Crystal and the college football legend-makers stay away. Why? Why???"

Fordham fans, this year more than most, have these two forces pulling at them of humble followers of Fordham and this larger-than-life New York mythos of sports. Somewhere in all these fans, there are realists: they can't compete with the Yankees. Yet there's a restlessness there. It will be interesting if it will result in eventual riots at the New York Post for more Fordham football coverage if they get some early success in September - especially if the Post covers the "Days Until Girardi's Firing" over the Rams' success.

Overall Offseason: Last year, I questioned coach Masella for keeping offensive coordinator Ed Argast after they struggled so bad on offense. (Shows what I know.) This year, the staff is (rightfully) intact, and almost all of the key players return -which should translate to being prohibitive favorites for the Patriot League title in 2008. Yet the restlessness - the switching of players' positions, the tinkering on offense - persists, and lends to the perception that maybe, just maybe, last year was simply a fluke.

Two things can happen with the continued tinkering: risk and reward. The potential reward? Another winning team in 2008 that will keep the opposition guessing all year. The risk? That the tinkering will break the winning formula from 2007.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Like your stuff, but... Jesus... Donnie Baseball was a great player. Anyone can see that.

Hall of Famer? Sadly, no. Back problems saw to that.

But... Batting champ? Check. RBI champ? Check. MVP? Check. Led league in doubles? Check. Led league in hits? Check. Gold Glover? Check (actually, about nine checks). Dominant in the playoffs? Over .400 in his one try, plus the RBI double that would have won the series if the bullpen hadn't puked it up.

The guy was a great player, for a couple of years arguably the best in the game. Hate NY fans all you like, or Fordham fans, or whoever -- but you gotta give Donnie his due.

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