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Patriot League Offseason 2008: Holy Cross

On a football Friday, just before Colgate plays Stony Brook and a day after Jacksonville State let me down against Georgia Tech, I bring you the continuation of my "Patriot League Offseason" series. Next up: *your* Holy Cross Crusaders.

Coaching Changes: We all knew it was too good to last, right? After a year where the Crusaders' staff remained intact, Holy Cross saw the architect of its high-flying pass offense, offensive coordinator Chris Pincince, fly the coop to Rhode Island (along with a bunch of New Haven University folks, included several former Holy Cross assistant coaches) to become offensive coordinator for the Rams. Gilmore promoted from within to fill the position, making tight ends coach Mike Pedone the new offensive coordinator. There are more new faces, too: Andy MacKenzie was hired as a quarterbacks coach, and Matt Fanning joins the staff as running backs coach.

The Hardest Guy To Replace: Randolph's two top targets from last year, WR Ryan Maher and WR Thomas Harrison, have both graduated and won't be easy to replace. A grand total of 1,702 yards receiving and 16 TDs graduated, not to mention a couple of speedsters with excellent hands. Although Holy Cross' vaunted passing attack still has senior QB Dominic Randolph at the helm (not to mention senior WRs Jon Brock and Brett McDermott), it remains to be seen how he'll do with his two top targets gone.

Big Name in the Incoming Class: At 6'4' and 295 lbs, OL Andrew Jameson's exploits on the local high school gridiron makes him a big man (and a big name) coming into Holy Cross, who won the recruiting battle over Brown, Cornell, and Lafayette. Coming from nearby Brockton, his team won the "Big Three" championship last year with Jameson playing as a two-way lineman.

Incoming Class Grade: C+. A fairly small twenty-two man class only boasts three defensive linemen and three offensive linemen - both areas that will be needs for the Crusaders after this year, with four "O" linemen and one "D" lineman who are going to be seniors. The two QBs they secured in their incoming class seemed like solid recruits, but if I'm a Holy Cross fan I'm worried about depth, and this class just simply didn't provide that in key areas.

Spring Game: Some real interesting developments from the spring season: the first involves the blossoming of senior WR Brett McDermott as the primary receiving threat for the Crusaders (who had 5 receptions for 51 yards in the spring game and 2 runs as well for 33 yards). The other is the possible emergence of sophomore DL Mude Ohimor who had 2 sacks in the controlled scrimmiage as well - a possible defensive impact player that the Crusaders have been desperate for.

Preseason So Far: For Holy Cross watchers, it's pretty much unfolded as expected. Randolph has looked good as have McDermott and Brock, while senior TE Ryan McGuire's return for a 5th season really helped boster this offense further. The question, as always, has been how the defense will hold up. With no reported injuries, and junior DL Don Metheney's successful return from a season-ending injury last year, the defense will be healthier. Whether it will be enough to hold off Fordham, Colgate, Lafayette and Lehigh is another matter.

Fan Base: Hard as it is to beleive today, Holy Cross used to be a football and basketball town. In 1987, Holy Cross was a national conversation - and it wasn't about John Havilcek, either. There was Gordie Lockbaum, the only two-way player in college football at that time. There was the rivalry with Boston College. In 1987, and continuing through 1991, they were a dominant force in college football and the newly-formed Patriot League.

Now - largely at the behest of their former president - it's really just a basketball town, as Holy Cross slowly abandoned scholarships in football and saw their once-proud football team go into the toilet. Bill Simmons - yes, that Bill Simmons, of ESPN fame - said of his alma mater that it was "a D1 school with a D3 mentality. Nobody takes it personally when we lose. The goal is to churn out decent teams with nice kids and high graduation rates. We try to win, but not really."

Since those dark days , Holy Cross football has seen a revival. They've come oh-so-close to winning the Patriot League title. Although there's still a "missing generation" of Crusader fans, there even is some whisper on campus about a football team that's pretty darned good. (They even - occasinally - stop their conversations about Holy Cross basketball.)

The fans reflect the closeness to the Patriot League title that the Crusader team has experienced the past two years: they are so close to the brass ring, yet they cannot grasp it. The old-timers that remember the days of Fennerty at Lockbaum see that day where they're a part of championships and a conversation about the Crusaders having a shot at a national title. For the "lost generation" it's a brand new world, a dormant program revived by Tom Gilmore - a figure to immortalize in butter sculptures - or maybe even a banner in the Hart Recreation Center (a place where Holy Cross students might actually attend a sporting event - Fitton field wouldn't be the best choice for that banner).

Both sets of fans can smell - taste - a championship. The question is: what will happen if once again these poor fans are denied? Another loss to a Jesuit school like Fordham (which appears to be becoming a budding rivalry), or those (somewhat, anyway) close by Raiders of Colgate (whith whom the Crusaders also have a sort-of rivalry)? What, indeed, might happen?

Overall Offseason: If there were ever a time to say "this is The Year" for Holy Cross, this is it. With a preseason player of the year on offense in Randolph, four seniors on the offensive line (five if you include their tight end), and two great WR targets returning, it's a feeling of now-or-never in Worcester. Yet the old, nagging questions remain: Can the defense emerge? Will the team fold in October in November? If the Crusaders answer those two questions, they'll be practicing on Thanksgiving. If not, perhaps the Holy Cross football fans will go to slumber once again.. for who knows how long.


Anonymous said…
Great write up LFN, I agree with most of your points, but there are several areas that could have used more research.

1) This is not a big deal, but it is Brett McDermott, not Brent.

2) Completely disagree with your analysis of the recruiting class. It is quite difficult to evaluate a class solely based on,, and other online articles that give reports on players. Also, the reason HC only had 22 kids in the class was because of the fabulous attrition rate Coach Gilmore has had in his time at HC. Rarely do players quit or transfer. There was simply no need to have 26-30 kids in the class...the depth is already there. The needs that needed to be met were met (2 QB's to replace Randolph, and several DB's to aid in the secondary which was one of the weaker points for HC.
Anonymous said…
Crusader 11 has it exactly right. HC did not need a big recruiting class because it has had several large classes in recent years and almost no attrition. The roster right now has 111 players.

In terms of recruiting, the DL was bolstered by last year's class. The primary need on the defense was for defensive backs, and HC got several players with excellent speed.

I agree that the key to the season is the performance of the defense. If it can stop people and give the offense the ball, HC will be tough to beat.

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