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Patriot League Offseason 2009: Fordham

As if Fordham needed a little more press going into the regular season in football - did you hear, Fordham will be offering merit-based aid in football starting this fall? - I'll oblige the Fordham athletic department further and offer my own take on the Rams' offseason an prospects for the 2009 season. Ladies and Gentelmen: *your* Fordham Rams.

FORDHAM
Coaching Changes: Talk about switching to the dark side. Head coach Tom Masella might be calling former offensive coordinator Ed Argast "Anakin" under his breath as he left Fordham this offseason to become offensive line coach under the Rams' crosstown rival, Columbia. (Though I don't think Hayden Christensen ever wore powder blue in those movies.) Furthermore, former defensive coordinator Frank Forcucci also left the Bronx to take the same position at Northeastern, leaving Masella to promote from within to full both the offensive (Bryan Volk) and defensive (Patrick Moore) coordinator positions. At assistant coach, too, Masella has basically performed a housecleaning after their disappointing sixth-place finish last year: he's brought in former Ram Malik Hall (Hofstra; Defensive line/Special Teams), Eddy Morrissey (Oregon; Offensive Line), and John Wholley (UConn; Running Backs). The great majority of the staff has been there two years or less.

The Hardest Guy to Replace: Fordham has most of its core returning for their senior year in 2009, but FS Matt Loucks will probably be missed the most. He's one of those guys where his statistics (56 tackles; 5 passes defended) don't reflect his true worth to the team - this bulldog was a nasty, hard-hitter, and despite missing a few games due to injury he managed two games with season highs in tackles (26 vs. Albany in 2007, 19 vs. Colgate in 2008). He's a tough player that I hated seeing play against Lehigh - that should say everything.

Big Name in the Incoming Class: A kicker, Chuck? Really? Yes, really. Freshman P/K Kevin Heinowitz (Indian Hills HS, NJ), a former soccer goalie and former member of the prestigious US Soccer Academy, promises to have a leg for kickoffs and punts that some Patriot League schools can only dream about. On his signing day he mentioned casually that he's hit 60 yard field goals in practice - that's the type of guy that might step in right away to kick kickoffs, with a shot a even more success during his college career.

Incoming Class Grade: B with an asterisk. While the class is a little bit small, there are enough gems in here - Heinowitz, Red Bank HS freshman LB Anthony Lubischer, 300 lb freshman OL Robert Bubacki - to give coach Masella high props, despite the lack of DBs in this year's group. But there's an asterisk here: it is contingent on a former Delaware transfer, sophomore QB Lou Ritaccio, making it to Rose Hill next year (he needs to sit out a year, coming from the Blue Hens) to solidify the QB position next year once senior QB John Skelton graduates.

Preseason so far: Aside from the coaching turnover, there was something else about Fordham's offseason I wanted to talk about... what was that again? Oh yeah, something about football scholarships, merit aid and the potential that Fordham could be leaving the Patriot League. You know, your typical offseason stuff.

Seriously, Fordham's announcement that going forward they would no longer needs-test their athletic aid went like a tidal wave through the Patriot League, making the Rams discussion point number one everywhere in the offseason this year. It's dwarfed the typical quiet that has surrounded Fordham's football program offseasons in the past: perhaps, too, it's kept people distracted from the fact that the Rams quietly have the great majority of their football team still in place from their magical 2007 title run, like senior LB James Crockett, junior LB Nicholas Magiera, junior RB Xavier Martin and senior WR Asa Lucas.

Another key player, of course is the tall Texan: senior QB John Skelton, who recently has gotten serious buzz as a NFL prospect from the Daily News. Fordham's offseason coverage used to be insignificant; this year, they're showing signs of hype that haven't been seen on Rose Hill since the 1930s. (Okay, maybe not since QB Kevin Eakin graduated.)

Fan Base: Things are very, very different with the Fordham fan base this year - it's been an offseason of extremes of emotion after a frustrating regression on the field in 2008.

It can't have been easy for Ram fans to go from a 2007 Patriot League title and playoff bid to a preseason pick to win the League in 2008 - only to struggle to a 5-6 record and out of the championship conversation by October. In a sports environment where the Yankees are expected to make the World Series every year, this couldn't have been good.

And when early reports of a small incoming class came in - and unconfirmed reports that the Patriot League's Academic Index, the mechanism which ensures that football players are representative of the rest of the incoming class, caused their class to come in below athletic expectations - Fordham fans were beginning to wonder if the Patriot League had it in for them.

But things change fast in New York. In a "New York Minute", coach Masella let leak that Fordham would start scheduling FBS money games in two years and they would start offering scholarships without a needs test. The news put new wind in the sails of Fordham fans - and gave them a familiar New York swagger. The fact that senior QB John Skelton is on the boards of NFL teams further buoyed Fordham fans - they feel they're on the brink of something huge.

You also can't ignore the backdrop: right now, the New York area has been wowed by a new Yankee Stadium. Back in the 1930s, Fordham and NYU played famous football games in the old Yankee Stadium, and there's definitely something in the air around Fordham once again. Fordham fans are on the brink of the big-time - the FCS big-time, that is - and Fordham fans probably haven't ever been this excited in the modern era.

Overall Offseason: Last year, Fordham fell hard from the Patriot League penthouse, but they hardly made it to the outhouse this offseason. Coach Masella saw to that: shaking things up again on his coaching staff, announcing FBS games and football scholarships, pushing his star QB as a potential NFL player. Rather than being sixth banana of New York area sports teams, Fordham looks to be a big player in the FCS world, and they have made public relations strides that other big-city schools such as Northeastern, Harvard or UPenn could only dream of making.

A funny thing can happen with happenings like this: while this crop of Ram seniors won't taste the fruits of scholarships or FBS games, the enthusiasm can creep into the team's performance this year, too - quite possibly putting them in line for another Patriot League championship. Will it happen - and if so, what will happen to the fans, with a title and visions of scholarships and playoff possibilities in their heads? It's a good time to be a Fordham fan.

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