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Patriot League Offseason 2009: Georgetown

We continue our tour around the Patriot League, this time stopping in the District for my offseason blog series. After taking in the Washington Monument, and waving hello to President Obama, I introduce to you: *your* Georgetown Hoyas.

Coaching Changes: It's Year Four of the Hoya rebuilding project for head coach Kevin Kelly, and despite a 5-27 record during his first three years (and only one Patriot League victory) the core of his coaching staff remains largely intact. Gone is linebacker coahc Sudeep Garg (apparently to the private sector) while Kelly welcomes in former club football offensive coordinator Chris Brown (George Mason; Defensive Backs) and former marine Matt Webb (Louisville; Special Teams).

The Hardest Guy To Replace: An easy call: it's the defensive lineman with the hard-to-pronounce name. DE Ataefiok Etukeren's 61 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks made him by far the most dominant defensive player on the Hoyas last season, and was the Georgetown player I feared the most last year. Apparently there was something to that, too: the NFL's Buffalo Bills signed him to a free-agent contract, and he seems like a good chance to make the team (or at least make the practice squad).

Big Name in the Incoming Class: With Georgetown's offense having so many problems the last three years, getting big freshman OL Kevin Sullivan (Bergen Catholic HS, NJ) was a coup for the Hoya recruiting staff. The 6'4, 270 lb offensive and defensive lineman on the perennial New Jersey powerhouse gives the Hoyas some size and talent where they desperately need it. It's not a stretch to think he might get playing time right away.

Incoming Class Grade: C-. While the Hoyas did get some good size and some good players in this class, it's unbelievable that coach Kelly did not get a single pure running back in this class, especially with senior RB Charlie Houghton in his final year. True, one of the slot backs might eventually fill that role (freshman SB Max Waizenegger, freshman SB Jonathan Miller) or even one of the defensive backs (freshman DB Jeffrey Gazaway). But as it stands now the Hoyas didn't seem to fill one of their biggest needs - not good.

Preseason So Far: While expectations from fans may be muted after years of sub-par records, you'd be hard-pressed to see anything but upbeat feelings from the Hoya players themselves. Senior TE Henry Bowe talks about potentially pulling off the upset of the year on opening weekend: "I know I speak for the entire team when I say that there would be no better way to finish our first week of classes than to leave Fitton Field in Worcester, Massachusetts singing the fight song and celebrating the beginning of a great season!" Meanwhile, head coach Kevin Kelly still hasn't revealed who the opening day QB will be - which presumably will be between last year's starter, sophomore QB James Brady, and upstart sophomore QB Tucker Stafford.

One of the highlights of the Georgetown offseason is the unveiling of who wears the coveted #35 jersey. Former Hoya player Joe Eacobacci, who perished in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade center, wore #35 as a player and evey year since the attacks the Hoyas have bequeathed the number to the current Hoya player who "best embodies his spirit". This year, the recipient was a complete surprise: senior SB Robert Lane, who broke his jaw in Week 2 last year and sat out the entire year.

Fan Base: Last year, I wrote: "To be a Georgetown fan is to experience pain. More accurately, Lucy-pulling-the-football-away-from-Charlie-Brown type of pain." A year later, the words ring as true now as it did a year ago - but this year, the legendary patience of Hoya fans is finally starting to wear thin.

The Hoyas may have the best college football fans in the entire nation. It's one thing to root for a team that routinely wins conference championships, bowl games or FCS playoff games. It's quite another to root for a team that hasn't done better than 5-6 as a member of the Patriot League and not even coming close to a Patriot League championship. Add to this the fact that the DC media largely doesn't even know they exist, and they've been playing in a half-finished stadium for the last three years - the fact that the small, but strong, Hoya faithful have stayed loyal to their team all these years says volumes about their fans.

But there's real evidence that Hoya fans have ceased to be patient with coach Kelly. It's his fourth year as head coach. This group is, in every way, his team. The staff has largely been intact from last year's last-place 2-8 finish. And the talk of teams like Fordham changing the Patriot League financial aid landscape is forcing Hoya fans to ask some uncomfortable questions. "If we're this bad now... what about when Fordham (and, presumably, Colgate, Lehigh and Lafayette) start offering football scholarships?" "Are we better off going to the Pioneer Football League?" "Whatever the financial aid landscape, is coach Kelly the guy to get us there?"

For years, Hoya fans (and others, too) have bee frustrated for they see in Georgetown a school that could very well - if they want to - be a Patriot League powerhouse in football. Georgetown offers the best education in the Patriot League - and their internships, frequently with congressmen, Interpol or all sorts of powerful DC positions, can't be beat anywhere. With a financial commitment to scholarship football - and an invite to the FCS playoffs - they could be an elite destination for high-academic football players.

Overall Offseason: Frustrating in the best of times, this Hoya offseason has been made even more maddening by the whole debate on football scholarships taking place with the rest of the Patriot League. It certainly hasn't dampened the enthusiasm with the football players the Hilltop for the upcoming season - but it hasn't exactly set the DC media, or their fans, on fire about the upcoming season. Instead, it's put fans at an uncomfortable crossroads: with coach Kelly, with scholarships - and even what sort of football program Georgetown should aspire having.

Yet somehow, you can see Hoya fans with that gleam in their eyes sometimes - that this year, the Hoyas can go up to Fitton Field and turn the FCS world upside down. Like Charlie Brown and Lucy holding that football, they believe that it could happen. That they've been waiting so long for it to happen, it may as well be this year that it does.


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