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Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: One month until football opener at Holy Cross

UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE football players report back to the Field House for preseason camp and begin preparations on Friday for their Aug. 30 opener at Holy Cross.

&#';You go from that first year when you come to camp and everyone is trying to see what everything is all about, to now,&#'; said senior running back and co-captain Dontra Peters. &#';I'm excited for my last go at it and want it to be the best it can be. We're all excited for the season to start and for practice to begin.&#';

The Wildcats went 8-4 last season and own a nation's-best streak of eight straight years of qualifying for the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision tournament. They earned a first-round bye last year and lost in the second round of the playoffs at Montana State, 26-25, on Dec. 3.

Peters heads a three-pronged running attack that includes junior Chris Setian and sophomore Nico Steriti. He led all rushers with 117 carries for 595 yards, an average of 5.1 yards a carry, and scored seven touchdowns, caught 27 passes for 174 yards and returned 31 kicks at an average of 24.6 yards a return.

Steriti and Setian each scored three rushing touchdowns. Steriti gained 370 yards at 5.7 yards a carry and Setian 338 at 4.2.

The No. 1 priority in camp is the same it was during spring football: nailing down the starter at quarterback.

Senior James Brady, once a starter at Georgetown before transferring to UNH, enters camp with a slight edge on Andy Vailas, a sophomore out of Bedford and Bishop Guertin, and redshirt freshman Sean Goldrich.

Each will get his chance with the top offensive unit in drills and scrimmages, said head coach Sean McDonnell.

After a succession of quarterbacks from Mike Granieri to Ricky Santos to R.J. Toman to Kevin Decker, the position is unsettled for the first time in a decade.

&#';We don't have a quarterback who has taken a snap in a pressure situation,&#'; McDonnell said. &#';I think we'll be OK at that position and one of them will come through. But at the same time, it's an unknown.&#';

Valais threw four passes, completed three and had one intercepted last season. Brady completed one of his two passes.

The defensive secondary follows quarterback on the priority list.

&#';Hopefully we can get some stability from the secondary,&#'; McDonnell said.

Junior Manny Asam should start at strong safety, junior Chris Beranger at free safety and junior Chris Houston at one of the cornerback spots, McDonnell said. Sophomores Tre Williams, Nick Cefalo and Steve Thames and redshirt freshman Lamar Edmonds are among those who will vie for the two other starting jobs.

&#';As always, we'll try to get the five best guys back there,&#'; McDonnell said.

The opener at Holy Cross is on a Thursday night at 7:30.

Last year, the Crusaders pulled even with UNH on a 13-yard touchdown run by Ryan Taggart with two minutes and 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats scored the winning points in a 39-32 triumph when Decker connected with Justin Mello for a 60-yard TD with 1:10 left in the game.

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A SHARE of McDonnell's thoughts will be in Fairfield, Conn., on Thursday, too.

Because his team reports that day, he has to miss the Welcome Home Paul Gorham Tribute Night set for that evening at Sacred Heart University.

Gorham, 51, is a member of the UNH football and coaching family who has been the head coach at Sacred Heart for most of the past decade.

He was stricken with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease with no known cure, and has been in a fight for his life.

Shortly after the beginning of the New Year, Gorham was having more and more trouble breathing and was hospitalized. He was flown to the Cleveland Clinic for treatment and received a double lung transplant. Both of his legs were amputated below the knee due to complications from the disease.

&#';In May I got to go out and visit with him for three days,&#'; McDonnell said. &#';The thing that jumped out at me was how driven he was to get back to doing what he does. He wanted to see his kids graduate. He wants to coach again and he wants to play golf again. He was in the beginning of rehabilitation and said, 'Don't come see me in the morning.' He had work to do. He had to take care of business.&#';

Gorham is home now, on a medical leave and Thursday's event is a fundraiser to help with his expenses.

&#';The most impressive thing was his will, his desire to get healthy again,&#'; McDonnell said. &#';That's why he's home. It's an amazing thing, his resiliency.&#';

Gorham came to UNH from South Portland, Maine, and played for the Wildcats from 1979-83 and was an all Yankee Conference tight end.

He coached wide receivers at UNH in 1986-87 while Mark Whipple was the offensive coordinator and McDonnell got to know him best through Gorham's years of working with Whipple and Phil Estes at Brown and the University of Massachusetts.

Estes, a former UNH standout from Laconia and also a former coach at the school, is the head coach at Brown and went to Cleveland with some of his coaches and brought Gorham home in a specially equipped van.

McDonnell and the football program sent a jersey, a helmet and game tickets down for the raffle portion of the fundraiser. More information on the fundraiser is available at www.paulgorham.org.

Allen Lessels covers UNH athletics for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at alessels@unionleader.com.

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