UNH Notebook: Wildcat football team set for opener Thursday night at Holy Cross
Receiver Tim Farina right tries to outrun linebacker Matt Evans (52) during Tuesday afternoon's UNH Blue-White Football game at Cowell Stadium in Durham. (Josh Gibney/Union Leader)
DURHAM -- It starts with a pair of senior linebackers, Matt Evans and Alan Buzbee, two of the best in the business in the country and the Colonial Athletic Association.
But the University of New Hampshire football team's defense will be looking for contributions from many others, too, when it opens the season on Thursday night against Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and begins to try and rebound from a rough 2011 season.
The Wildcats went 8-4 last season and made the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the eighth straight season, but their statistics on defense with points allowed and yards given up were less than impressive.
Defensive tackles Jared Smith, a 6-foot-3 and 300-pound senior, and Matt Kaplan, a 6-foot-1 and 291-pound sophomore out of Franklin, will be a couple of the guys looking to plug up the middle, in particular, and improve those numbers overall.
“The guy that's going to, I think, have to have a great year for us is Jared Smith,” said head coach Sean McDonnell. “He's got to take that step that Steve Young took in his senior year and become that tough, hardnosed run defender up front.”
Young, who came out of Spaulding High School in Rochester, anchored the Wildcat defense from the tackle spot a couple of seasons ago.
Junior Sean McCann was expected to man the other starting position at defensive tackle alongside Smith, but he injured his knee in the team's first scrimmage of fall camp and will likely be out for about a month.
Kaplan, who started a couple of games last season and had 15 tackles including two-and-a-half for loss, is penciled in to join Smith.
Sophomore Tim Johnson, 6-foot-2 and 284 pounds, backs up Kaplan and should see action on Thursday night as well. Redshirt freshman Julian Turner, 6-foot and 306 pounds, is Smith's backup.
The defensive backfield features a mix of veterans and newcomers. Junior Chris Houston, who had six interceptions a year ago and five in the last four games a year ago, mans one cornerback spot.
At the other corner is senior Dontra Peters, who has been playing offense the last three years and was the team's leading rusher the last two.
Peters is scheduled to play some on offense this year, too, but McDonnell said his focus will be on defense for Holy Cross.
McDonnell and his staff moved Peters, who spent his first fall at UNH playing defense on scout teams, back to defense before the start of pre-season camp.
“He's done terrific,” McDonnell said. “It's been a pleasant surprise to me how well he's picked up everything we're doing at that position.” Peters brings athleticism and size — he's listed at 5-foot-11 and 197 pounds — to cornerback.
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While the Wildcats go with Sean Goldrich, the first redshirt freshman to start a season opener at quarterback in McDonnell's 14 seasons, Holy Cross counters with 6-foot-4 and 230-pound senior Kevin Watson.
Watson did not play last season but appeared in seven games as a backup in 2010.
Holy Cross finished 6-5 last season and has been picked to finish second behind Lehigh in the Patriot League this season.
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The men's and women's cross country teams kick off a busy season in Durham with a home meet against Providence and Maine on Friday at 2 p.m.
UNH also plays host to a pre-conference meet on Sept. 14 and then the America East championships on Oct. 27.
A Friends of UNH Cross Country and Track & Field road race, to benefit the programs, is scheduled for Saturday on the school's College Woods course.
Women race at 9 a.m. and men at 10 over a 5K distance. A 1K kids' race is at 11 a.m. The fee is $20 for adults and $5 for the kids' race.
More information is available from coach Rob Hoppler at 862-4740 or Rob.Hoppler@unh.edu.
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The volleyball team faces Northeastern on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in Lundholm Gymnasium in its first home match of the season.
UNH went 1-2 at the Villanova Classic over the weekend. The Wildcats beat Robert Morris in their opening match and then lost five-set matches to Maryland and Villanova.
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Allen Lessels covers UNH athletics for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at email@example.com.