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July 24. 2013 6:40PM

UNH football team picked for 3rd in conference

IT WON’T be long now.

It won’t be long until the 50 or so players on the University of New Hampshire football team who have been in Durham in recent weeks running and lifting wrap up their optional summer workouts. Won’t be long before they turn around and report back on Aug. 9 for the start of fall camp.

It won’t be long before the Wildcats travel to Central Michigan for their season opener on Sept. 7 and before they face Colgate the Saturday after that in their first home game.

And it won’t take the Wildcats long to see how they stack up against the teams — in preseason anyway — expected to be the class of the new-look Colonial Athletic Association this season.

UNH was picked No. 3 in the league’s poll released on Wednesday at Media Day in Baltimore.

“It’s nice that we got a couple of first-place votes,” said senior and co-captain Seamus O’Neill, the offensive lineman out of Manchester Central High School, from Baltimore on Wednesday. “But it doesn’t mean much until we go out and play games.”

Safety Manny Asam, another senior co-captain, concurred.“We don’t worry about all that,” he said. “That’s preseason stuff. We worry about playing football games and winning football games. That’s what we’re worried about: winning.”

Villanova was the No. 1 pick in the poll of 22 league coaches and team media personnel. Towson was No. 2, followed by UNH and No. 4 Richmond.

Villanova received 11 first-place votes. Towson and New Hampshire each were first on three ballots. James Madison, fifth overall, was the top pick on four ballots. The rest of the poll, in order, was Delaware, Stony Brook, Maine, William & Mary, Albany and Rhode Island.

Two of UNH’s first three league games are against the teams ahead of it in the poll. The Wildcats close out the non-conference portion of their schedule at Lehigh on Sept. 28.

They are at Towson on Oct. 5 in their league opener, play Rhode Island at home on Oct. 12 and have Villanova at home on Oct. 19.

Asam is particular excited about the Towson game. The Wildcats played Towson at the tail end of the season the last two years and the results, from the defensive side, were not pretty.

UNH lost to Towson at home, 64-35, in its final regular season game last November. The Wildcats fell, 56-42, in their next-to-last game of the regular season at Towson in 2012.

“Towson is building something very, very special,” Asam said. “Defensively, it’s about being a man. Manning up and giving them a competitive game and not letting them run over us. We’ll be very well prepared. It’s two teams that like to battle from the start to the end. It will be one for the ages.”

Before that, though, there is fall camp and the battle for spots in the lineup.

Then there’s Central Michigan and Colgate and the rest.

It won’t be long.

“You wake up Monday morning and look at the calendar and it’s the second to last week of July and it’s getting close,” said Sean McDonnell, who is entering his 15th year as UNH’s head coach. “Media Day is like ‘go-time.’ You see the guys in the league, the coaches, the players who are here and you start counting down the days.”

UNH finished 8-4 overall last season and has been to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs a nation’s-best nine straight times. The Wildcats have won at least eight games in all but one of those nine seasons: they went 7-5 in 2005.

______

The Wildcats return O’Neill, the left tackle, to their offensive line and junior center Mike Coccia and right guard Rob Bowman are also back. Starters Chris Zarkoskie and Mickey DiLima have graduated, but McDonnell and his staff have a bunch of guys looking to fill in.

One is senior Ricky Archer, a former starter, who missed last season for academic reasons. Another is senior Sean Ryan of Londonderry, listed at 6-foot-2 and 301 pounds, who has played as a backup and is in the mix for more playing time.

“Sean Ryan has worked very hard to get where he is,” McDonnell said. “He’s going to get a great opportunity in camp to get a starting job.”

Sophomore George Kallas, redshirt freshman Alexander Morrill of Lebanon, redshirt freshman Tad McNeely and sophomore Austin Heter are also competing for spots.

______

O’Neill, Asam and junior wide receiver R.J. Harris were named to the CAA preseason All-Conference team. ... Towson junior running back Terrance West was named the preseason Offensive Player of the Year and James Madison senior linebacker Stephon Robertson was the Defensive Player of the Year. ... The top four teams in the preseason poll — Villanova, Towson, New Hampshire and Richmond — each earned a share of the CAA championship last year with matching 6-2 records.

alessels@unionleader.com On twitter: @AllenLessels


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