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August 10. 2013 6:55PM

Back to the gridiron

Allen Lessels' College Football: UNH practice the 'start of something special'


Manchester Central's Seamus O'Neill knocks the helmet off of Londonderry's Sean Ryan during the first half at Gill Stadium in Manchester on Oct. 10, 2008. The two are now teammates on the UNH line. (David Lane/UNION LEADER FILE)

DURHAM -- First down.

The University of New Hampshire football team put its first practice of the 2013 season in the books on Saturday afternoon.

Only 27 days to go until the season-opening game at Central Michigan on Sept. 7.

"Right now it seems like a long way off, but really it's just a short way off," said Sean McDonnell, who enters his 15th season as head coach. "It's going to go quickly."

McDonnell liked the way the first session went.

"The guys did some good things," he said. "They ran around. They flew around. The kids knew what pace I wanted. The kids knew what pace they wanted and it was good. They want to be here like we all do. It's the start of something special, we think."

There is much work to be done before Sept. 7.

Some spots in the lineup are manned by veterans who in all likelihood will hold them down, while others are more up for grabs.

The starting jobs on the left side of the offensive line, for the moment at least, are held down by homegrown products.

Seamus O'Neill, a 6-foot-4 and 288-pound senior and co-captain out of Manchester Central, has the left tackle slot locked down. A first-team all-Colonial Athletic Association selection last year, O'Neill started five games as a redshirt freshman and has been in the starting lineup ever since.

Sean Ryan, a 6-foot-2 and 295-pound senior out of Londonderry who has seen time as a backup the last three years, is penciled in to start beside O'Neill at left guard.

"Sean's worked hard and he had a heckuva spring and he's going to run with the ones to start with," McDonnell said. "Like I said last night in a meeting to everyone on the team, there are positions that if you want to be the guy, you have to prove it. Whether that's at starting quarterback or starting running back or you're a guard that has waited five years to play like Sean Ryan, this is your chance to take the thing and go."

Sophomore George Kallas, juniors Tim Johnson and Alex Blane and others will get their shot at the position and playing time, too, alongside junior center Mike Coccia, senior right guard Ricky Archer and junior right tackle Rob Bowman.

"Personally, I want to prove to myself that I can do it and prove it to the coaches, too," Ryan said. "But it's more-so a total team effort on the offensive line. It's not one particular guy. It's five guys across and we've all just got to work together."

They are working to protect and block for a bunch of talented returning players at the skill positions.

Either junior Andy Vailas of Bedford or sophomore Sean Goldrich will run things at quarterback - more on that in a moment - and all of the team's rushers and most of its top pass catchers from a year ago, including junior R.J. Harris, are back.

"We're real excited about the offense," O'Neill said on Saturday. "We had our first meeting last night and coach (Ryan) Carty, our offensive coordinator, said he's excited because we have a bunch of guys who can make plays. We have the three running backs, R.J. and Justin Mello and all those other receivers and two quarterbacks. You can put anyone in there and they're going to be able to execute."

Junior Nico Steriti rushed for 921 yards for the season and 6.6 yards a carry last year and he's joined at running back by senior Chris Setian and junior Jimmy Owens.
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VAILAS and Goldrich took turns running the team last year and at times played in the same game, even the same series.

"It didn't work badly for us last year," McDonnell said of playing basically with two starting quarterbacks. "My instincts tell me we've got to get one. . . . We want to go with one right now. It's got to be the one who best leads the team and more importantly the one the team responds to, because they both can play."

McDonnell said he did not have a timetable for when he'd like to name a starting quarterback.
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McDONNELL said the team is not dealing with a lot of injuries as camp opens.

"Right now everyone is on track to be ready to go for Central Michigan," he said. "Probably the farthest away is (junior wide receiver) Jimmy Giansante. If things continue to improve the way they have in the last month, he'll be ready to go. But right now he's not.

Giansante had 14 catches for 200 yards in eight games last season.

alessels@unionleader.com On twitter: @allenlessels


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