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November 14. 2013 11:21PM

Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: Kaplan keeps on working

DURHAM -- Matt Kaplan, who once again will be smack-dab in the middle of everything on Saturday for the University of New Hampshire football team, earned some high praise from the boss this week.

"Two names jump out at you when you start talking about the hardest workers in the program," said UNH head coach Sean McDonnell. "Chris Setian and Matt Kaplan. Both walked on to the program and earned their way to full scholarships."

Setian is a bruiser of a running back, a senior and one of the Wildcat captains.

Kaplan, a junior defensive tackle and champion high school wrestler out of Franklin, has started every game the last two years and shares the team lead for sacks with five with linebacker Akil Anderson.

"He's one of those kids who has worked his tail off for everything he's gotten in this program," McDonnell said. "He's a phenomenal kid in his work ethic and the energy he has for the game. If we had 90 kids like him, my job would be a lot easier."

McDonnell said he and his staff weren't quite sure what they were getting as they looked at Kaplan in the recruiting process. They liked him and brought him in as a recruited walk-on.

"But he didn't fit the profile," McDonnell said. "He was 5-10 when we recruited him and on the defensive line we're usually looking for guys who are 6-2, 6-3. We're often getting guys who are 215-220 and building them to 275-280 and he was 290. He was a strong kid, but he had to redefine his body a little."

Kaplan did and by the time he was a redshirt freshman he worked his way into a starting a couple of games and played in 11.

He's been a starter since, this year alongside senior Sean McCann in a defensive tackle rotation that also includes sophomores Jullian Turner and Rashid Armand.

Even Kaplan, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 292 pounds but is probably not quite that tall, has been a little surprised by his success thus far.

"I've always been confident in myself," he said "But if you had told me when I came in that I would be a two-year starter by now, I probably would have laughed. It's nice to see the hard work pays off."

The challenge for Kaplan and the Wildcats this week is to take care of business against an Albany team that has struggled in its first year in the Colonial Athletic Association and will be emotionally charged for the game.

The Great Danes are 1-9 overall and 0-6 in the CAA and this is their last home game, their last chance to get a CAA win on their new Bob Ford Field for the program's longtime head coach. Ford is retiring after 41 years when this season ends.

In addition, Albany gave Maine all it could handle in a 33-27 loss at home last week and earlier lost a 33-30 game at Delaware.

UNH is ranked No. 23 in the country and at 5-4 overall and 4-2 in the CAA needs a win to set up a huge rivalry game at home against Maine next Saturday. The Wildcats must beat both Albany and Maine to have a shot at making the FCS tournament.

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THE MEN'S hockey team got back on track with an impressive sweep of Massachusetts last weekend — 4-1 in Durham on Friday night and 9-0 in Amherst, Mass. on Saturday — and then tacked on a 4-2 win over Brown for good measure on Tuesday night at the Whittemore Center.

The Wildcats, 4-5-1 overall and 2-2-0 in Hockey East, will try to keep it going with a game at Northeastern tonight at 7. The teams meet again on Saturday night in Durham at 7.

Northeastern is 6-3-0 overall and 1-2-0 in the league. The Huskies beat UMass Lowell, 4-2, last Saturday and in their game before that lost in overtime to Boston College, 4-3.Freshman Mike Szmatula leads the Huskies with four goals and 11 assists for 15 points. Sophomore Kevin Roy is at 8-6-14.

The Wildcats are looking to pick up crucial points in the new-look Hockey East these next two weekends.

After they play two at Providence College next weekend, they will have completed 40 percent of their league schedule and will be done with four Hockey East teams for the regular season.

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THE UNH FIELD HOCKEY TEAM plays at Duke on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The Wildcats are 15-6 overall and won the America East tournament and an automatic berth in the NCAAs with last Saturday's 3-2 win over Albany. Duke is 14-6.Hannah Richard, a senior from Hopkinton, has scored 13 goals for UNH to rank second on the team. Richard and junior back Maegan Grew, of Hampton Falls, were among the Wildcats who made America East all-star teams. Both were named to the second team.

alessels@unionleader.com


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