DURHAM -- THEIR winter workouts completed, the players on the University of New Hampshire football team move on to the next stage of preparation for another season of high expectations early on Tuesday morning.
The first of 15 spring football sessions is set for 6:45 a.m. on Tuesday. Practices are scheduled for most Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings through the next month, leading to the Blue-White Spring game on Saturday, May 3 at noon.
The Wildcats return many weapons to a team that started 1-3 last year and then rallied to make the FCS national tournament for the 10th straight time and advanced to the semifinals for the first time in that stretch.
There’s work to be done again.
“The whole team’s a priority,” said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. “We’ve lost some good players. At each position someone’s got to develop for you. Someone’s got to get better, either to challenge for a starting position or to add depth at a position.”
Gone are longtime standouts like Seamus O’Neill, the left tackle out of Manchester Central, and linemate Ricky Archer, wide receiver Justin Mello and defensive back Manny Asam, running back Chris Setian and defensive end Jay Colbert.
For the first time since Mike MacArthur took over the kicking duties as a true freshman out of Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, McDonnell needs a field goal kicker.
The Wildcats are in good shape at quarterback.Sean Goldrich, who will be a junior, and senior-to-be Andy Valais of Bedford, have split the position the last couple of seasons.
“The quarterback position is real solid,” McDonnell said. “Sean Goldrich is going in the starter right now. He earned it through his play at the end of last year. We have a dynamic backup in Andy Vailas.
I still think it’s great competition, but I also know that right now Sean’s earned the right to be the starter and I’m sure that Andy will press him.”
Several players, including senior center Mike Coccia, sophomore defensive back Casey DeAndrade, senior defensive end Robbie Zauck and sophomore defensive end Cam Shorey will be limited to varying degrees during the spring as they continue their rehabilitation from injuries and/or surgery.
Sophomores Tad McNeely and Alexander Morrill of Lebanon started much of the year on the offensive line a year ago to fill in for injured players and senior Rob Bowman is back at a tackle spot.
Sophomore Andrew Lauderdale of Concord, who played at Trinity of Manchester, is one of several players in the mix for playing time on the offensive line, McDonnell said. Seniors Alex Blane and Tim Johnson, junior George Kallas and sophomore Curtis Nealer are among the other contenders.Jake Kennedy, out of Amherst and Souhegan High, and Will McInerny of Bedford will be redshirt freshmen are a bit away as of yet, the coach said.
He listed Rick Holt, a redshirt freshman out of Portsmouth, as one of the guys competing to get into the rotation at defensive tackle that starts with senior Mat Kaplan of Franklin and juniors Rashid Armand and Julian Turner.
MacArthur made 15 of his 20 field goal attempts last year and crushed the pervious school record of 40 field goals with 51 in his career.
Senior Brad Prasky is back as the punter.
“Kicking will be very interesting,” McDonnell said. “Christian Breda’s leading that a little. You’ve got Breda, you’ve got (Joe) Ghiloni, you’ve got (Max) Pedinoff. It will be a very good spring for those guys to compete and see where they’re at.”
UNH opens the 2014 season at Toledo, an FBS school, on Aug. 30.
The Wildcats are off on Sept. 6 and play the first of six home games on Sept. 13 against Lehigh.
THE gymnastics team is the No. 4 seed in an NCAA Regionals meet at Penn State on Saturday at 4 p.m.
The Wildcats, who won their second East Atlantic Gymnastics League title a little over a week ago at the Whittemore Center in Durham, are looking to earn a spot in the NCAA championships.
The top two teams at each of six regionals advance to the championship. The top two all-around gymnasts who are not on an advancing team also go to nationals.
Florida is the top seed at Penn State, followed by Oregon State, Penn State and the Wildcats. Kentucky is the fifth seed and Maryland the sixth.
UNH has a record of 21-4 overall and was 13-2 in EAGL competition.
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