DURHAM — Lebanon’s Alexander Morrill said he wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of playing time last year, but it’s probably safe to say that he didn’t expect his freshman season at the University of New Hampshire to unfold the way it did.
Morrill, who began his UNH career as a defensive lineman, started 11 games at offensive tackle for a team that finished with a 10-5 record and advanced to the FCS semifinals for the first time in school history.
“I wasn’t really expecting anything, but one thing led to another and I was lucky enough to get on the field and show the coaches what I could do,” Morrill said during the team’s annual media day Tuesday. “In this program it’s do your job. I felt like I performed all right. This is a game of technique now. It’s not a matter of being the biggest guy on the field like it was in high school.”
Morrill, who played at Lebanon High School, is practicing at left guard this season. He’s one of four UNH offensive linemen with significant starting experience. The others are senior tackle Rob Bowman, senior center Mike Coccia and guard Tad McNeely, who, like Morrill, was thrust into a starting role last year as a redshirt freshman.
“Last night in the team meeting talking about competition I said, ‘Who in this room would have thought Alexander Morrill would have started 11 games for us last year at this time?’” UNH coach Sean McDonnell said. “And I say that for a reason because there are kids in this program who grow, whether it’s redshirt freshman to sophomore year, or freshman to redshirt year, and even junior to a senior like (former UNH tight end) Justin Mello.
“We all knew Alexander Morrill was getting better every week and we were excited about the progress he made. I don’t know who we’re going to be talking about next year at this time. We’re talking about Alexander because he did a heck of a job in the offseason and he did a good job on the field.”
McDonell said Morrill entered spring camp penciled in as the starter at left guard, but Morrill made it clear he’s taking nothing for granted.
“Everything is a competition here,” Morrill said. “Nothing is given in this program, which I like a lot because you have to work for it. There’s no coasting through it. I’ll work my butt off in practice and try to show the coaches that I still have it in me.”
When McDonnell was asked to identify the biggest question marks on defense, he mentioned the need to fill the voids left by graduated seniors Manny Asam (safety) and Sean McCann (defensive tackle).
Asam, a three-year starter, was named the team’s defensive MVP last season. McCann started all 15 games a year ago and led all defensive linemen in tackles (59, 31 solo)
“Defensively we have to figure out a couple things: One, who are we going to replace Manny Asam with as one of the safeties?” McDonnell said. “Danny Rowe and Tre Williams are battling for that job right now. Losing Asam is huge, and we’re not just talking about football. We’re talking about energy. We’re talking about leadership. We’re talking about effort. The things you can’t put a price tag on.
“We have to replace Sean McCann, a three-year starter for us. Although last year Rashid Armand and Jullian Turner took a lot of reps and took the next step, those two with (Franklin’s Matt Kaplan) are big, and then we have to find a fourth defensive tackle.”
McDonnell said Sean Goldrich had the edge over Bedford’s Andy Vailas as the team’s starting quarterback entering camp.
Each QB saw significant playing time last season. Goldrich, a junior, made nine starts. Vailas, a senior, started six games.
“Every time we’ve been successful it starts with the quarterback position,” McDonnell said. “We have two kids … I can’t tell you how lucky we are and how pleased we are with how they play and how they practice. You have 1 and 1A in my mind.
“Sean Goldrich has the nod right now at the starting position, but there’s a lot of camp left. A lot of things to do. The one thing about having two good quarterbacks is you can expand the role of the quarterback position. You can do some things running the ball.”
UNH, which was ranked No. 4 in the FCS Preseason Coaches’ Poll, will open its season Aug. 30 at Toledo, which returned 18 starters and is expected to challenge for the Mid-American Conference title this season.
Junior Phillip Ely, a transfer from Alabama, is one of three players battling to be Toledo’s starting QB.
UNH displayed its new home jerseys at media day. The jerseys are blue with white numbers and gray sleeves, and are tighter than the ones UNH has worn in the past.
Running back Nico Steriti on the new uniforms: “Obviously they look good, but they fit way better than our other uniforms. It’s a completely different material. For me personally, running the ball, it will be tougher to snag on to the jerseys. I know some of the bigger guys like the tighter fit for them.”
McDonnell said tight end Jordan Powell, cornerback Marquis Carr and wide receiver Max Avin are not practicing with the team because of injuries, but he added that barring further setbacks everyone should be available to play against Toledo. … Andrew Lauderdale, who played at Trinity High School in Manchester, has moved from tight end to the offensive line. … Assigned numbers for the incoming freshmen from New Hampshire: Nashua South’s Trevor Knight (No. 18), Hanover’s Shawn Cavallaro (No. 30), Plymouth Regional’s Jared Kuehl (No. 58) and Plymouth Regional’s Kyle Reisert (No 54).