Spring practices are underway: The job to replace Trevor Knight is wide open.
DURHAM — One of the most productive throwing-catching combinations in University of New Hampshire football history has graduated and moved on.
No surprise then that the challenges of finding replacements for quarterback Trevor Knight and wide receiver Neil O’Connor rank as the top two priorities for head coach Sean McDonnell and his staff as they open spring practice first thing this morning.
McDonnell and company get 15 spring practices to begin to sort things out. Spring football concludes with the annual Blue-White game on Saturday, May 4 at Wildcat Stadium.
The 2019 UNH season starts with a pair of road games, at Holy Cross on Saturday, Sept. 7, and at Florida International in Miami on Saturday, Sept. 14.
The home opener is against Rhode Island on Saturday, Sept. 21.
The quarterback job is wide open, McDonnell said, with only one player who has taken a collegiate snap at the position in a competition that also includes a senior, a sophomore, a redshirt freshman and an incoming freshman who enrolled in school in January.
“We’ve got to find out who can lead the team,” McDonnell said. “Got to find out who can run the team and more importantly who can be the most productive player at that position. We’ve got five guys and I think they all bring something to the table.”
Sophomore Tommy Herion of Chicago saw limited playing time with the Wildcats last season and completed 23 of the 52 passes he attempted.
He arrived at UNH in January of 2018 as a transfer from the University of Iowa, where he had walked on. He helped Loyola Academy to a 27-1 record and prep school titles as a junior and senior.
Ivan Niyomugabo, a senior out of Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook, spent some of last season working with the wide receivers and was moved back to quarterback because of injuries. He rushed for six touchdowns and passed for four before being injured in the third game of his senior season in high school.
Stephen Hedberg played at Phillips Andover after starring at St. Thomas Aquinas in Dover. He passed for 5,000 yards and 80 TDs at St. Thomas Aquinas.
Bret Edwards is a redshirt freshman out of Lowell, Mass., and Central Catholic High School where he passed for 4,736 yards and 54 touchdowns.
Max Brosmer arrived in Durham in January from Centennial High School in Roswell, Ga. He passed for 31 touchdowns and 3,549 yards as a senior and completed 70 percent of his passes his last two seasons.
“They’re all going to get their shot to show what they can do,” McDonnell said. “I think there’s talent there. Again, as I’ve said over the years, it’s the tea bag thing. You can’t find out how good they are until you put them in the hot water and that’s what we’ve got to do every day here.”
The quarterbacks will be working under Ricky Santos, the team’s new associate head coach and QB coach.
Santos is in his second stint as a UNH assistant coach. He was a standout quarterback for the Wildcats from 2003-2007 and led them to the FCS playoffs four straight seasons, starting a string of tournament appearances that led to a nation’s best 14 consecutive years through the 2017 season.
Santos is one of three new assistants to McDonnell, all of whom have UNH or New Hampshire ties.
Defensive tackles coach Kendall Reyes played at Nashua North, at UConn from 2007-11 and then spent five years as a defensive lineman in the National Football League.
Chris Setian was a UNH running back through the 2013 season. He coached running backs for two years at UNH, coached at Brown last season and returned to Durham this offseason.
“Start with Kendall Reyes,” McDonnell said. “We’re excited about him. I think the kid is going to be a good football coach. I think he has a presence about him that our younger guys in the program, especially our D-tackles, gravitate to, magnetize to. I think he’s got it. Then having Ricky and Sets come back, two guys who have coached here, two guys who played here, two guys who were very good at both when they played and coached, I’m really excited about having them back in the program.”
Senior Malik Love has a bunch of experience at receiver, but missed most of last season with injuries.
“If he comes back — and he’s getting healthy again, he’s close — he gives us a guy that we know we can put in the thick of things and not worry about it,” McDonnell said. “He’s played in this conference and caught an awful lot of footballs for us.”
Love caught 59 passes for 520 yards as a redshirt freshman and 70 for 733 yards as a sophomore.
Offensively, the running back position should be a strength.
“You feel pretty good about it,” McDonnell said. “Carlos Washington, I thought, came on and came on and came on. Evan Gray was playing well and got nicked up a little bit at the end of last season. I think Dylan Laube’s going to give us some depth at that position. Then you have Jackson Housman and Jacob Post, two guys who will get their shot.”
Carlos Washington, Jr. carried 99 times for 582 yards, an average of 5.9 per carry, last season as a redshirt freshman and scored six touchdowns.
Gray, a senior, has rushed for just over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career, the bulk of that the last two seasons.
Laube is a redshirt freshman and led his Westhampton team to its first Class III championship on Long Island and a 12-0 record as a senior while rushing for 47 touchdowns and 2,680 yards.
The strength of the team’s defense, McDonnell, said, is in the secondary.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys back there that I think are really good football players,” McDonnell said. “They’ve got to get better for us to be better. It starts with Pop Lacey and Evan Horn at the safety positions. I think those two guys both are experienced, smart good football players.”
Sophomore Pop Bush is in the running to join Lacey and Horn in the backfield.
“We lost Ricky Ellison (as a grad transfer) so we’ve got to find out if Pop Bush can come in and play there,” McDonnell said. “When he played last year, I thought he did a really good job. He played very well in the Colorado game, did a really nice job in the Rhode Island game when he played.”
The cornerbacks are experienced, too.
“The corner position, you’ve got three guys who have played a lot of football for us in Isaiah Perkins, Prince Smith, Jr. and Alonzo Addae,” McDonnell said. “Out of that thing we’ve got to find a guy who can be a lockdown corner for us, be the guy. The next two guys have to battle and see who can tackle and do those things. We’ve got some work. We did a nice job back there in the secondary last year.”