It’ll be Homecoming at the University of New Hampshire this weekend, and a homecoming of sorts for Elon University head coach Tony Trisciani as well.
The UNH and Elon football programs will face one another in a Colonial Athletic Association matchup Saturday at (3:30 p.m.) at UNH’s Wildcat Stadium. Trisciani, a Manchester Memorial graduate, had two stints as an assistant coach at UNH. He was the team’s running backs coach in 1998 and 1999, and coached the defensive backs from 2001 to 2004.
“It’s definitely where I cut my teeth coaching, and with some really talented football coaches,” Trisciani said. “It really helped me form a lot of my philosophy and foundation when it comes to offense and defense, having coached two years on offense there and then four years on defense.”
Trisciani, 46, was elevated from Elon’s defensive coordinator to head coach when Curt Cignetti left Elon to become the head coach at James Madison last December. Trisciani recruited UNH interim head coach Ricky Santos — a record-setting quarterback at UNH — while he was on his second tour of duty with the Wildcats.
“He was in my area of Massachusetts: Bellingham High School,” Trisciani said. “We identified him at the BC camp in the summer. He caught our attention. Chip (former UNH offensive coordinator Chip Kelly) really liked him. Chip was working with the quarterbacks at the time and he had told me, ‘Stay on the Santos kid.’
“We had some other kids above Ricky on our recruiting board that we had offered and were actively recruiting, but as that list kind of kept moving down and those guys were committing to bigger schools we started getting closer to Ricky. I just kept recruiting him and going to see him every week during the contact period and staying in touch with him.
“He was so competitive and a good athlete. He ran for over 1,000 yards. Threw for over 1,000. Was a winner. As we worked our way down that recruiting board, he got to the top of it, we offered, he came up on a visit and he committed.”
UNH (2-2, 1-0) followed up an 0-2 start with back-to-back home victories against Rhode Island (27-24) and Duquesne (23-6).
Elon (2-3, 1-1) is coming off losses to Wake Forest, an Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) school from the Atlantic Coast Conference, and James Madison, the No. 2 team in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Coaches Poll. The Phoenix opened the season with a 24-21 loss to North Carolina A&T, then beat The Citadel at home and Richmond on the road.
“We’re a good football team,” Triciani said. “We lost three four-year starters on the offensive line, and we lost two All-CAA linebackers, so we’re going through some growing pains up front and at the second level of our defense. It becomes a little more glaring when you play Wake Forest and James Madison.”
Trisciani was a four-year starter and a two-year captain at Springfield College. He joined Cignetti’s Elon staff as the team’s defensive coordinator after serving as the secondary coach and recruiting coordinator at Villanova from 2012 to 2016. During his final season at Villanova, the Wildcats led the FCS in total defense and the CAA in rushing defense and scoring defense. Villanova intercepted 10 passes that season and finished third among CAA teams in turnover margin.
Trisciani became familiar with Elon when he spent the 2006 season as the program’s defensive backs and special teams coach. His resume also includes coaching stops at Alfred University and Lehigh. He also served as the head coach at Whitehall (Pa.) High School from 2007 to 2011.
Trisciani said he hasn’t spoken with UNH head coach Sean McDonnell this week, but has talked to him since McDonnell took a leave of absence before the season began to deal with a health issue. McDonnell was UNH’s offensive coordinator during Trisciani’s first two years on staff there, and was the head coach for his four seasons as UNH’s defensive backs coach.
Despite some personal ties to the UNH program, Trisciani said Saturday will be business and usual for him and how he will prepare his team.
“It’s a CAA game,” he said. “Being from New Hampshire and knowing I’m going to have a lot of family and people who support me there, we want to play well and win. This will be the one time this year where they won’t root for UNH.”