DURHAM — Senior safety Pop Lacey said he’s seen University of New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell twice since McDonnell announced last week that he was taking a leave of absence for health-related reasons. The first time was a chance meeting at Chipotle in Dover, and the second came during UNH’s practice Sunday.
Ricky Santos, who played quarterback at UNH under McDonnell, was named the interim head coach and will lead UNH in its season opener at Holy Cross (1 p.m.) Saturday.
“(McDonnell) left a little early, but he talked to the team Sunday and I think that’s going to be his gist of things — try to come out Sunday and talk to us when we have practice or maybe even before we go out to practice or something like that,” Lacey said. “He talked to us and let us know what he expected of us. We’re pretty much going to try to rise to the challenge, especially for him because he’s been there for so many of our kids. I can’t tell you how important that man is to me. He gave me an opportunity when no one else would.
“In the way he presented it (his message), it was very typical. You wouldn’t be able to tell anything’s wrong, but that’s him. He’s one of the strongest people I know. One of the hardest fighters I know. That’s going to be a given. He pretty much seemed to be his good ol’ self when we got to see him Sunday.”
The Wildcats will be facing a Holy Cross team that opened its season with a 45-7 loss to Navy on Saturday. Senior tailback Domenic Cozier, the Crusaders’ leading rusher last season (643 yards and eight TDs), missed that game with an illness, and quarterback Connor Degenhardt was 16 of 29 for 167 yards in his first collegiate start.
Santos called the last week “a whirlwind,” but seemed eager to face the challenge of his first game as a college head coach.
“I’m excited about this opportunity,” he said. “Coach (McDonnell) has instilled so many morals and values in us and myself as a player when I was a young coach under him that I feel like I’m ready for this opportunity. I’m going to lean on a lot of the things that he’s taught me. I’m just going to embrace it.”
The other major storyline entering Saturday’s game is UNH’s quarterback situation. Redshirt freshman Bret Edwards won a battle with true freshman Max Brosmer and will get the start Saturday. It will be the first time he’s taken a snap in a game since high school.
“I think I’ll definitely be nervous,” Edwards said. “Just do what I can do. I think after the first snap I’ll be pretty good.
“Last year I was just a young kid out here throwing the ball around where I could to open receivers. This year I’ve gotten a lot deeper into coverages and knowing where to throw the ball when I need to and cancelling stuff out. Just having a better mindset when I go out there.”
Santos said Edwards’ ability to extend plays with his legs was also a big factor when it came time to name a starter. He added that Brosmer will likely take some snaps against Holy Cross as well.
“We’re looking at them as 1A and 1B, not one and two,” Santos said. “We have total confidence in Max Brosmer if his number gets called, but right now Bret is protecting the ball better. He gives us a little more in the run game in terms of extending plays with his legs. Those are a couple (reasons) why we made him the No. 1 guy.”
Santos said UNH has no major injuries. … The Wildcats returned 12 starters (six on offense, six on defense) from last year’s team that finished 4-7. …
New Hampshire residents will play a significant role in UNH’s special teams this season. Jason Hughes (Atkinson) will handle kickoffs and field goals, Drew Sanborn (Amherst) is the punter and Tim Bouchard (Barrington) is listed as the No. 1 long-snapper. … UNH beat Holy Cross 28-0 last season and has a 9-7 all-time record against the Crusaders.