DURHAM — Although most of the attention paid to the University of New Hampshire football team during the offseason has focused on the battle for the starting quarterback position — true freshman Max Brosmer and redshirt freshman Bret Edwards have been taking snaps with the first two units in practice — there’s uncertainty on defense as well. Particularly at linebacker.
That position was thinned with the loss of Quinlen Dean, who has transferred to Marshall as a graduate student after tying for the team lead in tackles last season (79); and Kyle Hamper, who appeared in 10 games as a freshman in 2018. Both received one-year suspensions from the university for their involvement in an incident at a UNH fraternity last winter.
“Linebacker … that’s where some young men have to come through and play football for us,” UNH coach Sean McDonnell said. “I feel real comfortable with the rest of the defense. Our back half, corners and safeties, I feel really good about. Our defensive line ... I feel really good about our three interior people and our defensive ends. Now we just have to find some linebackers who can go, but there’s talent at that position.”
Senior Michael Balsamo, an Atkinson resident, has the most experience of any linebacker on the roster. Balsamo, who began his college career as a safety, has played in 24 games (four starts) at linebacker over the last two seasons.
“Michael is now going to get an opportunity to get a full-time playing assignment with a couple of things that have happened,” McDonnell said. “What Mike brings to the table is an unbelievable work ethic, a very good knowledge of the defense and is primed to have a very good season because of what he’s done from last December to where he is right now — weight room, film room, on the field, leadership. He’s done a great job with all those things and you can see him growing.”
Senior Cameron Brusko, junior Nelson Thomas and redshirt freshman J.J. Jerome are among the others competing for playing time at linebacker.
“The position right now that’s up in the air is linebacker, because obviously we lost some good players there,” defensive coordinator John Lyons said. “Brusko and Balsamo know it the best and J.J. Jerome has improved a lot.
“After that you have a couple young kids who can really run — Zedane Williams and Oleh Manzyk — and the kid Ryan Toscano is doing a nice job too.”
Toscano was New Hampshire’s Gatorade Player of the Year last season as a senior at Bedford High School.
Joe Eichman, a safety out of Merrimack High School, redshirted last season, but McDonnell said Eichman will likely get a significant amount of playing time this season.
“I expect him to start on all special teams this year,” McDonnell said. “He’s a very strong, physical athletic kid who has a good sense for the football. He’s got some natural strength, natural ability and he’s another kid who worked his tail off over the summer to physically get better. He came out of Merrimack High School and Kip (Merrimack coach Kip Jackson) didn’t steer us wrong. He’s a helluva football player and doing a good job for us.”
Eichman was a slotback/defensive back at Merrimack. He had 4,735 all-purpose yards and 58 touchdowns during his high school career.
When cornerback Alonzo Addae transferred to West Virginia following the 2018 season, UNH dipped into the NCAA transfer portal and landed freshman defensive back Randall Harris, who redshirted last year at Central Michigan, an FBS school that plays in the Mid-American Conference.
Harris, who also returns kicks, was recruited by Central Michigan head coach John Bonamego and his staff, but Bonamego was fired last November. Harris, who lives in Michigan, said the coaching change was the primary reason he decided to transfer.
“I entered the portal late and New Hampshire was actually one of the last schools to talk to me,” he said. “They got me down here in mid-June. I just felt like I was at home on the campus. You know the feeling when a place is for you. A lot of great guys here. Great coaches. I committed on the spot.”
McDonnell said offensive lineman Noah Robison was granted a medical redshirt after he suffered a shoulder injury and will not play this season. Robison, a Pinkerton Academy graduate, will have one season of athletic eligibility remaining. ... UNH will select captains at the end of fall camp. … Like Dean and Hamper, wide receiver Sean Coyne was given a one-year suspension by the university. He is eligible to return to the team next fall. Coyle played in 11 games last season and caught 21 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns. … Junior Carson Leary has moved to tight end from defensive end. … UNH will open its season Sept. 7 at Holy Cross. The team’s first home game will be Sept. 21 against Rhode Island.