Previewing the 2009 Football Season

For the program with the most outright Ivy titles in League history, expectations are always high in Philadelphia. It won’t be any different for the 2009 Quakers as they search for the 14th League championship in team history. This year’s 110-man group brings warranted cause for optimism with its deep blend of talent, depth and experience.

Preseason National Recognition
Penn’s potential has been recognized nationally from most of the leading FCS media sources. Kicker Andrew Samson was honored by three publications as a preseason All-American. The Sports Network (TSN) and Consensus Draft Services (CDS) recognized the junior as a first-teamer, while Phil Steele’s Football Preview Magazine had Samson on his second-team All-America list. Last season, Samson set two school records—most field goals in a season and consecutive extra points made in a career—and an Ivy League record for most field goals in an Ivy season (he made 13 against League opponents).

Samson wasn’t alone in receiving preseason national honors. Senior captain Chris Wynn has also gathered some accolades as a TSN second-team All-American and CDS honorable mention All-American. The defensive back was also named to the Buck Buchanan Watch List, an award given to the best defensive player in the FCS. Senior defensive lineman Joe Goniprow wasn’t left out of the mix as CDS placed him alongside Samson as a preseason All-America selection.

Schedule
For those who regularly follow the Quakers on the gridiron, the schedule is seldom a surprise when it is released. As is tradition, the home and away portion of the Ivy League schedule has flipped from the previous season. After hosting four Ivy home games last season, Penn will hit the road for games against Dartmouth, Columbia, Brown and Harvard—meaning the Quakers will host Yale, Princeton and Cornell at Franklin Field. Two of the non-conference opponents and sites remain the same from a season ago (Villanova and Lafayette) with Bucknell replacing Georgetown on the slate in 2009.

Though similar to last season when Penn went 5-2 in the Ivy League, the 2009 Ivy schedule posts many new challenges. Three of the four longest Ivy road trips are on the calendar in 2009. Two of those are against the 2008 co-Ivy League champions, Harvard and Brown. Penn will bus more than six hours to reach Hanover for its matchup with Dartmouth (Oct. 3) before riding for five hours to play the Bears (Oct. 31), and then taking the five-plus hour trip to Cambridge for the game at Harvard (Nov. 14). In those three excursions alone, the Quakers travel party will log approximately 2,000 miles and spent nearly 34 hours on the road. Penn’s other Ivy road contest serves as the Homecoming game for Columbia (Oct. 17). At their own homecoming, the Quakers must deal with archrival Princeton (Nov. 7). Yale (Oct. 24) and Cornell (Nov. 21) also offer some intriguing matchups for the home crowd at historic Franklin Field.

In addition to the Ivy schedule, the Quakers will have their hands full against each of their non-conference foes.

Villanova, who finished No. 6 in the nation last year after surviving the Quakers in overtime, will have played two games with its scholarship players prior to opposing Penn in the Red and Blue’s season opener (Sept. 19). The Wildcats were picked No. 2 in the Phil Steele FCS Preseason Top 25. In week two, Penn travels to Easton, Pa., for a rematch with Lafayette (Sept. 26) after falling to the Leopards in the closing minutes last season. The matchup with Bucknell (Oct. 10) will mark the last week before the onslaught of the Ivy League season.

Quarterbacks

Four signal-callers were needed last season, and all four led the Quakers to at least one victory. Three of those quarterbacks are back on the roster this season—Keiffer Garton, Kyle Olson and Brendan McNally. Both Garton and Olson are expected to see time under center, though Garton will be handling most of the duties as Olson recovers from injury. Third on the depth chart when the 2008 season began, Garton emerged as a solid No. 1 starter after Robert Irvin and Olson each suffered season-ending injuries. In three starts, Garton twice won Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week, scored four touchdowns, ran for 316 yards and threw for 388. Olson had slid into the starting role after leading the Red and Blue to victory at Yale and had the Quakers in the lead against first-place Brown when he was injured. If Garton and Olson can continue where they left off, the quarterback position will certainly not be a concern in 2009.
Meanwhile, McNally—who held the reigns of the offense throughout the win at Cornell—will continue to make the move to defensive back, meaning John Hurley and Chad Miller will supply the added depth to the position. Hurley is returning from an injury that kept him off the field last season, and Miller has benefited from a season of work with the junior varsity.

Backfield
Penn is deep at many positions heading into the 2009 season, but maybe no more so than at running back. The Quakers return three experienced backs in Michael DiMaggio, Bradford Blackmon and Matt Hamscher. All three saw significant time during the 2008 campaign led by DiMaggio’s All-Ivy effort. DiMaggio, who led the team and was third in the Ivy League in rushing last season, proved he could be the workhorse of the group. He averaged nearly 15 carries per game and ran for more than 125 yards on two occasions. DiMaggio also showed he could catch the ball out of the backfield with nine receptions and a touchdown, but Blackmon has developed as the quintessential two-dimensional back. Blackmon ran for 197 yards, but topped that number with 204 receiving yards in 2008 as an electric option out of the backfield. Hamscher will continue to lighten the load for the two juniors when needed. And if the injury bug strikes the Quakers again, Hamscher has already shown the ability to be a feature back. He ran for 102 yards and earned Ivy League Rookie of the Week when he was forced into that slot against Georgetown last season. With DiMaggio, Blackmon and Hamscher taking the carries, Penn will have one of the most experienced backfields in the Ivy League.

At fullback, Penn brings back junior Luke DeLuca, who will command a majority of the playing time at the position. With a trio of capable running backs, the fullback won’t see many carries, but DeLuca can be expected to make an impact near the goal line. Last season, DeLuca’s two rushing touchdowns each came from less than three yards away. DeLuca also contributed a three-yard touchdown reception. Most of the work done by the Penn fullbacks won’t show up in the box score, but Penn has the players with the ability to make a noticeable impact when called needed.

Receivers

There will be some motivation for the Penn wideouts this season, as they will have the most to prove to the skeptics. The group combined for just three touchdowns last season and lost its second-leading receiver, tight end Josh Koontz. However, five of the top six reception leaders return, led by a quartet of seniors in captain Kyle Derham, Tyler Fisher, Marcus Lawrence and David Wurst. Derham’s 29 catches and 404 yards led the team in 2008, while Fisher and Lawrence had more than 20 receptions apiece. Adding to the mix is sophomore Joe Holder. The walk-on has impressed throughout the offseason and could become a solid contributor in his first full season. At tight end, Ryan Murray has been groomed to slide into Koontz’s duties after seeing considerable playing time throughout last season. With the Penn offense utilizing two tight ends on occasion, sophomore Luke Nawrocki will most likely see the most time as the second tight end. Most of the receiving corps remains intact, and without the quarterback carousel that dominated the 2008 season, the experienced group will have a chance to fully showcase its abilities.

Offensive Line

The returning members of Penn’s offensive line logged plenty of minutes last year as four members of the group—Joe D’Orazio, Joe Krissel, Luis Ruffolo and Matt Schaefer—started at least three games in 2008. Schaefer was on the field from the opening snap in all 10 games, while Krissel started alongside him in the final six. Meanwhile, D’Orazio filled in well at center when Ruffolo missed some games due to injury. It would also be premature to count out underclassmen Greg Van Roten and Jared Mollenbeck who could each see substantial playing time as well. The unit’s familiarity with each other should only improve the production of an offensive line that led the way for three different 100-yard rushers last season and allowed the second fewest sacks in the Ivy League.

Defensive Line

Two All-Ivy defensive tackles (Joe Rost and Guillermo Ruffolo) leave this group, but two key starterse remain the same as senior Drew Goldsmith and junior Owen Thomas will team up again in pursuit of opposing quarterbacks. Thomas started all 10 games last season, while Goldsmith led the team in sacks. Taking over for the absence of the two All-Ivy honorees in manning the middle of the line is first-team preseason All-American Joe Goniprow and a host of other options at tackle. Goniprow was selected to the All-Ivy second team in 2008 after a season in which he made impact plays in nearly each of the 10 games he started. The nose guard finished fourth in the League in tackles for loss, collected 32 tackles, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, and blocked a kick. There are several options for who will be taking up blockers alongside Goniprow. Junior Derric Bath, senior Jake Peterson, junior Dan Wallach and junior Brian Wing are all viable options to support the rest of the defensive line.

Linebackers

Linebacker is never a position of apprehension for the Quakers. As usual, there will be little dropoff in this unit despite the graduation of veteran Jay Colabella. Jake Lewko returns after leading the team in tackles as a junior, and junior Zach Heller has shown that he is more than capable of being a top-tier linebacker in the Ivy League after logging sizeable playing time in all 10 games in his sophomore campaign. Junior A.J. Hewitt will join in the rotation with those two, as will sophomores Erik Rask and Jason Rasmussen.

Secondary

This is the group that lost the most in the offseason. Graduated seniors Jordan Manning and Tyson Maugle each started nearly 30 games apiece for the Red and Blue, and with the depth of the Quakers, it may be a while before that feat is accomplished again. Tony Moses, Mark Washington, and second-team All-Ivy honoree Britton Ertman have all departed as well. However, amazingly, for defensive coordinator Ray Priore and secondaries coach Jon Dupont, this may be the deepest position for the Quakers entering the 2009 season. Returning is All-American and first-team All-Ivy selection Chris Wynn, who led the League in interceptions and passes defended. With Wynn serving as a team captain and the anchor of the defensive backfield, he’ll be assisted by a strong corps of experienced teammates. Seniors Jonathan Moore and Kevin Gray both made important impacts in playing in every game last season along with junior Josh Powers. The trio combined for five interceptions and 88 tackles. The next layer of defensive backs may deserve to start at many Ivy schools as Nate Powers, Jim McGoldrick and Jon Saelinger all have extensive varsity experience among them. This doesn’t include Jason Schmucker, Bryon Wolf and converted defensive back Brendan McNally who will each have the opportunity to contribute this season.

Special Teams

Every one of Penn’s starting specialists from 2008 returns for the 2009 season. All-American Andrew Samson will be kicking field goals and extra points again with Derham holding the ball for him for the second straight year. Lewko had few problems with the long snapping duties last season, but sophomore Ed Kispert can also handle the responsibility. Dave Kuncio is set to handle kickoffs and Olson can return as the punter. Fisher, Wynn and Lawrence will once again take the task as the primary return specialists.