FAIRFIELD, CT (August 17, 2011) - Sacred Heart football training camp is in full swing as the Pioneers prepare for their season opener September 3rd against the Marist Red Foxes. In part one of Preseason Pass, we preview the SHU running backs and linebackers.
It's been two seasons since the Pioneers have featured a 1,000 yard rusher in their backfield (2008 - Evin Jones, 1,174 yds) and during that span, SHU's running game has also ranked last among Northeast Conference leaders. With the graduation of SHU's all-time leading passer Dale Fink, the Pioneer offense will be led by a new signal caller in 2011 and the running game will play a key role in easing the transition.
Last year's leading rusher Marcel Archer is gone to graduation leaving a pair of sophomores and some newcomers to help carry the load. R-Sophomore Gregory Ibe (Queens, NY) had a solid rookie debut in 2010, carrying the ball 79 times for 453 yards and a pair of scores. Ibe averaged an impressive 5.7 yards per carry, a mark that ranked among the NEC's top-rushers last fall.
Ibe burst on the scene in game one last year, rushing for 97 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 28-25 win at Marist. For his efforts, he was named the NEC's Rookie of the Week. On the road at Saint Francis (PA), Ibe finished with 79 yards on 11 carries and followed that a week later at Dartmouth with 71 yards on just nine touches.
SHU running backs also need to catch the ball out of the backfield in the offense and Ibe had six grabs for 36 yards last year. Moving into the backfield after a rookie season primarily at receiver is the versatile Greg Moore (Newark, NJ). Moore caught 10 passes for 76 yards as a freshman but will be utilized out of the backfield more this season. Freshman Keshaudas Spence (Dorcester, MA) has had a good camp and could see touches as well. Spence, a 5-10, 235 tailback out of Catholic Memorial High School and The Taft School, where he racked up 850 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns in eight games last year.
At fullback, juniors Tim McNeil (Gales Ferry, CT) and Ethan Ostermeyer (Brooklyn, NY) will split time helping fuel the running game and figure to play a role in the passing game as well. McNeil played in seven games last year and caught a pair of passes out of the backfield. Ostermeyer makes the move to the offensive side of the ball after making 26 tackles with an interception and forced fumble at linebackers last fall.
The Sacred Heart football program has had a tradition of putting standout linebackers on the field and this season that trend will continue. Senior inside linebacker Chris Mandas (Mission Viejo, CA) is a Preseason All-Northeast Conference pick heading into the season and was recently named a team captain for 2011.
Mandas, a starter since his freshman year, hopes to solidify his place among SHU's all-time linebacking corps (Jon Corto, Kayode Mayowa) with an all-conference nod this year. Mandas has led the team in tackles each of the last two seasons and should the crack the top-five all-time at SHU in career tackles (211). He has appeared in all 32 games while at SHU and has started 21-straight games heading into the season. He posted a pair of 12 tackle games in 2010, against Central Connecticut and Monmouth, on his way to 88 stops on the year.
For the second-straight season, Mandas will line-up inside next to fellow senior Michael Zambarano (Natick, MA). Zambarano started all 11 games in 2010 and was second on the team posting 79 tackles, 44 solo. He had a season-high 10 tackles in a loss at Bryant and is a former NEC Defensive Player of the Week award winner after a career-high 11 stops in a win over the Bulldogs in 2009. Zambarano had 5.5 tackles for a loss and had an interception last season.
Behind the two seniors inside are a pair of sophomores who can step in and contribute giving the Pioneers great depth at the position. Sophomore Justin Sexton (Murrieta, CA) played in all 11 games last season, primarily at outside linebacker, collecting 19 tackles, 12 solo. Sexton makes the move inside this season and joins r-sophomore Matt Colucci (Hopewell Junction, NY) on the depth chart. Colucci had nine tackles in nine games in 2010.
The Pioneer defense will be bolstered by the return of one of their top-playmakers in junior outside linebacker Niko Sierra (Longmeadow, MA). Sierra was fourth on the defense with 49 tackles as a sophomore and led the NEC with 10 pass break-ups. He also posted a pair of sacks.
Coming up in Part II of Preseason Pass, we preview the Pioneer wide receivers and the defensive line.