Saturday, Sept. 4, 2004, 1:00 p.m., Currier Field, Plymouth, N.H.
PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The 2004 football season kicks off for a pair of Granite State schools this Saturday at 1:00 p.m. as Plymouth State University hosts Saint Anselm College at Currier Field in the first meeting on the gridiron between the two programs.
Plymouth State is beginning its 35th season of varsity football, while the Hawks are opening their sixth year since the return of the program in 1999. Both teams are looking to get off to a good start to the season after disappointing campaigns in 2003.
As an added attraction, the New Hampshire Police Pipe and Drums out of Manchester will honor America with a three-piece medley prior to Saturday's kick-off and a full performance at halftime.
Following a rigorous off-season training program, PSU is primed for some solid improvement this fall. The veterans are blending with the newcomers for what will hopefully be a successful year. PSU has a balanced independent schedule of games, with opponents like Saint Anselm, Mount Ida, Buffalo State and Husson replacing Bentley, Southern Connecticut and former Freedom Conference foes Coast Guard and WPI. The Panthers will continue their friendly rivalries with UMass Dartmouth, Norwich, Western Connecticut and Springfield.
After suffering through a seven-game losing streak last season, Saint Anselm ended the campaign with a three-game losing streak and now brings a higher confidence level into this season. Saturday's game is the only non-conference encounter on the Saint Anselm slate, as the Hawks follow with nine consecutive Northeast-10 Conference contests.
The Panthers, who have the fifth-highest winning percentage in NCAA Division III football history (.654), will play as an independent in 2004 after a dozen years in the Freedom Conference.
Plymouth State Football ---- 2004 Outlook
While PSU has fallen on hard times the last couple of years, head coach Paul Castonia and the Panthers are very optimistic that better times are ahead.
"One of our goals this year is to not beat ourselves," said Castonia. "Before you can win, you've got to keep from losing. I expect us to make some serious improvement each of the next couple of years. Hopefully we're on more of an even playing field with our schedule this year, so being in a position to win games becomes more critical. We're still eligible for the playoffs, whether it is the NCAA or ECAC."
PSU has most of its key returnees on the defensive side of the ball, led by a collection of veteran linebackers.
"We have seven guys returning at linebacker who have seen a lot of playing time," said Castonia, "and I'm also very optimistic about the incoming group as well. With only three positions on the field, we'll rotate a lot of people in there."
Seniors Scott Viscardi (East Bridgewater, Mass.), Joe Iannelli (Billerica, Mass.) and Brett Allen (Seabrook, N.H.) are the returning starters and should anchor the unit. Juniors Jake Meserve (Dover, N.H.) and John DiPasquale (Wilmington, Mass.) and sophomores Tim Butler (Concord, Mass.) and Matt Whalen (Merrimack, N.H.) all saw quality playing time last year, and should be solid contributors this fall.
PSU also returns four regulars in the defensive backfield, along with what Castonia feels is a good group of newcomers. "We have some kids who had plenty of playing time last year," he said, "who will be better this year."
The top returning DB is last year's Freedom Conference Rookie of the Year Dan Fallon (Manchester, N.H./Central), who led the Panthers in tackles with 55 solos and 72 total. Sophomore Nate Gagne (Merrimack, N.H.) gained valuable experience as a starter in 2003, while senior Adam Briggs (Peabody, Mass.) and sophomore Ryan Puck (Fair Haven, N.J.) saw plenty of action and will be looked to this fall.
The interior line is Castonia's biggest area of concern on defense. "We have some guys coming back I would expect to be reliable and productive," he says, "but there could be some playing time available for some newcomers."
Seniors Chris Venn (Saugus, Mass.) and Nick Chilingirian (Haverhill, Mass.) and junior Caleb Hooker (Peterborough, N.H.) all have experience as starters, and will get plenty of playing time. Juniors Bret McGovern (Mt. Vernon, Maine) and Pat Quinlan (Saugus, Mass.) will get their opportunities, and senior Ben Krasofski (Seabrook, N.H.) could also be a factor.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Panthers have two sophomore backs that Castonia is hoping will carry the offensive load - Dan Fortier (Salem, N.H.) and Kyle Clark (Bradford, N.H.). Fortier was the team's leading rusher as a freshman, and Clark showed promise in limited action.
"Both guys have battled injuries," said Castonia, "but if they can stay healthy, they can both be good, productive and versatile backs."
Junior Jeremy Roberts (Fair Haven, Vt.) returns as the starting fullback. Sophomore Ramsey Lawrence (Chester, N.H.) and senior Steve DiBiase (Hollis, Maine) give PSU added depth in the backfield, if they can remain healthy.
The quarterback position is wide open, with three returning candidates and a couple of newcomers competing for the job. Sophomore Tye Seastedt (Danville, N.H.) got the most playing time last season among the returnees, while junior Jimi Lampron (Rochester, N.H.) and sophomore Adam Reeves (Dover, N.H.) have shown improvement and could challenge for the job.
Senior Harold Roy (East Boston, Mass.), who has caught 15 passes the last two years, is the only experienced veteran among the receiving corps. Sophomore Danny Thau (Washington, D.C.) will get a chance.
There are experienced players on the offensive line, with four starters returning. Senior co-captains Vaughn Beckwith (Canaan, Maine) and David Feeley (Toms River, N.J.) are veteran starters, and were joined last season by current sophomores Joe Fellini (Walpole, Mass.) and Dana Flanders (Rochester, N.H.). Sophomore Steve Allen (Arundul, Maine) also has starting experience.
"I feel good about that group," said Castonia. "They've improved drastically in the weight room, and that will pay dividends. We'll also look for a couple of newcomers to fill in."
Castonia is hoping for improvement in the special teams, and all of the jobs are wide open. Senior Andre Bou-Mitri (Salem, N.H.) leads the cast of kicker candidates, and the coach may look to some of the other returnees.
"The only thing we can control is what we do and what goes on here," said Castonia "We have to become the best possible team we can. We have to worry about what we're doing daily. That's all we can control."
FREEDOM CONFERENCE: The Freedom Football Conference, which was founded in 1991 and included Plymouth State as a charter member, disbanded following the 2003 season. Coast Guard, Kings Point and WPI moved to the University Collegiate Athletic Association, which then changed its name to the Liberty League; Springfield and Norwich joined the Empire 8 Conference; Western Connecticut became a football member of the New Jersey Athletic Conference; and Plymouth State turned into a Division III independent. There are three independent football schools in New England - PSU, Mount Ida, and Husson.
CO-CAPTAINS: Senior offensive linemen Vaughn Beckwith (#76) and David Feeley (#66) are the Panther team captains for this season.
COACHING STAFF: PSU head coach Paul Castonia is in his second season in charge of the Panthers, and he has four assistants back from last season - Lou Desloges, Rick Desmarais, Mike McLaughlin and Devin Zeman. The new members of the staff include Matt Coddaire, Justin Leonard and Tom Pabst. Two of the assistant coaches on the Saint Anselm staff have ties to Plymouth State: Paul Lavigne is a former assistant at PSU under coach Don Brown, and Jonathan Rich is a graduate of PSU and former starting defensive lineman for the Panthers.
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