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August 27, 2010

Plymouth State Football opens 2010 season at Castleton

Panthers celebrating 40th Anniversary of Football

Game #1      Plymouth State University (0-0) at Castleton State College (0-0)
  Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010, 1:00 p.m., Spartan Stadium, Castleton, Vt.
 
Head Coach Paul Castonia

            PLYMOUTH, N.H. – One of the beauties of the beginning of the school year is the start of the college football season, and the Plymouth State University Panthers are in pre-season camp and set to get underway with the opening of the 2010 campaign.

            The Panthers will play three non-conference games to begin the 10-game slate, beginning next Saturday, Sept. 4, at Castleton State College.  PSU returns home the following Saturday, Sept. 11, for the Currier Field debut against Mount Ida College, and meets New England Football Conference competition the following week, Sept. 18, in the crossover game against Bridgewater State University. 

           Another exciting contest on the Panther schedule is Saturday, Oct. 2, at Currier Field against Nichols College, which will mark the 40th anniversary of football at Plymouth State.  The first varsity football game in Panther history was at Plymouth State against Nichols College on Saturday, Oct. 3, 1970.  The Panthers returned the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, but Nichols won the game, 41-13.

            Led by eighth-year head coach Paul CastoniaPSU has been on quite a roll the past three seasons with a 27-6 record and will look to keep the momentum going in 2010 with a run at the coveted NEFC crown.  The Panthers are coming off a second-place finish in the NEFC Boyd Division, an 8-2 regular season record (8-3 overall) and a loss to Springfield in the ECAC Northeast Bowl.

            Castleton is a second-year program that registered a 3-6 overall record in its inaugural season in 2009, posting two victories over Anna Maria College and one over Becker College.  The Spartans play in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference with Anna Maria, Becker, Gallaudet, Husson, Mount Ida, Norwich and SUNY Maritime.

            PSU has a 15-22-3 career record in season openers.  The Panthers were outlasted in five overtimes in last year’s debut at Saint Anselm, 41-35.

            The NEFC Boyd Division schedule begins Saturday, Sept. 26, with PSU visiting UMass Dartmouth, and wraps up with the Panthers hosting defending champion Curry College at Currier Field on the final Saturday of the season on Nov. 6.  The Boyd Division champion will host the Bogan Division winner on Nov. 13 for the NEFC championship and automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament.

            Since beginning its football program in 1970, Plymouth State won or shared nine conference championships in 21 seasons as a member of the NEFC from 1971-91, including eight straight from 1981-88.  The Panthers also captured three Freedom Football Conference championships (’94, ’95, ’01) and added a 10th NEFC title in 2008.  PSU has the 12th-highest career winning percentage (.644) among all NCAA Division III football programs.

Plymouth State Football   ----  2010 Outlook

            PSU has posted a a 19-2 mark in NEFC Boyd Division games the last three years, with one conference championship and NCAA Tournament berth and two ECAC Championship Bowl game appearances.  Coach Castonia says the ingredients are there for continued success for the Panthers.

            “We have some positions where we have key returnees and a lot of experience” says Castonia, “and we have areas where we lost a lot to graduation and will be very young.  Our success will rely on our returning players getting better at what they do and finding young people to fill in the other spots.”

            PSU earned its success with a strong running attack, ranking 11th in the nation in rushing offense, an effective passing game, ranking fourth in the country in pass efficiency, and a strong, all-around defense, ranking 46th overall in team defense.

            Castonia welcomes back 15 starters this season, seven on offense and eight on the other side of the ball.  The linebackers and defensive backs are experienced groups and will backbone the defense while several veterans return at the skill positions on offense.  The Panthers will have to rebuild the offensive and defensive interior lines.

            “How the offensive line performs may dictate how our offense goes,’ says Castonia.  “We’ve had a veteran line the last couple of years and had success running the ball.  We’ll have to see how this year’s line comes together to see where our strength on offense lies.”

OFFENSE

            The Panthers have ranked in the top 11 in the nation in rushing offense the past three years, handing off the football more than 80 percent of the time.  PSU lost three starters from its offensive line, and will look to its two returnees, senior center Nick Fuccillo (East Falmouth, Mass./Falmouth) and sophomore guard Xander Fuccillo (East Falmouth, Mass./Falmouth) to lead this year’s unit.  Castonia says two or three returning guys or a couple newcomers could step in.

            “Nick Fuccillo is a two-year starter and Xander jumped right into a starting role as a freshman last year,” said Castonia.  “We’ll rely on those two to help rebuild the line.  Some young guys who haven’t played a lot of snaps had a good spring, so hopefully that improvement will continue.”

            The offense will be spearheaded by senior quarterback J.J. Brooks (Seabrook, N.H./Winnacunnet), who was Second Team All-Conference last year.  He rushed for 761 yards (4.1 average) and 12 touchdowns while completing 64-of-120 passes (53.5 percent) for 1,243 yards and 16 touchdowns (six interceptions).

            “There’s no substitute for experience,” says Castonia, “and the experience J.J. got as a starter last year was extremely beneficial. We’ll build on all the things he did well and learn from the mistakes.”

            Sophomore Ty Long (Dover, N.H./Dover) and senior Chris Francher (Weare, N.H./John Stark) will likely get the bulk of carries out of the Panther backfield.  Long was the NEFC Boyd Division Rookie of the Year in ’09 after rushing for a team-leading 764 yards (5.8 avg.) and five touchdowns.  Francher rushed for 488 yards (4.1 avg.) and four scores.

            “Ty came in and took advantage of an opportunity,” says Castonia,  “and we’re hoping he can build on that.  Chris has continued to improve every year, and he’s become a big part of our offense.”

            One of Brooks’ top receivers is back in senior wideout John Creamer (Hanover, Mass./Abington), who caught a team-high 27 passes last season for 434 yards and seven touchdowns.  Senior tight end Aaron Getz (Palmerton, Pa./Palmerton Area) is also back, and junior Christian Mulcahy (Norwich, Conn./St. Bernards), who has been impressive as a kick returner, had a solid spring after moving over from defensive back.

            “We’ve got some talent returning in that area,” said Castonia, “but we’ll also be looking to see if any of the young guys can step up.”

DEFENSE

            PSU has the luxury of having four returning senior linebackers who all have starting experience, and Castonia plans to take advantage of that.  Those four include Brian Castellucci (Derry, N.H./Pinkerton Academy), Harry Fallon (Hampton Falls, N.H./Winnacunnet), Mike Bruning (Abington, Mass.) and Steve Campbell (Northborough, N.H./Algonquin).  Castellucci was a First Team All-Conference selection last year, and Fallon was a Second Team pick.

            “All four of those guys have taken a lot of snaps,” said Castonia, “and we’ll use all four of them a lot this year.  We’ll be able to use some of those guys on special teams as well, giving us more experience on those units.  There’s no doubt they’ll be the backbone of our team.”

            The Panthers also have three key returning veterans in the backfield.  Senior safety Zach Parsons (Florence, Mass./Northampton) and senior cornerback Kevin Whalen (Wallingford, Conn./Sheehan) are both two-time All-Conference selections, and senior safety Dan Kelly (Londonderry, N.H.) is a three-year starter.  Having those three returning veterans allowed Castonia to move the other starter, Christian Mulcahy, to wide receiver.

            “We feel good about the returners we have back there,” says Castonia.  “They’ve got good experience and have been all-conference performers.  Their experience and skill will help is develop other areas of the defense.”

            Senior end Matt MacLean (Abington, Mass.) is the only returning starter on the defensive line, so Castonia will be looking for new players who can step in.  Junior Pat Sullivan (Hampton, N.H./Winnacunnet), senior Jim Buckley (Burlington, Mass.) and sophomore Matt Fiore (Merrimac, Mass./Pentucket Regional) are candidates to fill the roles, along with some newcomers.

SPECIAL TEAMS

            “We were inconsistent on special teams last year,” said Castonia.  “We did some good things in some games, and we hurt ourselves in some others.  We need to get better.  The bigger the game, the more important this becomes.”

            Sophomore punter Nick Provost (Stratham, N.H./Exeter) averaged 42.6 yards a kick last year, and was named First Team All-Conference.  His average would have ranked fourth in the nation but he lacked enough attempts to qualify.  As a team, PSU ranked 11th in the nation in net punting (35.1 yds.).

            Junior Christian Mulcahy kicker/returner is back in several areas on Panther special teams.  He averaged 22.3 yards in kickoff returns with one touchdown last year, earning All-Conference honors as a return specialist, and he was 7-for-11 in field goal tries and 34-of-40 on extra point kick attempts.  He can also kickoff and punt if needed.

            Sophomore Ty Long took over as a solid punt returner last season, averaging more than 13 yards a boot.  Castonia says Long or someone else could end up carrying the load.

OUTLOOK

            Curry recaptured the NEFC Boyd Division title last season after PSU had wrestled it away in 2008.  Castonia says this year’s champion will likely again have to go through Curry.

            “We know Curry will be a big obstacle for us, but there are other teams on our schedule that will be tough,” said Castonia.  “Endicott should be one of the top teams this year, and Western New England has gotten a lot better.  Curry is not our only tough opponent.”

            “Our first three games will be challenging,” Castonia added.  “Mount Ida has an All-American running back; Castleton is a second-year program that would love to knock us off; and Bridgewater State is one of the top teams in the other division of the NEFC.  We’ll have our hands full every week.”

            NEFC PRE-SEASON POLL:  The Panthers were picked to finish second in the Boyd Division in the 2010 NEFC preseason coaches’ poll.  Curry topped the poll with six first-place votes, while PSU was second with one top vote.  Endicott got the other top vote and was ranked third, followed by Western New England, Nichols, Salve Regina, MIT and UMass Dartmouth. Defending NEFC champion Maine Maritime received five first place votes to lead the Bogan Division polling, with Bridgewater State runner-up with the other three top votes.  Curry was picked to win the overall NEFC title with 11 of the 16 votes, with PSU and Maine Maritime getting two votes and Bridgewater one.                                                               

            PANTHER CAPTAINS:  After having only one captain last year, the Panthers have five co-captains this season, all seniors.  They are quarterback J.J. Brooks (Seabrook, N.H./Winnacunnet), linebackers Brian Castellucci (Derry, N.H./Pinkerton Academy) and Harry Fallon (Hampton Falls, N.H./Winnacunnet), and defensive backs Zach Parsons (Florence, Mass./Northampton) and Kevin Whalen (Wallingford, Conn./Sheehan). 

            COACHING STAFF:  Head coach Paul Castonia (Trinity ’86) is in his eighth season in charge of the Panthers, with a PSU record of 36-35.  He has five assistants returning from last year – Devin Zeman (Associate Head Coach/Def. Coordinator/Def. Backs), Lou Desloges (Running Backs), Tom Pabst (Offensive Line), Brandon Clough (Receivers), and Ryan Harrington (Defensive Line).   The new members of the staff are Eric McCarthy (Linebackers) and Zac Duval (Student Asst.).

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