After two winning seasons of Ivy League play under head coach Jim Knowles ’87, the football team will welcome 24 new players in the Class of 2010 to the roster as the Red prepares for a title run in 2006. Knowles and his staff took a run at the skill positions on offense, bringing in four wide receivers, three running backs and two quarterbacks, not to mention two tight ends and three offensive linemen. On defense, the Red will welcome eight defensive backs and two linebackers.
“These kids are good football players who are looking for excellence both on the field and off,” Knowles said. “They’re willing to commit to something and put their heart on the line. They expect to come here, work hard and to win. That’s something we talked about all through the recruiting process.”
The trend of bringing in speed is no surprise for this year’s squad, considering last year’s team graduated its leader in receptions and receiving yards, wide out Brian Romney ’06, and four starters in the secondary, including the team’s top two tacklers, Kevin Rex ’06 and Joel Sussman ’06. The team also said goodbye to the squad’s two starting cornerbacks in Jason Cloyd ’06 and Michael Gant ’06. The new faces bring quality depth and balance to a team that led a run-first, run-second offense with Ryan Kuhn ’06 under center — a stark contrast in comparison to the offense that will be showcased this season with either sophomore Nathan Ford or classmate Shane Connelly calling the shots. The Class of 2010 should also help patch up holes past the first-down marker, as the Achilles’ heel of the Ivy League’s premier run defense last season was the deep pass.
“We made a real focus in the spring to upgrade our weak points,” Knowles said. “We focused on stopping the run first, and now it’s something we can hang our hat on. Still, in recruiting, if you are doing it right then you don’t worry about freshman recruits coming in and making a quick fix right away. You’ve already got people waiting in the wings. We’re going to bring in our young guys and teach them, motivate them and make sure they’re prepared for when they get their opportunity.”
On the offensive side of the ball, freshmen quarterbacks Ben Ganter and Louisiana product Stephen Liuzza will watch and learn behind second-year players Ford and Connelly. Ganter completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,510 yards last year with State College Area High School in Pennsylvania. He becomes the fourth Ganter to play Division I football after his brother Jon went to Princeton and his other brothers Chris and Jason went to Penn State. Liuzza passed for 1,386 yards and 13 touchdowns in a Hurricane Katrina-shortened nine-game season his senior year.
“We brought in a bunch [of quarterbacks] last year and we brought in two more this year,” Knowles said. “We recruited these two kids especially for our system which obviously changed last year.”
Ganter and Liuzza will throw to freshmen wide outs Josh Gajdos, Mark Longo, Bryan Walters and Nick Zerante over the course of their careers. Despite missing most of his senior season due to injury, Gajdos hauled in 19 catches for 328 yards his junior season to earn his team’s most valuable player award. Fellow New Jersey native Longo helped his team earn three consecutive state titles by hauling in 25 catches for 505 yards for Middletown South High. At Juanita High in Washington, Walters set records in all-purpose yards and total offense while the 6-3 Zerante was named one of the top-100 players in Illinois after accumulating 3,280 total yards during his four year high school career.
Running backs Randy Barbour, Matt Kenney and Isaac Minor will be provided a good model for excellence, studying under first-team All-Ivy performer sophomore Luke Siwula. Barbour, an Alabama native, was credited as a Wendy’s High School nominee as a senior. Kenney earned an honorable mention all-state pick his senior year at State College Area High School, he was rated as one of the top-25 Division I-AA running backs for this year’s incoming freshman by ShowingBlitz.com. Minor helped Ripon High in Wisconsin to two state titles in 2003 and 2005 and was named one of the top-100 players in the state by Badgerstatepreps.com.
Down in the trenches will be tight ends Avery Fenton and Zach Owens, along with offensive linemen Quentin Bernhard, Ben Neighbor and Jordon Tuttle. The trio of linemen fit Knowles’ big and bigger frame for offensive road graders. The group averages 6-5 and 272 pounds.
“We’ve really got some good ones,” Knowles said. “But with offensive linemen you don’t really build for now. You build for the future.”
On defense the secondary will welcome new faces in Conner Hare, T.J. Hochanadel, Joe Jackson, Frank Morand, Blake Thomas and Nate Staruch. Linebackers Chris Costello and Aaron Levine will fill an important role as they add some depth to an inexperienced group of young athletic starting linebackers highlighted by junior Doug Lempa.
Defensive linemen Ricky Ballou and Trevin Cowman round out the class of 2010. Ballou and Cowman look to someday serve as the center of the Red defense, plugging the gaps to stop the run while still applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The two linemen average out at 6-4 and 252 pounds.