By Harrison Kelly
The 2016 Springfield College football team had a unique year. Freshman sensations, wide receivers playing quarterback, 70 point games, and near wins versus nationally ranked teams. While missing the playoffs would seem to be a failure of a season to most programs, could this year have been a success and a step in the right direction?
An even 5-5 record does not speak to the ability and grit this team played with all season. Playing in the Liberty League, which features two top 25 Division III teams, is a tough test for the small school like Springfield. The Pride played both of these squads, Saint John Fisher (18th according to the AFCA Coaches Poll) and Hobart (22). In both games, Springfield was within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, before falling short each time.
The secret recipe to stay in games versus these two powerhouses? Defense. Even though Springfield gave up 35 points to Saint John Fisher’s high powered offense, the Pride forced turnovers to keep them in the game with pressure up the middle from their defensive line. Good tackling and forcing the opposition to make risky plays was a key focus point for
Springfield all year. The perseverance to keep fighting and playing even when they were down three touchdowns gives a sentiment to the coaching staff, particularly first year head coach Mike Cerasuolo.
Springfield took a 12-7 loss at Hobart and could have easily stolen the game from the nationally ranked Statesmen. The downpour and wind tested the mental stability of each team, and Springfield held their ground until the final two minutes of the game. A couple more made plays late in the game, and maybe the Pride knocks Hobart out of the top-25.
Coach Cerasuolo’s first year has been smooth and commendable. Taking over for legendary coach Mike DeLong seemed like a daunting task before the season started, but Cerasuolo fit in seamlessly. He has full command of his defense and did the best he could with limited options on offense.
Before quarterback Jake Eglintine returned from an injury he suffered during the first game of the year and stabilized the triple-option, Cerasuolo was forced to make quick decisions on who would take position under center. It was suddenly the Steve Comee show who prior to the season, had been listed as a wide receiver, and hadn’t played at quarterback since high school. Gutsy performance after gutsy performance kept the Pride in games, but the limited offense couldn’t overcome teams like Saint John Fisher and Saint Lawrence. Cerasuolo should be commemorated for making the disaster of a quarterback situation limit his team as little as possible.
But who could forget the WPI game? Or as the fans here at Springfield College like to refer the game to, the Chad Shade game. After getting punched in the mouth in the first half, and facing a 17-0 deficit, Cerasuolo made the bold move to send in freshman Chad Shade to finish the game. The head coach pushed the right button that day, as Shade went off for 240 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in route to a 28-23 win. Even though Shade never saw the field again, Cerasuolo proved he is willing to go to who he thinks has the best chance to win the game.
With most of the offense coming back, including Eglintine and the two-headed monster backfield of junior Jordan Wilcox and sophomore Joshua Thomas, Springfield will look to improve on their offense which could get stuck in neutral at times versus good defensive fronts. More experience and another offseason of getting stronger can only help the Pride’s playmakers.
As for the defense, leading tacklers Dominic Traversa and Christian Zotti will be returning for their senior campaigns. Freshman Rich Williams and sophomore Nick Giorgio will look to continue their solid play next year and keep the reputation as a stingy, solid-tackling defense Cerasuolo has built.
The most important and possibly underrated aspect of the future of Springfield College football is that they will be moving to the NEWMAC conference. Now, the Pride will be competing against new schools, closer in location and competition level. These schools include WPI, The United States Coast Guard Academy, MIT, Norwich University, Maine Maritime Academy, and The United States Merchant Marine Academy. Now, Springfield will have a greater chance to compete for a conference championship and bring glory back to Alden Street.
2016 was a great year to watch Springfield College football, and the fans appreciate the team coming out and competing every single game at Amos Alonzo Stagg Field. Cerasuolo is already preparing his team for 2017 that will be hungry for a NEWMAC championship.