With a few quick steps and a burst of speed, Jordan Wilcox was off and running. He broke free for a 51-yard touchdown rush, the Pride’s first score in their 28-8 win over Kean on Saturday, and his first of three scores on the day.
The first person to greet Wilcox in the end zone was senior quarterback Jake Eglintine, his teammate who he’s seemingly shared the backfield with forever, dating back to Saratoga High School in New York.
The senior duo has already combined for seven touchdowns through two games. That in it of itself might be the best microcosm of the Springfield College football team this fall – a strong senior class.
It’s not uncommon to see teams decimated by losing seniors to graduation. The Pride however have seen quite the opposite trend, as returning seniors Wilcox, Eglintine, running back Tyler Hyde, offensive tackle Chris Hayden, linebacker Dom Traversa, punter Whit DeVaux and safety Johnny Bianchi have anchored all three phases of the game for Mike Cerasuolo’s squad.
“I think we’ve got a great mix of some guys that have played a lot of football, and some guys that are just starting to play football,” Cerasuolo said. “At the end of the day, what we most talk to our kids about that we have to have 100 as strong as one.”
The Pride are once again running the triple option on offense, led by Wilcox – who was recently selected as a winner of the New England Football Writers Association Gold Helmet Award after his 223-yard, three touchdown day against Kean. Hyde, sophomore Hunter Belzo and freshman Tim Callahan have all pitched in as well.
On the defensive side, the Pride’s front seven – anchored by Traversa, junior Nick Giorgio and sophomore Richard Williams – held Western New England and Kean to just 189 total rushing yards, as well as adequate pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
“They’ve been executing,” Cerasuolo said of his front seven. “Doing their jobs and doing it to the best of their ability. Each one of them has a unique skillset. We’ve played two really good opponents – two really good offenses – and I’ve thought we’ve done a really good job as far as playing within ourselves and doing our job.”
The upperclassmen-heavy Pride are entering their first season in the NEWMAC, following a 5-5 season in the Liberty League. With the honor of preseason favorites in the conference and two convincing wins against two national powerhouses, the Pride are riding high amidst the most buzz the team has seen locally and nationally in years.
“We tell the guys all the time, one play isn’t going to define you, one game isn’t going to define you, and two games certainly aren’t going to define you as a team,” Cerasuolo said in regards to staying level-headed. “There’s a lot of season left. We’ve got a lot to correct and get better at.”
Receiving votes in the D3Football national poll, the Pride’s next matchup pits them versus Mt. Ida, a team they handled easily last fall, 32-0.
The Pride’s first two games were two of the toughest they’ll see all season from a competition standpoint, as the Golden Bears came into the season opener ranked 24th nationally, while Kean knocked off Western New England in the tournament last year.
“We have that saying, ‘Compete, battle, finish,’ and we want to be battle tested by the time we get into NEWMAC play,” Cerasuolo said. “And these two games started that.”
Plenty of attention will be given to Wilcox on offense, with or without his monster game versus Kean. But sophomore running back Hunter Belzo proved last fall to be an elusive option in the backfield, highlighted by a 91-yard touchdown rush.
The Pride are a run-heavy offense, and while Wilcox will be the likely bell cow, Belzo will see plenty of touches, and his speed on the outside compliments Wilcox’ strength up the middle well.
In just a pair of games to start the season, Belzo has already racked up 142 yards and a touchdown as the No. 2 back. If the early season success on the ground continues, look for Belzo to see an uptick in production.
The Pride’s defense has played a large role in shutting down two elite offenses early on. While the elite play of the Pride’s linebackers and line can be thanked, the secondary has stepped its game up as well.
Senior Johnny Bianchi is a freakish athlete patrolling safety, but junior Marlowe Scott has elevated his game at the safety position. He’s racked up eight tackles and one highlight-reel interception, which came against WNE.
The 6-foot-3, 190 pound safety has the size to bump and run with the best wide receivers in Division III, and he’s showed that thus far. If his play as of late continues, opposing teams will struggle to pass the ball downfield.