Fresh off the program's second NCAA playoff appearance in the last three years, the Bloomsburg University Huskies will have plenty of familiar faces on the field when spring practice.
One face integral to the success of the Huskies for the past 20 years that will not be on the sidelines is former head coach Danny Hale, who retired in February.
Long-time assistant coach and defensive coordinator Paul Darragh has been elevated to interim head coach for the upcoming season.
"It's going to be bittersweet without Coach Hale there," said Darragh. "He's been such a fixture here for 20 years and the 16 that I've been part of the program. One thing that I'll always remember is the quality of life he gave the coaches. He let us coach and made it enjoyable."
With much of the previous staff still in place, Darragh feels much will remain the same.
"As a mentor, he taught us a lot, and one of the positives is that we're going to take that and continue to coach the same way. I think that's been an integral part of the program. The voice will be different, but we're going to take the lessons he taught and continue to march forward."
On the field, three 2012 All-Americans return in seniors Franklyn Quiteh (Tobyhanna/Pocono Mountain West), Brian Clarke (Hanover/Hanover) and Larry Webster (Hagerstown, MD/Elkton). The trio led the Huskies to a 10-2 record and a trip to the NCAA Playoffs.
Six other Huskies who earned All-PSAC East in 2012 return as well in offensive linemen Matt Feiler (Strasburg/Lampeter-Strasburg) and Chris Steck (Mt. Carmel/Mt. Carmel), running back Eddie Mateo (Bethlehem/Freedom), defensive tackle Chris Kennedy (Phoenixville/Archbishop Carroll), and linebacker Justin Shirk (Harrisburg/Central Dauphin).
On the offensive side of the ball, Quiteh was a finalist for the Harlon Hill Award after winning the Division II rushing titles in both total yards and yards per game. Quiteh ran for a career-high 2,121 yards, and his yards per game average of 176.75, was 14 yards better than his closest competitor.
Quiteh carried the ball 287 times for 24 touchdowns and averaged a school-record 7.4 yards per carry. The junior rushed for more than 100 yards in every game in 2012 and has a current streak of 17 straight games with 100 yards or more. He rushed for more than 200 yards four times this season and his career numbers stand at 5,328 yards rushing with 58 touchdowns.
"Franklyn is certainly a marquee player," Darragh said of the rising senior. "But we also have a guy like Mateo who is a productive player himself and depth behind them with guys like Dai'Shon Munger (Westampton, NJ/Holy Cross) and some other young players."
Mateo, who topped 1,000 yards on the ground, teamed with Quiteh to give the Huskies one of the most feared backfields in Division II. The duo became the first tandem in PSAC history to rush for over 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. Despite missing one game, he rushed for 1,076 yards and six scores on 177 attempts, averaging 6.1 yards per rush.
Darragh thinks the multifaceted aspect to BU's ground attack is one of the keys to the team's success.
"If you're going to have a mindset set to run the ball, you're going to need more than one (running back)," he noted. Franklyn has been a consistent and productive player. With the number of carries these guys are going to get, you need him to stay healthy if you want to pound the ball and control the clock. He's been a special player, and along with Eddie and what we have up front, it bodes well for us to be able to establish the run game."
Paving the way for the ground attack was an offensive line buoyed by Gene Upshaw Award finalist Clarke, Feiler and Steck. Feiler and Alex Buchert (Robesonia/Conrad Weiser) formed the left side of the line, with Steck playing center and Clarke lining up at right guard.
"Steck is a team captain," Darragh observed. "Anytime you can start with your center and have him be one of your best players, that's a good thing."
"But we also have Clarke, Feiler and Buchert back, too, so we'll have a lot of experience up front,"he continued. "Of that group, Brian certainly has the most accolades. He's a dominant player with an intense attitude. He's one of the most dominant lineman we've had here dating back to Jahri Evans. We even used him on defense and he had a couple sacks. We'll try to use him that way, as well."
The experience and dominance of that line helped Bloomsburg lead the PSAC in rushing for the third consecutive season and held the fifth-ranked rushing offense in Division II at 315.75 yards per game. Bloomsburg set the PSAC single-season rushing record with 3,789 yards in 2012, breaking the old record of 3,552 set by Millersville in 1981.
Bloomsburg's air attack was led by first-year starter Tim Kelly (Camp Hill/Cedar Cliff). He threw for 22 touchdowns on the year and 1,793 yards. The redshirt sophomore completed 51 percent of his 225 pass attempts and was intercepted 13 times.
"Tim did great last year to step in as a redshirt freshman and lead us to 10 wins," Darragh remembered. "He made plays with his arm, feet and head by putting us in the right play. In any offense, quarterback is a critical position. With Tim, Brady Knerr (Macungie/Emmaus) and Chad Hoffman (Drums/Hazleton), we're more established there than last year. We didn't know what we had going into spring practice last year, but with these guys along with some young wideouts coming into play, we feel we have the right pieces."
Among the returning receivers, Glenn Hutton, Jr. is the leading returner after catching 16 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns in 2012.
Defensively, Larry Webster (Hagerstown, MD/Elkton) returns after leading the conference in sacks, making an immediate impact in his first season on the football field after a four-year career for the Huskies on the basketball court. Webster made 38 tackles, including a school single-season record 13.5 sacks. He also intercepted one pass, broke up two others, forced one fumble and recovered one other. He also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown, caught a two-point conversion and had two touchdown receptions on the season.
On the hardwood for the Huskies, Webster was a 1,000-point scorer; finished as the Huskies all-time leader in blocked shots and was named the PSAC East Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.
"Larry is a unique story," Darragh noted. "With his talent, size, range, he's still coming into himself. Any time you can have an impact player off the edge in today's game where you throw the ball so much more than 10 years ago, it's going to help set up the defense for success. Even after leading the conference in sacks, we expect him to be better all-around as he learns more facets of playing defensive end."
The trio of David McFadden (Allentown/Allentown Central Catholic), Tony David (Allentown/Salisbury) and Chris Kennedy (Phoenixville/Archbishop Carroll) also have starting experience along the line. David had 41 tackles, including six tackles for loss and four sacks last season. McFadden and Kennedy each had three stops in the backfield last year.
"Up front, we feel confident we have experience," Darragh said. "We lost (defensive tackle) Shaun Moore (Lansdale/North Penn), but we have Kennedy back inside and some young players. Just like on offense where people say you've got to win up front, we have the experience and talent to playing winning football on the defensive line."
Shirk is the lone returning starter among the linebacking corps. An NCAA track & field champion in the javelin, he is coming off a gridiron campaign in which he registered 93 tackles, including nine for loss and a pair of sacks. He also batted down three passes and forced two fumbles.
"Shirk is a leader and has the most experience of the group," Darragh said of his team captain. "But we have some younger guys who we feel can be good football players if given the opportunity and we're confident in the front seven."
Corner DJ Robinson (Sinking Spring/Conrad Weiser) and safety Jonathan Patrick (Somerset, NJ/Franklin) return in the secondary. Robinson was in on 58 stops in 2012, intercepted a pass and recovered two fumbles. Patrick brought down the opposing ball carrier 55 times and intercepted two passes, while breaking up five others.
"In the secondary we have some young talent," said Darragh. "Spring is the time to develop them and let them show us what they can do. We have some freshmen who redshirted last year looking to prove themselves and give us some depth."
On specials teams, Dan Fisher (Liverpool/Central Dauphin) returns after the rare feat of earning All-PSAC East status at two different positions, receiving accolades as a placekicker and punter. He converted nine field goals in 2012 and showed his leg strength with a 52-yard boot against Edinboro. When called on to punt, he had an average of 39.3 yards on 47 kicks, with 17 inside the opponent's 20 yard line and eight kicks of at least 50 yards.
Robinson returns as the primary return man after averaging 20.3 yards per kick return and 6.1 yards on punt returns.
Darragh is clear what he wants to get out of the team during spring practice.
"The goal is to get better." he stated. "You don't stay the same, you either get better or you get worse. We want to improve as units on offense, on defense and in the kicking the game."
Darragh continued, "Another great thing about spring practice is you get to look at players. Maybe not in their initial position, you can move people around and experiment without having to get ready for a game. We're looking to find the right pieces, put them together and get better. If we can do that from day one, by the time we get to the spring game, that's the accomplishment we want."
The Huskies will conclude spring practice on May 3 with its annual spring game starting at 7:00 p.m.
The Huskies open the 2013 season at home on September 7 against Stonehill at 1 p.m.