CASTLETON, Vt. – There will be some familiar faces in the playing rotation for the Castleton University football team in 2017, but there will also be several newcomers seeing immediate playing time for the Spartans as they begin the ninth season of intercollegiate football at Castleton.
Castleton is coming off its third consecutive winning season within the ECFC at 4-3, including a road victory at Mount Ida and a comeback win over SUNY Maritime on Senior Day. With two non-conference home games on the 2017 slate, the Spartans are shooting for the fifth winning season in program history.
Approximately 55 players, over half of the current roster, were not on the squad in 2016. Fourth-year head coach Tony Volpone has seen a few players leave the team during preseason camp, but the vast majority of the student-athletes have persevered through two weeks.
"This is a very close group that has seen little attrition, which I believe is a result of the captains creating a positive chemistry within the squad as well as the newcomers showing their commitment to be here," said Volpone.
Among the returners is Second Team All-ECFC quarterback Mitchell Caron, who took over as the starter in the third week of the 2016 season. Caron led the ECFC in passing yards per game (245.6) and was second in the league in both completion percentage (.561) and passing touchdowns (12), plus he was tied for fifth in the ECFC with five rushing touchdowns, showing his mobility on the field.
Caron will be looking to junior running back Moe Harris to regain his form from 2015, when he was named ECFC Rookie of the Year after rushing for 1,065 yards and 14 touchdowns. Last season, Harris showed flashes of brilliance, highlighted by a 202-yard performance in 32 carries against Anna Maria.
Ryan Barry is the leading returning wide receiver for the Spartans, catching 36 passes for 284 yards in 2016. Besides another receiver on the other side of Barry, the Spartans are looking for new starters along the offensive line to join Second Team All-ECFC performer Eric Decker, one of the 2017 captains.
Defensively, Jakob Trautwein returns after setting the Castleton single-season record with 142 total tackles in 2016, featuring an 18-tackle performance at Gallaudet last season. Returning defensive linemen Bubba Collins and Sha'ron Schmidt-Bilowith aim to continue to provide pressure in the opponent's backfield, as each of them earned 10 tackles for a loss last year.
No matter who is on the field Sept. 2, the 2017 season will once again challenge the Spartans. For the first time since 2012, Castleton will play home games at night, as both the home opener against Fitchburg State Sept. 9 and the Homecoming game against Norwich Sept. 16 will be played under the lights at Spartan Stadium.
The seven-game ECFC slate consists of three home games and four road games for the Spartans. Castleton will travel to face the top two teams in the conference preseason poll, defending champion Husson and SUNY Maritime, but Volpone believes that his players will take the field ready to play every week.
"We want to compete in every game. We try to focus on taking care of everything in practice and then have those things carry over into the games. I think our guys have a good understanding about the value of competition, we talk about it every day in practice, and it has become our philosophy throughout the program," added Volpone.
SCOUTING PLYMOUTH STATE
Plymouth State is coming off a 6-4 campaign in 2016, winning its first four games before going through a four-game losing streak in which three of the losses were by six points or fewer. The Panthers ended the year with convincing victories over Massachusetts Maritime and Fitchburg State.
The Panthers welcome back eight starters on offense, including quarterback Zack Edwards, as well as six starters on defense. In 2016, Plymouth State led the nation in turnover margin per game (+2.50).
Castleton owns a 4-3 series edge over Plymouth State, including a 2-1 record at Currier Field. Last season, the Panthers snapped the Spartans' four-game winning streak in the series with a 20-7 victory at Spartan Stadium. Edwards' 37-yard touchdown pass to Chris Kelly midway through the third quarter proved to be the game-winning score, while the Panther defense forced five Castleton turnovers.