CASTLETON, Vt. – Returning much of its offensive core and adding help on defense, the Castleton University football team looks to notch back-to-back winning campaigns as it heads into its 10th season of intercollegiate football.
Recording its fourth consecutive winning season within the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference, the Spartans picked up five wins to two losses in 2017. Dropping its first two contests of the season – against nonconference opponents – the Spartans bounced back with three consecutive wins. Castleton went a perfect 3-0 at home in conference play, defeating Mount Ida, Dean and Gallaudet. On the road, the team split its four contests, defeating Anna Maria and Alfred State while falling to Maritime and Husson.
Holding the reigns for his fifth year, head coach Tony Volpone will welcome 57 freshman athletes in 2018 after seeing more than 50 new players last season.
"We are looking to improve from last year. We have a good amount of young players in our program that are now sophomores. We do, however, have to remember that they are still young and there will be growing pains…offensively we have a little bit more experience at some of the skill positions with the upperclassman. This is something that we are hoping can help elevate ourselves."
Leading the returning group will be 2016 Second Team All-ECFC quarterback Mitchell Caron. He threw for seven touchdowns and ran for another three while racking up 1,470 yards in 2017. Moe Harris will play a huge role on offense returning for his senior season after setting multiple single-season records, including 1,180 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground.
John Hamme, Ryan Barry and Adnane Adossama will supplement the rush-heavy offense as passing targets. Barry (21 rec, 161 yds) and Adossama (29 rec, 486 yds) combined for 50 receptions and 647 yards this past season. Predominantly a blocking tight end, Hamme has the ability to slip off the line as an extra receiver.
Other players to watch – according to Volpone – is the sophomore class of Dustin Rock, Chris Rice, Luc Issa, Zak Pollicino and Jayson Gilsinger. Anchoring the defensive line Rock (17), Rice (25) and Gilsinger (9) combined for 51 total tackles. In the secondary, Pollicino made 25 tackles and notched a couple of interceptions, while Issa made 18 stops.
Wyatt Prue, Tayler Larmie, Owen Tretter and Ethan Sherwood are all expected to play a huge role as well, attempting to fill in the void left by graduate record-setter Jakob Trautwein. Senior captain Grant Cummings will provide veteran leadership for the relatively young squad.
Castleton will open its 2018 campaign at home against a familiar foe in Plymouth State University. Plymouth State raced to a 9-1 record during the 2017 regular season, securing a place in the NCAA Division III Tournament. Running into a buzzsaw, the Panthers met the Golden Eagles of Brockport – eventual semifinalists – in the first round and suffered a 66-0 loss. During its regular-season finale, Plymouth recorded a 24-7 win at Fitchburg State to improve to 7-1 in its conference. Quarterback Zack Edwards led the way with four completions for 72 yards. Mitch Banuskevich (96 yards) and David Hamilton (53 yards) paced a run-heavy offense with 31 combined attempts and a touchdown.
Plymouth State welcomes back seven starters to their offense, including Edwards and junior receiver Jacob Szulc. The former had 18 touchdown passes against seven interceptions in 2017, while Szulc had 10 touchdown receptions over the course of the first four games of the season, good for second in NCAA D-III, before an injury limited him to 10 receptions the remainder of the year.
Punter and kicker Jeremy Martin will return to lead a solid special teams unit. In 2017, he notched five field goals, converted 86 percent of extra-point attempts and racked up nearly 1,500 yards as a punter.
In the secondary, the Panthers will return Grant McGregor and Matt Shea while adding a talented group of newcomers to attempt to slow down the passing game of Castleton. Last season, the pair led the team in tackles, both averaging more than six per game. In the middle, Malcolm Huesman, Sean Peet and Elijah Bussell will bring experience to linebackers core. In total, Plymouth State will look to replicate the success of their defense in 2017, which allowed just under 15 points per game.
The season-opening contest will determine a leader in the overall head-to-head as Plymouth's victory in 2017 evened up the series at 4-4. Two years ago the Panthers came into Spartan Stadium and immediately grabbed the lead with a 9-play, 68-yard drive that resulted in a rushing touchdown for a 6-0 lead. Castleton responded by driving down the field over 10 plays ending with a passing touchdown to claim a 7-6 advantage. Holding steady through the second, Plymouth scored a touchdown in the third and fourth quarters to clinch the comeback win. In 2015, Castleton capped a stretch of four straight years with a win as it claimed a 21-10 victory at Currier Field. Similar to 2016, the teams remained close in the opening period before the Spartans took advantage, scoring 14 of the contest's final 17 points.
Following the opening-day home game, the Spartans will head out on the road for three nonconference contests – Fitchburg State, Norwich and Misericordia – before the team's scheduled bye week.
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