Coast Guard is ready to stop talking and start playing football
New London — Not that Jack Brandt and Chip Crowley can't hold up their end of a conversation, quite the opposite, in fact, with the two personable Coast Guard Academy senior football captains.
They just feel this Coast Guard team, which opens the season at 7 p.m. Thursday against the University of New England at Cadet Memorial Field, already knows what it has to do without rehashing it all the time.
“Our attitude this preseason has been very businesslike,” said Brandt, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound defensive tackle. “Coach hasn't had to call us at all on our effort. We just kind of play. We're just playing the game.”
“If you can't get excited for this, you got something wrong with you,” said Crowley, a 6-2, 180-pound wide receiver, speaking of the more low-key leadership style of he and Brandt. “Getting excited to play football is pretty easy for us. It's a lot better than cleaning your room.”
The Bears, who return 14 starters — six on offense and eight on defense — have been through an arduous preseason which included an inspection Wednesday morning and two straight days of practices with no pads due to the heat. It's made them pretty anxious to get going, with the ultimate goal of getting back to winning after finishing the season with six straight losses a year ago to wind up 3-7, having been derailed by injuries.
Coast Guard was picked to finish sixth in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference preseason poll. The Bears were 3-1 last year, including a victory over Norwich University in their NEWMAC opener, only to lose starting quarterback Ethan Goldcamp to a career-ending head injury.
Ryan Jones, a sophomore last year, then took over at quarterback … in an offense more suited to Goldcamp's golden arm than to Jones' punishing running style. The competitive Jones adapted, throwing for 311 yards and three touchdowns in the season-finale against Merchant Marine, giving him confidence entering a new season in which he was named the starter from Day One.
Coast Guard returns its leading receiver from last year in Justin Moffatt (27 catches for team highs of 438 yards and four touchdowns), as well as Crowley (20 catches, 250 yards) and Liam Middleton (23 catches, 240 yards).
Four starters are back on the offensive line, with senior center Hudson Dunaway, senior Nick Szep (left guard) and Bill Boardman (left tackle) and junior Colton Rausch (right guard), who will be joined by junior Jared Gee at right tackle.
And the Bears have plenty of talent in the backfield, with a pair of sophomores leading the way at running back in Chris Gardner and Jon Wagner, two of 18 members of a strong sophomore class who have cracked the depth chart.
“Last year was tough because there was a lot of injuries,” Crowley said. “… We feel like we left a lot on the field. We have a great atmosphere with the receiving corps; we're not afraid to call each other out on our mistakes.”
The offense has also gotten more cohesive with Jones — whom they call “R.J.” — at quarterback.
“He knows it's not all on him,” Crowley said. “He would feel like all the weight of the world is on him. But he knows now the offense is one unit. Definitely, through our interactions with him, getting close to him, he's gained a lot of confidence.”
On defense, junior Pat Crowley, a second team all-conference selection last year at cornerback (67 tackles, 2 interceptions) will lead an experienced secondary that includes junior safety Mark Wicke (53 tackles) and junior cornerback Michael Goldsworthy (44 tackles).
Senior linebacker Jake Behne led the team with 72 tackles last season.
Brandt (49 tackles, 6 tackles for a loss) and fellow senior Tommy Jones (47 tackles, team-best 7.5 tackles for a loss) will anchor the defensive line.
Brandt and Crowley first met when they were placed in the same Swab Summer company prior to their freshman year.
Brandt is from Marlton, N.J., Crowley from San Marino, Calif.
“I thought he was a surf dude from California,” Brandt said at Wednesday's weekly team football luncheon. “He looked like Justin Bieber.”
The pair then roomed together. Both government majors, they struggled through calculus, employing what Brandt called the “Brandt-Crowley Method” of succeeding.
They've gotten through three years together so far.
“It's fitting we're football captains,” Crowley said.
“These guys answer the questions how I would,” said Coast Guard coach Bill George, entering his 20th season. “We've had some great senior leadership.
“We're taking more of a football approach. Over the last couple of days, what I hoped would materialize on the field has. There's a lot of new faces and we want to play good, solid football. … I don't have a lot more to say to the team and normally you'd have a lot to say the night before a game. I'm like these guys, how you feel is how your team feels. We're ready to go.”
U. OF NEW ENGLAND AT COAST GUARD
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Where: Cadet Memorial Field, New London.
2017 records: University of New England, first-year varsity program; Coast Guard 3-7 overall.
Players to watch: University of New England, QB Brian Peters, RB Jack Mahoney, RB Parker Belsky, WR Ryan Gaboury, WR Haelin Roberts, WR Colby Harlow.
Coast Guard, QB Ryan Jones (91-for-174, 964 yards, 6 TDs, 14 INTs; 74 carries, 79 yards, 3 TDs last season), WR Justin Moffatt (27 catches, 438 yards, 4 TDs), WR Chip Crowley (20 catches, 250 yards), WR Liam Middleton (23 catches, 240 yards), DT Jack Brandt (49 tackles, 6 tackles for a loss), DT Tommy Jones (47 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss), LB Jake Behne (72 tackles), DB Patrick Crowley (67 tackles, 2 INTs), P Chip Crowley (40.0 yards per kick), K Cole Austin (18-for-21 PATs, 8-for-9 FGs).
Analysis: The University of New England makes its varsity debut at Coast Guard, having played an eight-game pre-varsity schedule a year ago, with little information available about the Nor'Easters. That sent Coast Guard coach Bill George scurrying to YouTube.com looking for high school film of Thursday's opposing players. UNE is quarterbacked, for instance, by former Darien starter Brian Peters, who led the Blue Wave to a 13-0 record and a Class LL state championship in 2016, with the team finishing a unanimous No. 1 in The Day's state coaches' poll. “They have some tremendous offensive weapons,” George said of the Nor'Easters. “I think it sticks out that they've done a good job at bringing in a lot of high-level talent. The way our preseason is here, the way it juggles with the military training, I think they're at a big advantage.” UNE is a member of the Commonwealth Coast Conference and coached by Mike Lichten, who was named coach in 2016 after serving five years as head coach at Becker College. In 2015, Becker was 7-3 with Lichten earning Eastern Collegiate Football Conference Coach of the Year. East Lyme graduate Tom Bartok is a freshman on the Nor'Easters roster. A 6-foot-3, 270-pound offensive lineman from Salem, Bartok is listed on the team's depth chart as the backup at left guard and center. … Coast Guard, meanwhile, looks to run a more balanced attack out of its no-huddle, spread offense, with quarterback Ryan Jones proficient in the run, as well as first-year starting running backs Chris Gardner and Jon Wagner, both sophomores, looking to contribute. “I'm not saying we're not going to throw the ball,” George said Wednesday. “Maybe you're not going to see us as any different. Last year, your quarterback goes down and your receiver twists a hamstring in the preseason and you say 'this is what we have to do, this is your personnel.' I'm an old split back veer guy (running offense). Ray (LaForte, offensive coordinator) and I got excited about having more balance. We need to slow the game down and we already have those plays in. We have got to get back to basics.” … George, asked his opinion of the Thursday night opener: “If you win the game, it's the greatest thing. If you win the game, you say, 'A Thursday game. Yeah. Good. Let's play it.'” … Coast Guard will feature a new broadcast team this year for the five home web casts with play-by-play announcer Keith O'Brien and color commentator Dan Zampano. A live video stream will be available at www.cgasports.com.
— Vickie Fulkerson
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