Who’s ready for some freezing cold football?
The Colonial Athletic Association is set to begin its “spring” football season in just a few weeks, and while teams like Maine, UNH and URI will have to almost certainly deal with weather issues more often than not, all three programs can’t wait to get going.
On Wednesday morning, the CAA had its virtual Media Day, with the CAA commissioner and 12 coaches in the league answering questions via Zoom for 10 minutes each. Here’s what stood out from the local coaches:
MAINE HEAD COACH NICK CHARLTON
Charlton kicked things off after commissioner Joe D’Antonio spoke and the enthusiasm in his voice was hard to miss. With seven starters back on offense and defense after a 6-6 season, he has reason to be optimistic.
“It’s going to be unique and our guys are excited,” he said. “We had 13 fall practice with the kids that were critical to us having a chance to do this. Right now, we’re in the middle of our workouts looking to transition in a week her to practices. We’re calling it a “building” camp not a training camp to kind of build up to March 6th. We have a good group of players returning. A lot of our guys are sophomores and juniors that have actually played a lot of football, so we’re excited about those guys who have played a lot of football and have a lot of room to grow.
“This is an exciting team that I thought went through the same stresses a lot of teams went through in the fall but came out of it and we’re really in a positive situation right now. So, excited that everybody’s back and we’re going.”
Charlton was also asked about his quarterback situation.
“We always go off a two-year starting policy,” he said. “So, you won’t be named a starter until you’ve been a starter for two years. Obviously, Joe Fagnano stepped in last year and did an outstanding job. He’s the projected guy right now. In 6 1/2 games he had 17 touchdowns and three interceptions and if he had played the whole year he was on pace to set some records, especially as a true freshman. Joe is someone we’re extremely excited about, we love the youth in the room.”
What about planning practices and games if the Covid situation doesn’t change in Maine? There is a chance the Black Bears will be on the road quite a bit this season.
“Ultimately, in the state of Maine and at the University of Maine, some of the protocols we’re going to be dealing with are a little specific. We know and have an understanding of what that is that’s going to allow us to play…we see an avenue to play. Our players have been great and have done a great job up to this point. We feel like we’ll be in a position here to play some football this spring, we just need to make good decisions.
“It’s just another form of adversity to overcome and it’s something we’ll talk to the players about to be honest. That’s how we do it in our program and that’s going to be a conversation we have. We aren’t having it yet because it’s not the reality yet, we need to focus on the day-to-day. In terms of that decision, if that’s where it’s going to go…if we’re unable to play a home game, that’ll be a conversation for our players about what they want to do and how they want to handle it.”
NEW HAMPSHIRE COACH SEAN MCDONNELL
McDonnell returns to the sidelines this year after a battle with cancer forced him away for the 2019 season. The Wildcats still went 6-5 without him (5-3 in the CAA) and are looking to get back to the top of the standings this spring/winter.
“It’s good to have everybody back on campus getting ready to go do what we love to do and that’s play football,” he said. “It was hard (being away) last season, but it was pretty incredible to watch people do what they were supposed to do with or without me. When you watch from afar, you feel pretty good and take great pride in knowing that the people you put in a place of responsibility had accountability and took care of what they needed to do to get the job done.”
McDonnell was asked about how important the return of senior safety Evan Horn is with so much action taking place in the transfer portal over the last couple of seasons, but especially this year.
“He’s the best player on our team,” McDonnell said bluntly. “He’s the leader of the defense, and if anyone wants to see how important he was just look at the Maine game from last year (11 tackles 2 sacks and a forced fumble) he was all over the place. He was returning kicks, batting down balls, doing everything. It’s a whole new day and age. We had talks about it, and fortunately whoever it was got him to come back to UNH for an opportunity to play one more season for us.”
When asked if motivation will be hard to come by this season for rivalry games – specifically for the Maine game – McDonell explained it doesn’t matter who is on the other side of the field this year, the guys just want to play.
“When UNH plays Maine, they’re going to be up for it,” he said. “That’s the No. 1 archival in our program. We have all the games circled, but that’s the first one circled because it’s the last one. I don’t think our guys will have a problem.”
RHODE ISLAND COACH JIM FLEMING
Following just a 2-10 season a year ago, Fleming is hoping for brighter days ahead this winter/spring. Football coaches are used to coaching football, so when asked how he felt about the upcoming year, Fleming had a rather interesting answer.
“It feels like every season, which I shouldn’t say that because it’s totally unusual getting ready to go to training camp here (Friday),” he said with a bit of a laugh. “I’m excited about our group. We’ve had an incredible resilience I’d say and I think every coach would attest to the same thing for their teams. The amount of disappointments, changing schedules, the amount of uncertainty, how these freshmen came in, the whole nine yards.
“It’s been absolutely astounding, but the remarkable piece is the quality of the persistence and the character of these young men that are facing these circumstances. They’re dying to play football. I don’t know what kind of team we’ll be, I can’t sit here and say we’re going undefeated. Right now, we’ve got a group of kids that have worked extremely hard and made sacrifices to keep themselves as healthy as they possibly. We’re thankful every day for the opportunity.”
Of course every team analyzes itself in the offseason, but for Fleming it’s felt like a lot longer than that.
“We’re in the business now of looking forward,” he said. “We’ve identified issues that we had in the previous season – which seems like it was about 10 years ago – but there’s an excitement.”
With a lot of changes to the coaching staff this season, developing continuity is going to be critical if URI is going to have any success.
“Anytime there’s change in a program that’s been well established, whether it’s warranted or necessary because someone moves on, those times are difficult,” he said. “We’ve yet to play a game together, so it’s a very good question (how things will gel) we’ve had a great opportunity to get to know each other, but until you’re sharing live bullets, that’s the thing that solidifies any coaching staff.
“These guys have done an incredible job. They’ve come in and managed the teaching component of it though Zoom…we came up with a good plan that we were able to achieve during the course of the fall and we’re working through into training camp here. There’s. good sense of rebirth. I hate to say it that way, but it’s a definite new flavor and we’re very hopeful we can put it together.”