IUP FOOTBALL: Hawks counting on transfers
The honest truth about transfers is that they’re a crapshoot.
But Curt Cignetti is in a betting mood, and he thinks the dice will come up in his favor.
One of the more hotly debated topics in NCAA Division II football is the use of transfers to fill immediate openings on the depth chart. Sometimes the transfers are Division I castoffs with baggage; other times they’re good kids just looking for a chance to play every Saturday.
Sometimes they work; sometimes they don’t.
Cignetti, IUP’s fourth-year coach, has brought in six players from Division I schools for the upcoming season, and he believes strongly the six will be able to contribute to the Crimson Hawks’ push for another PSAC crown and a playoff berth.
“When you bring transfers in, you’re kind of hoping they can play right away,” he said. “That’s why you bring them in.”
The biggest names among the transfers come on offense. Quarterback Chase Haslett, the son of former IUP legend and current NFL coach Jim Haslett, came to the Crimson Hawks from Illinois, and tight end Brock DeCicco, a former star at Thomas Jefferson High School, has come aboard from Wisconsin.
Haslett (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) will be thrown in the mix for the starting quarterback job left open by the graduation of Mike Box. Haslett will compete with sophomore Logan Weaver, an Indiana High School graduate, and freshman Eddie Stockett, for the job.
A native of Clayton, Mo., Haslett spent three seasons at Illinois but never saw any game action. He graduated in May and is enrolled at IUP as a graduate student and has two years of eligibility left.
“I haven’t seen him throw in person, but I’ve looked at his tape and I’ve talked to (the Illinois) offensive coordinator,” Cignetti said. “He’s got a quick release, a strong arm, and he can spin the football pretty well. He knows football pretty well, coming from a football family. From all we can tell, he has a great attitude. We’ll find out what the intangibles are like on the football field.”
DeCicco (6-5, 250) will compete for the starting tight end job with sophomores Kevin Edwards and C.J. Jackson. He started his career at Pittsburgh, where he played alongside his brother but transferred to Wisconsin when Todd Graham was hired as the Pitt coach in 2011. DeCicco is the third Division I transfer tight end Cignetti has brought in, following Jon Ditto (Penn State, 2011) and Jon Sharp (James Madison, 2012).
In two seasons with the Badgers, DeCicco played in 27 games and caught one pass for 16 yards.
“All the reports we’ve gotten on him is that he’s a great worker with a great attitude and he could be a really good leader,” Cignetti said.
Also on offense, IUP has added running back Donte Harrell, an eastern Pennsylvania native who comes to campus via Tennessee-Martin. Harrell (6-0, 200) finished his high school career in Missouri and was a top recruit at UT-Martin. But health issues and an issue with academics kept him from playing last season, and he comes to IUP with four years of eligibility.
Cignetti is excited to throw Harrell into the mix at the tailback spot, along with sophomore Izzy Green, who gained 336 yards last year as the backup to De’Antwan Williams.
“He’s a terrific kid,” Cignetti said. “He looks really good on tape. They thought he was their top recruit a year ago. I’m excited to see what he can do.”
On defense, Cignetti brought in two defensive linemen who should provide immediate help and a linebacker who could contribute down the road.
DeCicco’s roommate at Wisconsin, Bryce Gilbert (6-2, 305), also made the trip here from the Midwest, and he could fill in right away after seeing a lot of playing time with the Badgers. Like DeCicco, he already has his degree in hand, and he has one season of eligibility remaining.
Karon Gibson (5-10, 285) also should help the interior of the defensive line, which lost Akeem Smith and Larry Gooden to graduation. Gibson started for two years at Delaware and has two years left to play.
Also coming aboard is Waylon Fink (6-5, 234), who was a linebacker at Buffalo but will transition to defensive line at IUP. The Greensburg native is ineligible this fall, though, and will be in the mix for playing time in 2015.
The six newcomers are part of a larger overhaul of the roster, where 38 of the 89 players on the preseason roster are either incoming freshmen or transfers.
“That’s about 44 percent of our team,” Cignetti said. “We do not have a lot of starters coming back, but I think we do a pretty good job of developing good football players.”