All the great memories made in 2012 are just that for the IUP football program — memories.
Now the Crimson Hawks are moving on.
Coach Curt Cignetti will lead his team into its annual monthlong set of spring drills when IUP begins practice Friday afternoon. And for anyone who expects the Crimson Hawks to take the field with their 12-2 season, division and conference titles and lofty national ranking on their minds is way off base.
“Last year ended with the Winston-Salem game,” Cignetti said of the 21-17 loss to the eventual NCAA Division II runner-up in the Super Region One final. “When we got the guys back for our offseason program, we put last year behind us. We began developing this team and asking guys to step into new roles and find guys who can be leaders. … We’re starting over. We’re anxious to get on the field. For a lot of our guys, this is an opportunity. We’re looking forward to developing our players and practicing at a high level.”
The point of spring ball for most college football teams is to teach fundamentals and evaluate talent for the fall season. For IUP, this means taking a long look at some holdovers that could be thrust into key positions due to the graduation of one of last year’s seniors.
The biggest holes to fill are in the secondary, with the loss of safety Johnny Franco and cornerback Marvens Toussaint, the defensive line (tackle Carl Thornton and end Greg Meisner) and offensive line (tackle Dan Matha and center Anthony DiPasquale).
One spot that could be a concern is tailback, thanks to the loss of Harvie Tuck, last year’s PSAC West Offensive Player of the Year and the second-leading rusher in school history. But late last season, Tuck was hampered by injuries and De’Antwan “Rocket” Williams, a transfer from Rutgers, stepped into the role and took over. He gained 647 yards in the Crimson Hawks’ final five games, including 152 against the nation’s top rush defense, Shepherd, in the first round of the playoffs.
Williams was listed last season as a senior, but he has petitioned the NCAA for another year of eligibility (he played in only two games at Rutgers in 2011), and is awaiting word on his request. Until then, Williams will practice with the team with hopes of being eligible in the fall.
Williams and the rest of the offense will get their first on-field experience with new offensive coordinator Tyler Haines, who came aboard in January from Adrian (Mich.) College to replace Luke Getsy, who took a job at Western Michigan.
Cignetti said Haines will bring his own flair to the offense, but it will be the same system IUP has run since Cignetti took over.
“There might be a tweak here and there,” Cignetti said. “But all in all, the structure of the offense won’t change.”
Another spot that is a concern right now is tight end. The Crimson Hawks have just one tight end on the roster, and it’s a redshirt freshman who was moved there from wide receiver. But Cignetti said he has high expectations for Khaliq Coleman, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound Philadelphia native. Also, Tyler Dummermuth, a senior who started at the end of last season, is not on the spring roster, but Cignetti said he might be back in the fall.
Regardless of who plays tight end in the spring, Cignetti said he’s well aware of the problem at the position.
“It’s more of an organizational challenge,” he said. “To get the reps in practice, sometimes you have to put a tackle out there. But that might be a challenge because we’re thin on the line. It will be a challenge to practice high-tempo, but we’ll get it done.”
Because numbers are so low in spring ball — there are only 54 players on the roster — Cignetti said it’s unlikely the team will hold a spring game.
Despite the low numbers, there are several key players who will be back this season, including: quarterback Mike Box; wide receivers Pat Brewer, Terrill Barnes and Salath Williams; tackle Byron Dovales; defensive linemen Akeem Smith and Shane Meisner; linebackers Carl Fleming, Alexander Berdahl and Terrell Washington; cornerback Jerrell McFadden; and kicker Brett Ullman.
A player to watch on defense will be Alkwan Williams, an outside linebacker who joined the team this season after transferring from Temple. The 6-1, 230-pound Williams, a native of Johnstown, is expected to bring a big-time pass rush that the Crimson Hawks sometimes lacked last season.
One player who won’t be in the mix for playing time is wide receiver Tyrayl Veney, an Indiana native who took a redshirt last fall. Veney is not on the spring roster, and Cignetti said he is no longer in school.