There’s still a long way to go until the IUP football team kicks off the 2014 season, but the Crimson Hawks’ rebuilt offensive line is already coming together.
Despite losing three senior starters from last year’s line, the IUP coaching staff has identified the projected starters for this fall. But it’s not like there’s a bunch of new faces up front.
In fact, the guys stepping into the starting lineup have enough experience to create high expectations.
“They’re young guys, but I have no doubt that on Sept. 6, we’ll be ready to go,” said senior center Matt Sasson. “No matter what five go in, we’ll be ready to go, and that’ll be exciting.”
Sasson and senior right tackle Jorge Vicioso are the only holdovers from last year’s offensive line, which also featured guards Mike Charmo and Nick Carnicella and left tackle Byron Dovales. Those three seniors are gone, and the current series of spring practices has helped the new guys find their way.
“We’re coming along,” said senior Bruce Atkins (6-foot-4, 260 pounds), who will likely replace Dovales at left tackle. “We’re making progress every day. We still need some cohesion, but we’re getting there.”
Atkins would know what it means to make progress. He has taken snaps at nearly every position on the line since he first came on to the scene in 2011, and he has played in 23 games with three starts. But the two other new faces don’t have nearly as much experience: sophomore left guard Ethan Cooper (6-3, 300) played in six games, with three starts last year; and right guard Tony Morgante (6-2, 290) saw action in eight games, with one start. Two projected backups also have a little bit of playing time: center Ed Bier (6-2, 265) and guard Matt Reams (6-1, 298).
Sasson (6-2, 275) cracked the starting lineup in 2011 as a true freshman, when senior center Anthony DiPasquale was lost for the season with a knee injury in fall camp. His sophomore year, he played in 12 games as a backup, and then last year he took over as the starting center.
Vicioso (6-6, 305), transferred to IUP from Rutgers last summer and made an immediate impact. Despite having played in only one game for the Scarlet Knights, Vicioso played in all 11 games last season, with 10 starts.
Sasson said he isn’t worried about having to rebuild the offensive line. It’s just a part of the game, he said.
“It’s interesting, but that’s just the way college football works,” Sasson said. “We had Byron, Mike and Nick … and the way it goes is that they leave and you have to bring new guys in. I was the new guy in when those guys were young, and now I’m a senior and I’m seeing these guys come in. They’re freshmen, and they don’t know their head from a hole in the ground, and it’s fun for all of us to see them come in and grow. “
How quickly guys such as Cooper and Morgante adjust to being starters could be the key to the Crimson Hawks’ offense, which will feature a new starting quarterback, tailback, tight end and both receivers.
While Atkins can’t help much outside the offensive line, he knows his job is to make sure the younger guys are using spring ball to solidify their spots in the lineup.
“This is a very important time right now,” Atkins said. “It’s a chance to get everyone together and see what we’ve got before we go home for the summer. It’s important for the young guys, especially.”
Sasson agreed. Spring ball might be mundane and a long way away from actual games, but it’s when cohesion and chemistry are built.
“This is what the offseason is all about,” he said. “It’s about seeing these guys at 6 in the morning in the weight room and seeing them on the practice field. That’s just as important as the plays we run.”