By Dan Harrison
---- — BEVERLY — The Endicott College football team won’t be able to rely on experience at the skill positions in the early portion of the season, which begins tomorrow against Framingham State.
The Gulls don’t have a single returning starter at running back, wide receiver or quarterback.
They do, however, have plenty of guys who are hungry to step up and make an impact.
Senior Ryan McLaughlin and junior Drew Frenette are in the midst of a battle for the starting quarterback job. While McLaughlin has been named tomorrow’s starter against the visiting Rams (1 p.m. in Beverly), head coach J.B. Wells hasn’t decided on who his No. 1 guy is. Frenette was the starter in 2012, but the coach wants to see McLaughlin in a game atmosphere.
“They’re both cut out of same cloth (and) very athletic,” said Wells. “Drew is a little more game savvy because he’s had more opportunities to play. Ryan is more of a physical presence at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, and runs maybe a little better than Drew. They have complementary skill sets, but they also possess some of the same qualities we need in our quarterback. They’re 1 and 1A.”
Endicott also graduated most of its receiving corps, but Wells believes his squad has six talented receivers on the roster. It will be Matt Smith, Nate Lewis and Alec Matys starting when the Gulls go with a three-wide set tomorrow; Smith was the fourth receiver on last year’s depth chart.
The Gulls are looking for a new duo to take handoffs. Tomorrow, look for Spencer Walsh and Andrew Cummings getting the majority of the carries.
“A big part of our offense is that we want to play fast, deep and fresh. So what’s great about this year’s receiving corps is we probably have six guys — and it might even be more than that,” said Wells. “We’ve got question marks (at running back) but we’ll see who can get the hot hand and tilt the rock. We’ve been a two-back system, so we need a couple guys who can go in there and get the job done.”
The Gulls do have one big strength skill-wise back in the fold: senior captain and tight end Greg Dellorco returns after an all-Northeastern Football Conference campaign as a junior. The other Gulls tight end is UMaine transfer Dimitri Skinsacos.
The Gulls’ offensive line should be rock solid as well. Endicott returns three starters including what Wells views as the strength of the line in tackles Alec Gatzogiannis and Mike Marini. Ryan Mrozek and Casey McDonnell provide some strength up the middle.
“If there’s two better tackles in the conference, I don’t know who they are,” Wells said of Gatzogiannis and Marini.
Defensively, there are definitely fewer question marks. The secondary is loaded with returning talent, led by senior captain and safety Jason Silva (2 INTs and fifth on the team in tackles last year with 56). The Gulls also return their top two leading tacklers from last year in senior captain and defensive lineman Marcell Cooper (80 tackles) and defensive end Andrew Holfinger (76 tackles).
The place where Endicott could be vulnerable is middle linebacker after graduating both of its starters, including Beverly native Peter Kallas. But there’s another Garden City gridder ready to take his place, as senior Nick Kozlowski was the first ILB off the bench a year ago and, after learning from Kallas, Wells expects his new ‘backer to have a strong fall. Mike Maldonado will play next to Kozlowski.
“From what I’ve seen in camp, (Kozlowski’s) poised to have an incredible senior year,” said Wells. “I think we’ve got guys who are really capable and learned from the guys who were there before them.”
The Gulls’ biggest strength is its special teams play with returning kicker/punter extraordinaire Dylan Rushe. Wells has long said he believes his kicker is the best in all of Division 3 football and is glad to have him for another season.
“A kid like Dylan gives you the ability to put points on the board effectively,” noted Wells. “He’s strong, accurate and can do all the tricky things with the ball that a special teams coordinator drools over. He’s an excellent punter and I would put him in the top five toughest players on our team.
“When it comes to first games, you’re going to see a variety of highs and lows. It’s so emotional for everyone,” said Wells. “Anxiety, emotion and excitement all go up, so the team that can play the most consistent over four quarters has the best chance to win. I’m not saying don’t get too excited; you just have to level it back out.”